Vitamin B12 Shots Vs. Pills

Vitamin B-12 pills and shots are both effective forms of supplementation used to fortify levels of B-12, which aids in numerous essential bodily functions.

Vitamin B12 pills help strengthen your immune system. (Image: TARIK KIZILKAYA/iStock/GettyImages)

Vitamin B-12 deficiency can be highly detrimental to your health, so supplementation is an important route to take if you start to run low on B-12. Knowing which is better for you, vitamin B-12 injections or pills, depends on many factors, including individual makeup and circumstances.

Vitamin B-12 Benefits

Vitamin B-12 is one of the water-soluble vitamins that make up the B complex. According to the National Institutes of Health, it is necessary for a variety of functions, including the production and healthy maintenance of red blood cells, strengthening and protecting the nervous system, and metabolizing proteins and fats into glucose, which the body uses for energy.

In addition, the Mayo Clinic explains, in combination with vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-9, vitamin B-12 has been found to control and regulate the level of homocysteine in the blood. Excessive homocysteine in the blood has been found to be linked to cardiovascular issues such as heart disease and blood vessel disease.

The Mayo Clinic also says that vitamin B-12 is beneficial in the production of DNA, the genetic material found in all cells that aids in their production and regrowth.

Vitamin B-12 is naturally found in a variety of animal products, and ordinarily you can get enough of this vitamin from diet alone to avoid taking vitamin B-12 pills or injections — however, there are some instances in which this is not the case.

Tip

The National Institutes of Health explains that the highest levels of vitamin B-12 are found in beef liver and clams, so these foods are recommended to help combat the likelihood of vitamin B-12 deficiency.

Vitamin B-12 Deficiency

Though vitamin B-12 deficiency often results from low amounts in the diet, there are other possible causes to account for in preventing deficiency.

Because the majority of vitamin B-12 sources are animal products such as meats, fish, dairy and eggs, vegans and vegetarians are at a higher risk of vitamin B-12 deficiency. To combat this, Harvard Health Publishing advises the consumption of B-12 fortified grains to increase levels of vitamin B-12. However, this may not be enough, so B-12 pills may still be required in certain cases.

Harvard Medical School also says vitamin B-12 deficiency can follow weight loss surgery, which can affect the body's ability to absorb vitamins. Similarly, conditions, such as Crohn's disease and celiac disease, can lead to B-12 deficiency because they affect the ability to absorb nutrients.

Symptoms of Vitamin B-12 Deficiency

B-12 pills and shots are administered to counter B-12 deficiency. If left untreated, it can lead to permanent nerve damage. For this reason, it is important to confront a deficiency early on.

The NIH describes the following as symptoms of vitamin B-12 deficiency:

  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
  • Loss of balance
  • Memory loss

Vitamin B-12 deficiency affects the sensory, motor and autonomic nerves and the metabolizing of cells, so identifying a deficiency early allows for more effective treatment.

Vitamin B-12 Pills

Pills are the most common form of B-12 treatment because you can take them without needing to arrange a trip to a medical office or facility, which is necessary for B-12 shots.

Warning

Because of vitamin B-12's role in energy production, the pills should be taken in the morning or throughout the day as opposed to at night. Taking them at night could lead to trouble sleeping.

B-12 supplements can fortify vitamin B-12 intake when diet is not sufficient. B-12 pills are not to be confused with multivitamins. While multivitamins are a helpful supplementary source of B-12, B-12 pills are used to treat a deficiency as opposed to being preventive.

The American Academy of Family Physicians says supplements are not useful in treating B-12 deficiency because they do not supply enough to restore the body's B-12 levels. B-12 pills contain approximately 1,000 micrograms of vitamin B-12 and should be taken daily for as long as is prescribed. Supplements ordinarily contain around 250 micrograms.

Vitamin B-12 Shots

Vitamin B-12 injections are generally prescribed when B-12 deficiency has become so severe that a quick restoration is necessary.

The AAFP says B-12 injections demonstrate more rapid results than their oral counterparts, so they are more appropriate for patients with a severe deficiency.

B-12 injections are ordinarily administered intramuscularly, meaning the injection is administered into a muscle, and around 10 percent is absorbed directly into the body. This makes it an effective means of rapid replacement for severely deficient patients.

Harvard Health Publishing explains that muscle injections of B-12 shots are particularly helpful for treating a form of B-12 deficiency known as pernicious anemia — an inability to produce healthy red blood cells due to a lack of vitamin B-12. Because this is a serious condition, the fast-acting treatment of vitamin B-12 shots is preferable over pills.

Furthermore, Harvard Medical School advises that vitamin B-12 injections are sometimes necessary following the surgical removal of the ileum, the lower section of the small intestine. If it has been removed (ordinarily due to complications from Crohn's disease), orally administered B-12 cannot be absorbed by the body, so the only way to restore vitamin B-12 is through injections.

Which Is Better?

Both vitamin B-12 pills and injections are effective ways to boost and consolidate the amount of B-12 in the body. Neither is more effective than the other, and both demonstrate similar results when tested.

The only difference appears to be how rapidly restoration of B-12 levels takes place — so when it comes to which is better, it all depends on the severity and context of the deficiency and the patient's circumstances.

Tip

Always consult with your health care professional before beginning any new medication or treatment, as complications may arise from allergies or interactions with other medications.

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