B-12 Injections: Worth the Hype or a Total Waste?

Playing The Vitamin B12 Injection Craze – Buzz or Bust?

The Doctors senior investigative producer Leslie Marcus tackles the B-12 injection craze! B-12 shots are being billed as the magic bullet. Tired? Lethargic? Want to lose weight? So many in the wellness field will have you believing B-12 is the answer.

Leslie spoke with Dr. Steven Novella of “Science-Based Medicine” to ask him about B-12 injections. Dr. Novella believes the popularity is in part due to the health halo we have over vitamins. So many people believe vitamins are good so the more the better.  In terms of diet, the only time B-12 injections are legitimate is for those who have diets that may leave them B-12 deficient like vegans, vegetarians or people who don’t eat red meat.

Dr. Novella also adds that people who believe they are feeling immediate effects are experiencing a placebo effect. He says it would take days to really have an effect that you would notice. 

Leslie decided to conduct her own study. She sent three women to get their blood work done at the doctor and then to a med spa to get their B-12 injections. She wanted to see how these women with different diets were affected and furthermore, were they even B-12 deficient in the first place?

Monique has a regular diet, Brooke is a vegan, and Jennet doesn’t eat red meat. All of the women reported positive results from the shots, saying they felt amazing and energized. However, it turns out Jennet was the only woman with a B-12 deficiency. So, for Jennet to report that she no longer needs her 2 PM naps makes sense. For the other women, The Doctors attribute their results to the placebo effect. 

ER physician Dr. Travis Stork points out that B-12 is a necessary, essential vitamin and if you don’t have adequate levels, you do need a supplement. Plastic surgeon Dr. Andrew Ordon notes that it’s important to understand that if you do have normal levels of B-12, topping it off won’t help and it’s not going to improve the system. This is because, as dermatologist Dr. Sonia Batra adds, B-12 is water soluble so any excess vitamin in the system is just going to be urinated out. 

Dr. Batra shares that only 1.5 to 15% of the population is actually deficient in B-12 and while it is more common in people who avoid red meat, she found it interesting that Brooke, who is a vegan, wasn’t deficient. Brooke shares that she already uses supplements and eats fortified foods as well as stays up to date on medical articles, blogs and TV shows (like The Doctors!). 

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Dr. Travis says you can’t tell just by looking at someone that their B-12 levels are low so it’s important to get a blood test to find out instead of just getting injections. Leslie notes that she called several places about B-12 shots and not one suggested she get a blood test first. Furthermore, the claim that they help with weight loss she says is theoretically flawed. The claim is that you’ll go to the gym and work out harder because of the energy from B-12. 

Dr. Travis says the good news is, even if you get B-12 and don’t need it, you will just urinate it out. The bigger issue is that people who aren’t B-12 deficient are flushing their money down the toilet getting these injections. Dr. Batra adds the vitamin can also interact with other medications and, a lot of reports in dermatology show a higher dose of B-12 can cause an acne-like rash or make acne worse. 

Even worse than wasting money at med spas, Leslie found all over the internet that people are trying to DIY it! People are buying veterinarian-grade B-12 meant for livestock and injecting themselves. It’s all too easy to get and you don’t know what you are putting in your body!

There are ways to get B-12 naturally from foods like fortified cereal, salmon, beef, nonfat plain Greek yogurt and low-fat milk. 

Leslie’s last thought? Take what people tell you with a grain of salt and do your own research. Dr. Travis adds that if you think your B-12 levels are low, get them tested.