This post was written by Kayleigh Shoaff, RDN, LD, Parkview Hospital Randallia.
Vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin that plays essential roles in red blood cell creation, cell metabolism, nerve function and production of DNA. It also works as a coenzyme in the conversion of protein and fat into energy. But can it really provide an energy lift? To answer that question, we need to talk about where you can find this vitamin and how much you really need.
Sources of B12
Vitamin B12 can be found in a wide variety of animal products, such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese and fortified foods such as breakfast cereal.
The amount of vitamin B12 required varies based on your age and life cycle. Most adolescents and adults require 2.4 micrograms per day, while higher levels are recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Populations at a higher risk of vitamin B12 deficiency include people who are vegetarian or vegan, exclusively breastfed infants of vegan women, older adults, those with gastrointestinal disorders or who have had gastrointestinal surgery, and people with an autoimmune condition known as pernicious anemia.
Most people in the U.S. obtain adequate amounts of vitamin B12 from their diet. Vitamin B12 deficiency is generally treated with intramuscular injections of vitamin B12, but people can also be treated with high oral doses.
It’s worth noting that adverse effects are not common with high supplemental vitamin B12 intake, however, there is also no strong evidence to show that it has benefits in people who are not already deficient (largely due to the fact that your body only stores as much B12 as it needs and any excess will be excreted through your urine).
B12 energy shots and drinks
In today’s market, some energy drinks or energy shots widely tout high levels of B vitamins, including vitamin B12, claiming that these will make you feel energized and alert. One particularly popular energy shot company claims on its website that the energy shots “are dietary supplements that can help you feel energized and alert for hours. They contain a special blend of essential B vitamins, amino acids and nutrients — all with zero sugar and four calories,” and states “20,833% of vitamin B12, 2,353% of vitamin B6.” You might wonder if these percentages are dangerous. The short answer is, no. The levels of B12 and B6 are within safe limits. The company does not disclose that there is no established Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for vitamin B12 because it has low potential for toxicity due to it being a water-soluble vitamin, meaning that any excess amounts in your body will be excreted in your urine.
Most energy drinks and shots contain caffeine, B vitamins, taurine, flavorings and artificial sweeteners. Consumers may feel an energy boost from the caffeine and taurine in these drinks, but not from the B vitamins. The only reason a consumer would feel an energy benefit from the B vitamins in these drinks is if he or she were already deficient in a B vitamin. The largest concern surrounding energy drinks is their caffeine content, and the potential for consumers to combine various energy drink sources (coffee, tea, soda, energy shots). Too much caffeine may cause high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, nausea, vomiting, nervousness and trouble sleeping.
People who are concerned about their low level of energy should be advised that unless they already suffer from a vitamin B12 deficiency, there is no strong evidence to support the notion that taking large doses of vitamin B12 will increase their energy levels. If you have concerns for a vitamin B12 deficiency, please reach out to your primary care provider.