Vitamin B12 deficiency is believed to be one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world, especially among people taking stomach acid-altering medications and antibiotics frequently, along with the elderly and sometimes vegetarians/vegans. For this reason, B12 injections are sometimes used to offset the many symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, such as fatigue and weakness, poor moods, and low concentration.
Even more serious is that B12 deficiency can disturb red blood cell formation and elevate homocysteine levels, which negatively impacts neurological and cardiovascular health, in addition to posing risks during pregnancy.
While foods like grass-fed beef, dairy products and fish supply a good dose of vitamin B12, some people abstain from eating these foods or have a harder time absorbing and actually utilizing this nutrient due to digestive/metabolic limitations. Sometimes certain genetic conditions can hinder the body’s use of vitamin b12, and other times low dietary intake plus unhealthy lifestyle habits are to blame. Plus, because b12 vitamin is bound to amino acids (found in protein foods) and is only released when certain enzymes and stomach acids are present, it’s possible to consume enough but still remain somewhat deficient.
So are B12 injections the answer to restoring health in those with low levels? Vitamin B12 benefits and benefits of receiving B12 injections can include improved moods, protection against cognitive decline and better energy, but as you’ll learn, there are also risks involved. Secondly, B12 shots don’t always resolve the underlying problem of deficiency, so they’re not the be-all and end-all when it comes to treating symptoms.
What Are B12 Injections?
B12 injections are shots that contain high doses of vitamin B12, used to quickly elevate levels in someone with a deficiency.
Vitamin B12 levels are usually tested with a blood serum test, and values below approximately 170–250 picogram per milliliter in adults are considered signs of deficiencies. However, it’s common for blood tests to reveal inaccurate information regarding B12 levels since a high percentage is stored in the liver and not always revealed through testing (for example, taking large amounts of folic acid has been found to mask vitamin B12 deficiency in some patients).
Vitamin B12 shots are normally available by prescription only and are administered into a patient’s muscle tissue about once monthly, although dosage varies depending on age and medical history.
What does vitamin B12 do exactly?
Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin that’s crucial for many vital metabolic and hormonal functions — including the production of digestive enzymes and carrying important nutrients into and out of cells. Due to how it helps convert and synthesize many other compounds within the body, it’s needed for well over 100 daily functions. Some of the roles that are attributed to vitamin B12 include:
- Forming red blood cells.
- Playing a role in DNA/RNA synthesis.
- Acting as a cofactor for methionine synthase (helping with methylation or the conversion of homocysteine to methionine, which protects cardiovascular health and more).
- Facilitating metabolic conversion of protein and fats.
- Carrying out neurotransmitter functions and helping with production of hormones.
- Helping convert amino acids and make creatine.
- Producing myelin sheath (the coating of nerves).
- Helping with synthesis of hemoglobin.
- Playing a role in fetal development during pregnancy.
Studies show that most people living in industrialized nations tend to get enough vitamin B12, although not all. Vitamin B12 shots are administered most often in those with genetic conditions that block absorption and people with the disorder called pernicious anemia, which can result in severe malabsorption and deficiency. Pernicious anemia is caused by a decrease in red blood cells when the body can’t absorb enough vitamin B12, greatly raising the risk for neurological complications.
According to the National Institute of Health, the two forms of vitamin B12 that are “active” within the human body are called methylcobalamin and 5-deoxyadenosylcobalamin. Because vitamin B12 contains the mineral cobalt, various compounds within vitamin B12 activity are sometimes referred to as “cobalamins.” Vitamin B12 supplements usually contain the type called cyanocobalamin, which easily converts to the vitamin’s active forms (although this doesn’t always mean that absorption is high). The absorption of vitamin B12 requires something called intrinsic factor, which is found in stomach acid.
B12 Injection Potential Benefits vs. Risks
The NIH reports that in those with confirmed deficiency, B12 injections can have important benefits. However, it’s been found that oral B12 supplementation when taken in high doses can have similar protective effects. For example, one study found that taking 1,000–2,000 micrograms orally in properly timed doses helped improve levels as much as injections.
Benefits of B12 Injections:
- Might Reduce Depression, Cognitive Decline and Dementia: Some studies show that, especially in older people, supplementing with vitamin B12 can prevent depression, restore better mood control and retain healthy memory/mental functioning.
- Helps Lower Fatigue: Restoring vitamin B12 to healthy levels can treat anemia, help with conversion of macronutrients and production of creatine (beneficial for building muscle mass), and reduce muscle weakness.
- Can Help Improve Your Metabolism: Some people turn to vitamin B12 shots to overcome a sluggish metabolism and even help with weight loss. Because injections might give patients more energy and regulate hormone production, it’s possible to experience changes in appetite, improved sleep and better exercise performance. Some even claim B12 shots improve appearance of their skin, hair and nails.
- Protects the Heart: Elevated homocysteine levels have been identified as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the No. 1 killer of adults in industrialized nations. Vitamin B12 is needed for conversion of homocysteine and therefore can prevent conditions or complications like heart attack, stroke or coronary heart disease.
- Improves Low Sperm Count.
- Helps with Fetal Development During Pregnancy.
- Helps Prevent or Treat Diabetic Neuropathy.