Vitamin B-12 is necessary for several bodily processes, including nerve function and the production of DNA and red blood cells.
A person whose vitamin B-12 levels are outside of the normal range will require treatment. Low levels of the vitamin can cause neurological symptoms, as well as fatigue, constipation, and weight loss. High B-12 levels may indicate liver disease, diabetes, or another condition.
Read on to learn more about testing B-12 levels and what the test results mean.
Why is a vitamin B-12 level test useful?
The vitamin B-12 level test checks how much vitamin B-12 is in the body. The results can help doctors to determine if abnormal vitamin B-12 levels are causing symptoms.
A doctor may order a vitamin B-12 level test if a person has any of the following:
Suspected vitamin B-12 deficiency
Researchers believe that up to 15 percent of people in the United States have vitamin B-12 deficiency. Signs and symptoms of deficiency include:
- difficulty maintaining balance
- fast heartbeat
- numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
- poor memory
- a sore mouth or tongue
Infants with vitamin B-12 deficiency may fail to thrive. They may experience movement problems in addition to delayed development.
People with symptoms of pernicious anemia may also need a vitamin B-12 level test. Pernicious anemia, which causes low levels of red blood cells, results from an inability to absorb vitamin B-12.
It often affects older adults or those who are lacking intrinsic factor. Intrinsic factor is a substance in the stomach that binds to vitamin B-12 so that the body can absorb it.
Symptoms of pernicious anemia include:
- loss of appetite
- pale skin
- weight loss
High serum folate levels
Serum folate is the level of folic acid in the blood. High serum folate levels can mask the symptoms of vitamin B-12 deficiency and make its neurological symptoms worse.
They can also increase the likelihood of anemia.
Symptoms of other conditions
An abnormally high vitamin B-12 status can be an early sign of liver disease, diabetes, or certain types of leukemia. A doctor may use the results of a vitamin B-12 test to help form their diagnosis.
Risk factors for low vitamin B-12 levels
Certain people are more at risk of vitamin B-12 deficiency than others, especially those who have low stomach acid or other digestive issues. Stomach acid separates vitamin B-12 from food so that the body can absorb it more efficiently.
The following groups of people are more likely than others to experience low vitamin B-12 levels:
- older adults
- vegans and vegetarians
- people with diabetes
- people with conditions that reduce vitamin B-12 absorption, including celiac disease and Crohn’s disease
- people who have had gastric bypass surgery
- those who are breast-feeding
- people who are taking medicines such as chloramphenicol, proton pump inhibitors, or H2 blockers
Although absorption difficulties and other medical issues often cause low vitamin B-12 levels, some people may be deficient because they do not get enough vitamin B-12 from their diet. This is especially true for vegans and long-term vegetarians.
Foods rich in vitamin B-12 include:
- fish and seafood
- dairy products
- fortified plant-based dairy alternatives
- fortified breakfast cereals
- fortified nutritional yeast
Vitamin supplements can make up for a shortfall in the diet, especially for vegans and strict vegetarians. As it can be easier for their body to absorb supplements than naturally occurring vitamin B-12, older adults should aim to meet their vitamin B-12 needs through fortified foods and vitamin supplements.
Recommended dietary allowances of vitamin B-12
Adults and adolescents over 14 years of age require 2.4 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin B-12 daily. This increases to 2.6 mcg during pregnancy, and 2.8 mcg when breast-feeding.
Vitamin B-12 is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in overall health. A vitamin B-12 level test determines a person’s vitamin B-12 status. A doctor may recommend this test to people who have symptoms of a deficiency or who have a higher risk of low vitamin B-12 in the body.
People can avoid vitamin B-12 deficiency by eating a balanced diet and including several sources of vitamin B-12 daily or taking supplements. If they have issues absorbing vitamin B-12 from food sources, oral supplements or injections of the vitamin can help to prevent symptoms and complications.
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