If you’re battling brain fog and having trouble concentrating at work, or just feeling exhausted, chances are you’re hitting a caffeine fix or a sugary snack. But before you do, consider this: it might be time to switch to a lesser-known, healthier pick-me-up.
Vitamin B12 is an often overlooked vitamin that is essential for keeping our brains sharp and our nervous system thriving. It is also essential for the formation of healthy blood cells.
This month the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) alerted doctors to the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency in people taking metformin, a widely used treatment for type 2 diabetes , which affects the efficiency of the absorption of the vitamin by the body. In a drug safety update, he suggested that patients with risk factors for vitamin B12 deficiency should be monitored.
But what about the rest of us: Could low vitamin B12 levels be the cause of our diminishing ability to focus?
“Meat, eggs, fish and dairy products are the main dietary sources of vitamin B12,” says Priya Tew, registered dietitian and founder of Dietitian UK. “If you don’t eat meat or dairy and follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, you should definitely be aware of the risk of deficiency.”
Recent estimates from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) suggest that vitamin B12 deficiency affects 11% of vegans. Older people are also more at risk. Overall, B12 deficiency affects about 6% of people under 60 and 20% of those over 60.
“As we age, our appetite decreases, so we may consume fewer foods containing vitamin B12. We are also less able to absorb it effectively,” says nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert, author of The Science of Nutrition. older women may also be at higher risk for vitamin B12 deficiency due to their increased likelihood of pernicious anemia, an autoimmune disease, which causes your immune system to attack the cells in your stomach that produce intrinsic factor – a protein that helps your intestines absorb vitamin B12.
“Other risk groups include those who have had abdominal or bowel surgery and anyone taking long-term antacids for heartburn.”
However, if you eat meat, eggs, and dairy, chances are you’ll still get your fair share of vitamin B12 and probably won’t have to worry. “If your absorption isn’t completely effective, it’s likely to be less of a problem than if you’re vegan or vegetarian,” Tew says. “But it’s worth talking to your doctor if you’re worried about the amount of vitamin B12 in your diet or your body’s ability to absorb it.”
Early symptoms of a deficiency include tiredness, tiredness, and mood swings. But if a vitamin B12 deficiency goes unchecked, things could get worse. “Eventually, you can get a form of anemia known as megaloblastic anemia, which is different from the type caused by iron deficiency,” Tew explains. “B12 deficiency can also affect fertility and increase the risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida in babies during pregnancy.” In extreme cases, vitamin B12 deficiency has also been linked to nerve damage and cardiovascular disease.
Luckily, even if you’re a vegan or just prefer to eat less meat and dairy, there are still plenty of ways to boost your vitamin B12 intake. “Breakfast cereals and plant-based milks, such as almond and soy, are often fortified with vitamin B12 and, love it or hate it, marmite is also high in vitamin B12. Nutritional yeast flakes fortified with vitamin B12 are another great way to boost your intake – simply sprinkle them on salads, pasta or rice.
So how much do we need in our daily diet? The NHS recommends that adults aged 19 to 64 need around 1.5 micrograms a day of vitamin B12. (A microgram, mcg, is one thousandth of a milligram, mg).
“Stick to this recommended daily intake of vitamin B12 can help boost your mood and energy,” says Tew, who suggests reading the information on your cereal box or plant-based milk packet to check amounts.