Vitamin B-12 is the only water-soluble vitamin vitamin that your body can store. According to the Linus Pauling institute, body stores of B-12 can last for years. You need this vitamin for a variety of critical functions, including food metabolism and energy production. While a healthy diet should provide you with an adequate B-12 intake, a deficiency may require you to wear a B-12 patch or get B-12 injections. Talk with your doctor to determine which method is best for your particular situation.
In addition to helping with energy production, vitamin B-12 helps synthesize several amino acids. Amino acids give structure to proteins and are critical for normal brain function and tissue repair. Your body also needs B-12 to make or repair DNA and RNA, the genetic material within your cells. Another key function of B-12 is to help your body make new red blood cells. Vitamin B-12 is generally safe at large doses, but adult females only require a daily intake of 2.4 micrograms from food or supplements.
Vitamin B-12 attaches to the mineral cobalt to form a cobalamin, which occurs in food proteins. Your body best absorbs B-12 in the form of methylcobalamin or 5-deoxyadenosyl cobalamin. Stomach acid releases B-12 into its free state so your small intestine can absorb it. As a result, low levels of stomach acid or intestinal problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome, may reduce B-12 absorption, leading a deficiency. Following a strict vegetarian or vegan diet also puts you at risk for a B-12 deficiency, because animal foods are the richest natural sources of B-12. If you're B12-deficient, your physician may recommend a patch or injection.
Your doctor may administer a monthly B-12 shot to help increase your blood levels. Typically, an injection in your arm causes immediate absorption of the vitamin into the bloodstream. B-12 shots provide as much as 1,000 micrograms of B-12, says the Linus Pauling Institute. These shots help treat pernicious anemia, an autoimmune disorder that causes your body to destroy healthy cells in your stomach. When this happens, stomach acid production may decrease, making it difficult for B-12 to break apart for absorption. As a result, your body lacks adequate B12 supply to produce enough normal, mature red blood cells. Although the injection introduces a large dose of B-12 into your system at once, Linus Pauling Institute researchers report no major side effects when the injection is used to treat pernicious anemia.
The B-12 patch also provides 1,000 micrograms of B-12 and works in a similar way as the injection. These patches are usually tiny and are applied right behind your ear. They provide a steady stream of B-12 into your system for an entire week. When you wear the patch, B-12 goes through your skin layers and enter your blood via small blood vessels called capillaries. The greatest benefit of the patch is a continuous flow of B-12. However, it may not stick to your skin if you have oily skin or sweat a lot.
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