Our bodies require a lot of vitamins and nutrients, and sometimes it’s hard to figure out if we’re getting all we need from our diet. This is especially true in the case of B12—it’s an essential vitamin for our bodies, and yet people often misattribute the signs of Vitamin B12 deficiency to other issues.

Vitamin B12 plays a huge role in the production of DNA and red blood cells, and it is also involved in the production of the myelin sheath that essentially acts of insulation for your nerves. That is why, in severe cases, a lack of B12 can cause permanent nerve damage! Even though B12’s importance is widely known, it is still incredibly common for people to have low levels of the vitamin in their bodies. A study from Tufts University suggests that 40% of people aged 26 to 83 showed B12 levels that were in the ‘low normal’ range—a level low enough to exhibit neurological symptoms.

While the more obvious signs of B12 deficiency include weakness, fatigue, light-headedness, rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath, pale skin, sore mouth or tongue, bleeding gums, unexplained weight loss, and diarrhea or constipation, there are a lot of other symptoms that are a bit harder to identify. Issues such as memory loss, numbness in the limbs, cognitive decline, depression, paranoia, incontinence, and delusions are often misattributed (especially in the elderly) to other diseases or simply to aging, when in fact these, too, are symptoms of low levels of Vitamin B12.

The reason that B12 deficiency is so common is because it is a complicated process for our bodies to absorb it. This is compounded by the fact that B12 is only present in animal products—we don’t get any B12 from plants because they don’t store it. That’s why vegans and vegetarians are most likely to be lacking Vitamin B12 in their bloodstream. It’s always better to get vitamins straight from a food source, but if you’re a vegetarian, a vegan, or have dietary restrictions that prevent you from eating a lot of animal products, then it is very important for you to take a supplement. Many multivitamins contain B12, but they’re also sold as their own pill that you can get from any store that sells vitamins! If you are concerned that you might have a severe Vitamin B12 deficiency it’s very important that you speak to your physician, but otherwise Vitamin B12 is something you should definitely add to your every day routine!