Medically reviewed by Leann Poston, M.D. on 9/27/20
Many people have heard of B12 injections, but may not be sure what they are for or why you need them. One of the biggest hallmarks of aging is often a decrease in energy levels and a corresponding decrease in metabolic rate. There’s no question that some of this is caused by hormonal changes – notably a decrease in estrogen in females, and testosterone in males – that is a typical part of aging. But it’s far from the only process at play with aging and feeling less fit, healthy, and active as you did when you were younger. Could B12 injections be the missing link in your anti-aging fight? Read our guide below, and we’ll take you through the basics of B12, B12 injections, and what they can do for your body.
In This Article
Let’s start at the beginning, naturally, and take a closer look at what vitamin B12 is, where it comes from, and why it’s important for your body. B12 is an essential vitamin your body needs to function and is made up of four varieties of the compound cobalamin. The most common form, methylcobalamin, is metabolized into cyanocobalamin in the body. This compound is critical for energy metabolism in every cell, red blood cell production, and several other processes in the body.
As with many vitamin and mineral compounds, most people obtain at least some of their needs through diet. In the case of vitamin B12, it only exists in foods and is not made naturally in the human body, so dietary consumption is essential. B12 can be found only in other animal products naturally, such as meat and seafood, as well as dairy products. But, vegans needn’t panic, as many foods we eat are fortified with a number of vitamins and minerals not naturally found in them, including B12. Breakfast cereals, protein and snack bars, beverages like milk, and many other foods are fortified (have vitamins added) to help ensure that people get a sufficient intake in their diet.
Despite this fact, many people suffer from periodic B12 deficiencies or insufficiencies, and may not even know it. This is especially true if B12, like a number of vitamins, is not well-absorbed through the digestive process. Only a fraction of the B12 you eat actually gets absorbed and transferred into your body, with much of it existing with bodily waste. This means even those people who are ensuring a diet full of B12 can end up getting less than their recommended daily amount. Absorption can also depend heavily on the state of your gut microbiome, and with the range of processed foods, antibiotics, and digestive health conditions that are common today (and become increasingly common with age), many people get less B12 in their bodies than they should.
The recommended daily amount of B12 for an adult is 2.4 micrograms, and the FDA sets the daily value (used to calculate nutrition labels on food) at 6 micrograms. Neither of these sounds like much, but if you’re only absorbing a fraction of what you ingest from food, then even this small amount may not be making it into your various bodily systems. That can lead to insufficiency or deficiency, as well as a range of negative health symptoms.
Not everyone will develop a B12 deficiency, at least not formally, even if they are getting too little B12. Having too little B12 (it’s a range in your blood normally) may not rise to the level of deficiency, and may simply be seen as insufficiency. When it reaches the low levels of deficiency (which can vary by the individual to some extent), then specific symptoms start to develop. B12 deficiency often develops due to gut and digestion-related problems, insufficient dietary intake of B12, various diseases or illnesses, and alcoholism.
Whatever the root cause may be, symptoms of B12 deficiency can be fairly severe, including:
The good news is that most people don’t experience B12 deficiency to that extreme an effect. However, that does not mean they have sufficient B12 circulating in their bodies for optimum health and functioning. B12 plays several critical roles in the body, so it is natural that lacking in B12, even to a small extent, can start to show up with decreased functioning in one or more of these critical systems. This is, of course, more likely as you get older, since the efficiency and effectiveness of your body’s systems tend to decline somewhat little by little as you age. Some key examples of B12’s functions in the body include:
Let’s take a look more specifically at some of these roles, and how B12 injections can provide benefits – especially for aging adults – through its mechanics in these different roles within the body if you are deficient in vitamin B12.
By far, the biggest benefit of B12 shots comes from their boost to energy levels in the body for those who are deficient. Because B12 is so intimately connected with cellular energy production – which is how all cells, and consequently all body systems, create energy from glucose, either from food or fat/protein stores in the body – it’s natural that restoring levels of B12 increase energy production and efficiency. This, in turn, helps provide more consistent, higher levels of energy on a macro level within the body, leaving people feeling more capable, active, energetic, and healthy.
This can be a huge advantage for aging adults, who are fighting off the fatigue associated with decreased metabolic rate, shrinking muscle mass, and the many other effects that aging has on the body.
Consistent with the role of B12 in energy production, it follows that B12 injections also help with metabolism and appetite, which can translate into easier weight loss or weight maintenance for those with B12 deficiency. Because cellular metabolism is increased when anemia is resolved, overall metabolism increases as well. This can help you to burn more calories more easily, and thus lets your body consume more stored calories from fat for energy. The higher baseline levels of energy, and the more consistent energy production, can help even out insulin and blood sugar level spikes, making you feel better on a consistent basis.
Myelin synthesis is one of the functions of B12 that is important for brain function and brain health. Myelin forms the sheaths around the nerves in the brain and throughout the body. Insufficient or degraded myelin is characteristic of many brain function disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, and some forms of MS. Therefore, it’s safe to say that, while B12 isn’t going to boost your IQ or prevent brain tumors or anything like that, it can help prevent the development of serious, often age-related brain disorders, and ensure your brain is functioning at its best for as long as possible.
B12’s role in DNA synthesis and cell reproduction also means it’s important for skin, hair, and nail health and growth. As we’ve covered extensively in other articles, skin, hair, and to a lesser extent nails are some of the most visible external areas of the body that show the signs of aging. By ensuring you have sufficient B12 in your body, and therefore optimal skin, hair, and nail growth and production, you can help offset the natural consequences of aging. Younger-looking skin, healthier-looking hair, and stronger, healthy nails can go a long way to taking a few years off your true age, at least in terms of your appearance.
Without getting too scientific or technical, B12 plays an important role in heart health, too. A compound that is known to cause inflammation called homocysteine can lead to increases in cardiac symptoms and heart disease. There is evidence that B12, coupled with folic acid, can reduce homocysteine levels.
Mood and mental health are key components of your overall health, though are often talked about as an after-thought or some separate part of how well you feel. These aspects of health become even more important as you age since you are presented with numerous changes to life circumstances, bodily function, mobility, social life, autonomy, and so on which may cause distress. Having more energy, balanced and consistent, along with better overall health in a number of bodily systems, will naturally lead to a better overall mood and more positive emotions. The myelin production benefits of reversing a B12 deficiency, coupled with more energy and better mood, may also help to prevent or reduce the severity of mental health problems that may develop commonly as we age, such as depression. More studies are needed and are underway (Ryan-Harshman & Aldoori, 2008).
When properly administered, B12 injections should be no more or less painful than other injections given intramuscularly (IM). There is some initial pain or discomfort from the needle penetrating the skin, and slight discomfort while the injection is being delivered, but this should dissipate rapidly following administration. Some skin irritation or redness at the injection site may occur. To reduce the injection pain, skin numbing sprays or similar (usually containing a topical anesthetic like lidocaine or benzocaine) can be used as necessary.
Some studies and data show B12 shots may help with weight loss through several proposed pathways. B12 shots also boost metabolism in those who are B12 deficient, meaning the calories you consume are burned faster, making your body more likely to consume some fat stores for energy. Additionally, the higher levels of energy provided by B12 shots enable more intensive and/or longer work-outs and exercise, which in turn burns more calories, and thus promotes weight loss.
For some people, the thought of a shot or injection fills them with fear. If you have a needle phobia, then a pill is probably a better choice than injection for B12. However, for most people, absent a needle phobia, a B12 shot is usually a better choice for reversing B12 deficiency. Absorption of nutrients ingested orally can vary quite a bit based on your specific gut microbiome. In addition, absorption through digestion tends to become more irregular or inefficient with age. To ensure you are getting a sufficient amount of B12, both a diet with significant B12 food sources and regular B12 injections are recommended. In short, if for whatever reason a pill is your only option, then go for it. But, when injections are a possibility for you, they tend to deliver a greater amount of B12 more effectively into your body, meaning you can realize more dramatic positive health effects.
Getting regular B12 injections, in the amount and frequency recommended by a doctor or trained medical professional, can do a world of good for your body, and that goes double for aging adults. One or two rare health conditions contraindicate B12 injections or supplementation but assuming you don’t suffer from those, then it’s very likely that B12 shots may be just what you need to fight the signs and symptoms of aging, and maximize your physical and mental health.
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While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.