Are you at risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency?

vitaminb12 Sep 08, 2020

Do you:

  1. Avoid animal products?
  2. Follow a vegan/strict vegetarian diet?
  3. Have an iron deficiency?
  4. Have an inflammatory bowel condition (like coeliac disease or Crohn’s disease)?
  5. Have a gastric sleeve or bypass?
  6. Have another absorption issue?


If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you might be at risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency. Today we will explore the role of vitamin B12, as well as therapeutic pathways to correct an existing deficiency.


What is vitamin B12? And what does it do?

Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin found in animal products, like eggs, milk and meat. It is involved in red blood cell production, energy production, the development of memory and nerve insulation.

Our vitamin B12 stores can last for three-six years, meaning they do not run out quickly. Although, following a period of five-ten years adverse symptoms may begin to show. Even though this is a slow process, we still need to be mindful about our vitamin B12 intake. An annual blood test will help to monitor your vitamin B12 levels and should be completed by your GP.


Extra considerations

These groups need to be more mindful about their vitamin B12 intake. 

  1. Vegans or restrictive vegetarians are less likely to have a diet with sufficient amounts of vitamin B12. People argue that you can obtain vitamin B12 from natural mushrooms, however, the vitamin B12 levels vary dramatically. 
  2. The elderly need to be particularly aware of vitamin B12 deficiency. As we age, our digestive ability deteriorates, which can affect our ability to absorb vitamin B12.
  3. Those who have had their stomach resected or removed are at an increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. The stomach produces a substance known as ‘intrinsic factor’, which is required to absorb vitamin B12. So without the stomach, the body cannot absorb this essential vitamin. 


How do I know if I have a deficiency? 

A blood test will indicate if you have low vitamin B12 stores. You might also develop vitamin B12-related symptoms, like:

  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Poor coordination
  • Memory deterioration
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Mouth sores


Treatment options 

  • If there are no absorption issues, the first line of treatment would be to eat animal products. This includes incorporating foods like eggs, milk, milk products, chicken, fish and red meat into the diet. 
  • If you’re vegan or follow a restrictive vegetarian diet, a vitamin B12 supplement would be the next course of action. This can be taken either as an oral supplement or under the tongue.
  • If you have an absorption issue, the gold standard of treatment would be taking an intramuscular B12 injection. For more information and guidelines about this form of therapy, visit your GP.


It’s essential for both our physical and mental health to have our vitamin B12 in check. To achieve this naturally, we want to make sure we are consuming appropriate amounts of animal products each day. However, if on a particular diet or have absorption issues, it may be more relevant to take a vitamin B12 supplement or intramuscular injection. To find out what’s right for you, book a consult in with CQ Nutrition.

Written by Annabel Johnston, BAppSc&MDietPrac


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