What Does It Mean When You Have a Vitamin B-12 Shortage in Your System?

Chronic bowel problems are one cause of low B-12.

Chronic bowel problems are one cause of low B-12.

If your energy levels are on the fritz, your B-12 could be running a bit low. Vitamin B-12 doesn’t just give you energy, though. It also produces new red blood cells, helps your brain work at its best and maintains genetic material found in each cell. Checking your B-12 level isn’t a routine thing; your doctor may only run the lab if he suspects you have a shortage of the vitamin in your system.

B-12 Ranges

Normally your vitamin B-12 level should fall somewhere between 200 and 900 pictograms per milliliter, or pg/mL, according to MedlinePlus. It’s very uncommon to have high B-12 levels, since abnormally high B-12 stems from severe chronic conditions like cirrhosis of the liver or certain types of cancer. But it is possible for B-12 to be on the lower end, even if you do your best to meet your daily recommendation.

Pernicious Anemia

Naturally occurring B-12 in animal foods is bound to proteins. When you eat meat, fish, eggs or other B-12-rich foods, acids in your stomach break the B-12 apart. But when you have pernicious anemia, your immune system attacks healthy cells in the walls of your stomach. Your stomach doesn’t produce much acid and the B-12 never gets a chance to break away. Plus, when these cells are destroyed, your body doesn’t have much -- if any -- intrinsic factor, which is a specialized type of protein that helps B-12 absorb. Much of the B-12 you’re getting from your diet passes right through without ever absorbing, resulting in an unusually low B-12 level.

Bowel Disorders

Vitamin B-12 absorbs in your small intestine, its first stop after leaving your stomach. If you have some kind of bowel disorder though, the villi in your intestinal tract that pick up B-12 could be damaged. Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome or other chronic bowel issue can each contribute to a B-12 deficiency if your intestines are severely damaged.

Dietary Considerations

Your body can store small amounts of B-12 for years in your liver. So even if you don’t make an effort to get the vitamin in your daily diet, your body should have enough to function. But because B-12 only comes from animal-based foods, a handful of fortified foods -- like breakfast cereal -- and supplements, if you follow a vegan type of diet, your B-12 levels could plummet over time. Talk with your doctor about your diet. You should have no problems adhering to your diet plan while meeting your B-12 needs, although your physician could suggest taking a vegan-friendly supplement or even give you a B-12 injection if you’re running low.

Video of the Day

Brought to you by LIVESTRONG.COM
Brought to you by LIVESTRONG.COM
 

About the Author

Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.

Photo Credits

  • BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images