Vitamin B12 is an important vitamin mostly obtained from dairy products and meat. It is a critical ingredient your body needs to make red blood cells and also helps your nervous system work correctly. If you have low B12 levels, you might have anemia, depression, dementia or neuropathy (pain, burning or tingling sensation). Some people with low B12 also have high levels of homocysteine which may increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Your doctor can run a simple blood test to see if your B12 level is low.
The most common reasons for low B12 are 1) not taking in enough in your diet or 2) a problem with your stomach or intestines that prevents you from being able to absorb the vitamin. This includes Pernicious Anemia (where you do not have the cells needed in your stomach to absorb B12) or long standing heartburn or ulcers or having had surgery on your stomach or intestines.
In the past, everyone who needed B12 supplementation was given shots- initially given several times a week for a couple weeks and then once a month. Now we know that unless you have a problem absorbing B12, it is just as effective to take a daily pill instead of getting a shot. Over the counter Vitamin B12 pills do not have enough B12 to increase your levels- you need to take at least 1000 mcg of B12 everyday. You can get a prescription for this high dose from your doctor if you levels are low.
Even if you’ve been getting Vitamin B12 shots for years, you can switch to the pill and it will be just as effective unless you have a problem absorbing B12 from your digestive tract.
Brooke Uptagrafft, MD
Dr. Brooke is a family medicine doctor.