Q. I am a 55-year-old woman. Last month, I had a routine annual check-up. After reviewing my lab results, my doctor has recommended that I get monthly B12 injections. Is that really necessary?
A. The recommendation to initiate vitamin B12 injections after routine lab work indicates that your B12 level is low. Vitamin B12 is an essential, water-soluble vitamin that is used by the human body to maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells. It is also used by cells in the production of DNA, our basic genetic building blocks. B12 is commonly found in foods such as meat, dairy products and fish. Once these foods are consumed, acid in the stomach releases B12. A substance called intrinsic factor (IF) binds the available B12, which allows for absorption of the vitamin into the bloodstream. The inability to absorb B12 through this process is called pernicious anemia, which may lead to low B12 stockpiles.
Patients with low B12 levels require treatment. Studies suggest that mega doses of oral vitamin B12 supplements are as effective as B12 injections. However, some patients find it difficult to maintain a regimen of oral B12, leading to ineffective treatment. These patients tend to benefit more from B12 injections as receiving the injections in a controlled environment usually leads to a more effective treatment. Ultimately, it is the patient’s decision to initiate B12 injections versus oral B12 supplements. Communication with your physician is key to any successful medical treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor why he/she thinks you would benefit most from B12 injections.
Justin T. Cooke, M.D.
Signal Mountain Health and Wellness Center
2600 Taft Highway
Signal Mountain, TN