What’s the first thing you think of doing when you feel like you need a boost of energy? Grab a cup of coffee? Lace up your sneakers for a morning jog? Pop a B12 vitamin?
All three of those things can play a role in energy. But all three will act out that role differently. For example, coffee, or more specifically the caffeine in coffee, plays mind games with your brain, replacing the adenosine in your system, thereby making your brain think you’re not tired, says this article.
On the other hand, jogging (as well as other cardiovascular activities like cycling, rowing and sex) releases endorphins that pump you with energy.
As for vitamin B12, its role in energizing us is a complex dance of metabolism. B12 turns the foods we eat into usable energy by breaking down the glucose in carbohydrates into ATP, a molecule which fuels our cells with energy. So, it’s not the actual vitamin that gives you energy, but rather it’s that the vitamin releases energy for your body to use.
Does B12 Increase Energy?
Among the many nutritional ingredients that are touted for energy, B12 may be the one most often recognized as an energy driver. But there are several things you’ll want to know about B12 and energy before you run to your local pharmacy or health food store to stock up on these supplements.
For starters, before we even get to whether or not B12 helps energy levels (and the quick answer is yes—but under certain conditions, and we’ll get to that) let’s talk about some of the basics of what vitamin B12 does. First and foremost, B12 plays a fundamental role in your very existence by producing red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout your body. You also need B12 to help your nerve cells function and to manufacture DNA in almost all of your body’s cells. Women, in particular, should know that B12 plays a role in maternal and fetal health during pregnancy.
In addition, some scientific research suggests that B vitamins may be helpful for other areas of health including cardiovascular, immune, and brain functions.
How Do You Get Your B12?
Like so many vitamins, B12 is one that is considered “essential,” meaning that your body doesn’t manufacture it on its own; therefore, you need to obtain it from external sources. Fortunately, there are several ways to help ensure you’re getting B12.
- Foods: B12 is found naturally in a range of foods, including fish, meat (especially beef and beef liver), poultry, eggs and some dairy products like milk and cheese. Not all foods are considered equal when it comes to B12. For example, cooked clams offer 84.1 micrograms (mcg) in a 3-ounce serving, while cooked salmon has 2.4 (but keep in mind salmon is also rich in omega-3 EPA and DHA). For the same portion size, cooked beef liver contains 70.7 mcg, while grilled lean beef, steak serves up 6.9. A hard-boiled egg only has about 0.6 micrograms of B12, most of it from the yolk, so don’t count on eggs as your only source for B12. This article shares some more of these statistics.
- Nutritional Supplements/Fortified Foods: Many people get their daily values of B12 from conventional diet alone, while others need (and/or choose) to add nutritional supplements (in tablets, capsules, or gummies) or functional foods like energy drinks or cereals fortified with B12.
- Vitamin B12 and Energy Drinks:A word or two about energy drinks. From a regulatory standpoint, manufacturers can choose whether to label these products as either supplements or conventional beverages. FDA, one of the agencies that oversees U.S. regulation of these products, has indicated that factors such as packaging, labeling and serving size should help guide companies to make that determination. Here’s an article that provides more specific information on regulation of “liquid energy products.” A few things you should be aware of when it comes to energy drinks are: 1) not all energy drinks contain B12—read the label; 2) many energy drinks contain amounts far above the daily value—again read the label; and 3) many energy drinks combine different ingredients (some that you’ve probably never heard of), with some of those combinations listed as proprietary blends, which can make it harder to know exactly what you’re getting and how much. (Keep reading: we’re getting to just how much B12 you need.)
- B12 Shots/Drips: Although this delivery form for vitamin B12 is on trend right now, most people don’t need to go to the trouble or added expense. Here are some populations who should talk with their doctor about whether B12 shots are appropriate for them:
- those who have pernicious anemia or anemia caused by a B12 deficiency
- vegetarians and vegans who may not be getting enough B12 from their diet
- those who have trouble absorbing B12 because of digestive issues, or lack of intrinsic factor, a protein produced by cells in your stomach lining that helps you to absorb B12
- people who have had weight loss surgery or other intestinal surgery
- those with diseases including Crohn’s or celiac which may put them at risk for B12 deficiency
- those taking metformin or some other medications (for heartburn, anti-seizure and even antibiotics, as examples), which may decrease vitamin B12 absorption
- people who are older (B12 absorption can decrease with age, even those as young as age 50)
You can also ask your doctor about B12 prescription pills, nasal sprays or gels, or even sublingual options (i.e., under-the-tongue medication).
How Much B12 Do You Typically Need?
Aside from the populations mentioned above, most people can get what they need from conventional food or combined with nutritional supplement as needed.
According to government recommendations, age is an important factor in determining how much vitamin B12 you need. The average daily recommended amounts, listed in micrograms, are as follows:
- Birth to 6 months 4 mcg
- Infants 7-12 months 5 mcg
- Children 1-3 years 9 mcg
- Children 4-8 years 2 mcg
- Children 9-13 years 8 mcg
- Teens 14-18 years 4 mcg
- Adults 4 mcg
- Pregnancy 6 mcg
- Breastfeeding 8 mcg
B12 is a water soluble vitamin, which means you’re not likely to reach toxic levels as the body excretes excess amounts through urine. Further, no upper limit (or Tolerable Upper Intake Level), defined simply as the level at which there is no known toxicity, has been established for vitamin B12.
So, what’s the bottom line. Can B12 boost energy? Yes, but there is a but. There is one little important “secret” that we’d like to share when it comes to vitamin B12 and energy. Here it is: if you’re deficient in B12, you can expect to see your energy increase as you remedy that problem. However, if you’re already getting adequate B12, adding more B12 is not going to give you an energy boost.
How do you know where you stand? Here are two ways to find out and they both involve getting tested. Ask your doctor to test your B12 levels, especially if you’re feeling tired or weak. This generally involves an in-lab blood test. Or, here at OmegaQuant, we recently introduced a simple, at-home/mail-in urine test that will determine your vitamin B12 status. Both options are valid, and as we like to say, it’s a good idea to know your numbers.