Article at a Glance
- Vitamin B12 shots have become increasingly popular, particularly as more people learn how certain gene mutations may play a role in how we process vitamins.
- There are three primary types of B12, with methylcobalamin generally regarded as the highest quality.
- Vitamin B12 shots can help improve your mood, give you an energy boost, and even help your metabolism. Some people might want to consider Vitamin B12 shots over others, including hardcore vegans who may be deficient, people with anemia, or those with mutations in the MTRR genes.
- Many shot providers allow for additions to the serum, such as methyl folate for those with an MTHFR mutation.
- Side effects of B12 shots are minor, with a sore hip and a strange taste in the back of your mouth being most common.
- Because B vitamins are water-soluble, there’s not a great risk of overdoing it on supplementation either orally or via injection.
I was hesitant for this rite of passage. In what sort of world did a newer team member of a company get a shot of B vitamins injected into their backside to be an official part of the crew?
Welcome to the Gene Food world.
Last week, I was in sunny San Diego for a work retreat with John and Taylor, when after breakfast one morning, John proposed getting B vitamin shots together. A look of glee combined with mischief spread across Taylor’s face — he had gotten a vitamin B12 shot within his first two weeks of working with John two years ago, and now it was my turn.
So, what were these B vitamin shots all about, and why should I get one? And why did Taylor keep smiling our entire walk to the clinic?
What’s in a Vitamin B12 shot?
It depends. Vitamin B12 shots are pretty popular — just type into Google and you’ll probably see some locations to get them near you if you live in a hip city.
In San Diego, we stopped by KOI Wellbeing in the charming Bird Rock neighborhood. KOI offers a variety of vitamin injections as well as IV therapy. We went with the “B Balanced” shot, a combination of 1,000 micrograms of methyl B12 and 500 mcg each of B5 and B6, plus methyl folate as an add-on.
Note: we wouldn’t take these high doses of B vitamins over the long term in light of some of the research that has come out discussing the increased risk of cancer with prolonged high doses of B vitamin supplements.
We received the most active (and highest quality) form of B12, methylcobalamin.
Types of B12
|B12 form||What it does|
|Methylcobalamin||Most active form of B12 found in the human body. Converts homocysteine into methionine and provides overall protection of nervous and cardiovascular system.|
|Cyanocobalamin||Synthetic version of B12. Very stable but uses cyanide, requiring the body to expend energy to remove it.|
|Hydroxocobalamin||This B12 is the main one found in our foods and converts to methylcobalamin in our bodies.|
|Adenosylcobalamin||Least stable form of B12, responsible for energy formation during citric acid cycle.|
See also: Meet your B vitamins
Why would I want a Vitamin B12 shot?
B12 shots are an easy way for people to address one of the most common vitamin deficiencies and increase their energy and boost their mood. Vitamin B12 is important for proper red blood cell formation and brain function in addition to DNA synthesis, energy production and nerve cell health. (R) It’s also really important when it comes to converting homocysteine, which you can read about in a nerdy post written by Aaron here. Supplementing with B12 may do a whole range of good stuff for us, including possibly preventing dementia and improving healthy fetal development during pregnancy. (R) (R)
Because B12 is mainly found in animal sources, strict vegans and vegetarians may be more likely to be deficient. People with gastrointestinal disorders like celiac or Crohn’s disease and older adults also may have issues with absorbing B12. A B12 deficiency can lead to anemia and permanent nerve damage. (R)
Some indicators of a B12 deficiency also may be linked to problems with low B6 or folate, which we’ll get into in a minute.
Recommended B12 Intake
Adults, both male and female, should have 2.4 mcg of B12 daily, according to the National Institutes of Health. Pregnant or breastfeeding moms need a little bit more. Dietary supplements of B12 are usually present as cyanocobalamin, but this is the cheapest form of B12, our vitamin B12 injection contained methyl B12, which is more readily absorbable. As a general rule, only about 10 mcg of a 500 mcg supplement is absorbed in healthy people. (R)
Although most people get enough B12 in their diets — about 3.4 mcg daily is the median in the U.S. — some may want to consider an injection because of how their body processes certain vitamins due to their genetics.
Vitamin B and MTHFR mutations
This brings me to my next point. While most of us, unless we’re hardcore vegans, are getting enough B vitamins, are our bodies actually processing it efficiently?
It may depend on your MTHFR genes.
For a couple of quick primers outside the limits of this post, check out these two articles from Gene Food on MTHFR: Do I have an MTHFR mutation? Here’s how to find out and The science of MTHFR mutations explained.
I have one copy of the C677T allele of MTHFR, which means I process folic acid less efficiently. This can cause high homocysteine levels, which can increase my risk of heart disease, stroke, and dementia. (R) (R) (R) Other MTHFR mutations may mean even more issues with processing folate and also lower B12 levels, though if you get lab tests done, it may show higher levels of these vitamins — the problem is, they are usually inactive instead of active.
John and Taylor also each have an MTHFR mutation, so we all added methyl folate (B9) to our Vitamin B12 shots.
See also: Are the COMT and MTHFR genes linked?
How I felt after my Vitamin B12 shot
Before my Vitamin B12 shot, I had felt drained and tired. I had had three nights in a row of about 5 hours of sleep, and even two cups of coffee at breakfast that morning hadn’t perked me up.
The process of getting the shot was pretty simple and took only a few minutes. The vitamins are injected near the back of your hip, so you have to unzip your pants and get a little comfortable with a stranger. Luckily, I had some privacy and got to chat for a little bit with the health professional. Everyone was super nice at KOI and the space was bright, clean and inviting.
While I was surprised to feel a little sore on my backside immediately after the injection, within 10-15 minutes I did feel an improved mood and like the bags had lifted from under my eyes. Either it was the coffee kicking in or the shot — but I bet on the shot. John, Taylor and I took a quick walk to the beach and with the crisp wind whipping around and sun shining on our faces, it felt like a refreshing post-spa experience. Once we got into the warm car to go home, I started to feel a little tired again but otherwise was much more alert than I had been earlier that morning. I told Taylor, whom I usually joke around all day with at work, that I felt “less sassy than normal.” Improvement, or no?
John and the woman administering our shots both mentioned I might be able to taste a little of the vitamin injection in the back of my throat, and that I might see a little orange tinge to my urine later — both were true. John said I would probably feel best the next morning, but again, I’m not sure if it was the actual full night of sleep I finally got or the shot that did make me feel pretty much back to my normal, pre-fatigued self (with a little less sarcasm included).
Would I get a vitamin B12 shot again?
I would definitely consider it, though I’d like to get a test for whether or not I have any other vitamin deficiencies to better tailor my experience. The rest of KOI’s vitamin injection offerings looked tempting — they have weight-loss support shots and ones for muscle repair after workouts, for example — so I’d be curious to check out a local wellness clinic at home in Austin for similar options.
You can’t take too much vitamin B12, as risk of toxicity with water-soluble vitamins is low. Vitamin B12 shots can cause some side effects, such as diarrhea or feeling as if your whole body is swollen, although I didn’t notice any negative symptoms after mine other than a sore backside for a few hours. Be sure to speak with your doctor immediately if you have any serious, but rare, side effects, including muscle weakness, leg pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, and others. Anyone with allergies or medical conditions, or people who are on antibiotics or other medication that may interact with B12, should consult their doctor before receiving a vitamin injection. It’d also help to know what MTHFR mutations you have, if any, so consider getting a DNA test done to ensure you’re getting the vitamin shots that would work best for you.
If you’re creeped out by shots — or getting them done in front of your coworkers — and you have an MTHFR mutation, a different type of vitamin form may able to help. Let us know in the comments how vitamin B12 injections have worked for you!