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Feeling drowsy? A B12 deficiency could be to blame

Main Line Health Exton Square June 7, 2016 General Wellness

In today’s society, it can seem almost normal to be plagued by a sense of sluggishness. Between busy work and social calendars, to-do lists tasks, and arranging appointments for yourself and your loved ones, energy can be hard to come by.

But, when you’re fed up with fatigue, trying to track down the source of your symptoms leaves you with more questions than answers. Is sugar to blame for your sluggish feelings? Caffeine? Genetics? Poor quality sleep?

While these could all be the culprits, there’s one source of fatigue and lack of energy that often goes overlooked: a Vitamin B12 deficiency.

“Vitamin B12 is involved in a number of different physical processes in our bodies, from DNA synthesis to building healthy blood and nerve cells. But one thing that is most noticeable is its effect on our energy levels,” says Jason Conwell, MD, family practice physician at the Main Line Health Exton Square. “Individuals with a B12 deficiency often report fatigue and loss of energy as two of their most common symptoms.”

But those aren’t the only symptoms—not getting enough of this nutrient can also lead to loss of appetite, constipation, unintended weight loss, depression, and even confusion and dementia.

Symptoms like these can interfere with your life, and be difficult to ignore, but how can you tell if it’s a B12 deficiency, or something more serious?

“A B12 deficiency can be diagnosed with a simple blood test and, if your levels are low, there’s a chance that it could be the reason for your sluggishness and any other symptoms you’re experiencing,” says Dr. Conwell.

Where can I find Vitamin B12?

The best nutritional sources of Vitamin B12 include meat, fish, and dairy products like eggs, cheese, and milk. For most people, working even a small amount of these foods into their diet is enough to help combat some of the trademark sluggishness and loss of energy that can occur from a B12 deficiency.

Of course, some groups may find it harder than others to get their daily dose.

“Vegans, especially, may be missing out on Vitamin B12 because it is less likely to be found in a plant-based diet, and they aren’t consuming foods like meat, fish, and dairy,” says Dr. Conwell. “In instances like these or for individuals who have a limited diet, there are other options available.”

One unlikely—and potentially vegan-friendly—spot to find the Vitamin B12 you need? Breakfast cereal fortified with B12. Check the nutrition label of your breakfast cereal to find out if it provides your necessary daily intake.

Finally, dietary supplements can also provide you with the Vitamin B12 your body needs to remain energized. And while supplements are as effective, Dr. Conwell cautions that they not be used as a first resort.

“Whenever possible, it’s best to try and get the vitamins and nutrients you need from food, rather than supplements,” he says.

The benefits of making B12 a part of your diet are numerous. If you have questions about your specific nutritional needs or the source of your fatigue, talk to your health care provider.

Main Line Health primary care physicians have offices in many convenient locations near the following hospitals and health centers, and other convenient outpatient settings throughout your community. Find a Main Line Health primary care physician in your area.