Learn about home B12 blood tests, their effectiveness and who should use them in this overview.
While it is important for all people to maintain proper vitamin and mineral levels, for certain groups of people, such as vegans, older adults and those with certain medical conditions, checking nutrition levels is crucial to good health.
What is Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is the vitamin responsible for DNA production, healthy red blood and nerve cells.
Vitamin B12 is found in animal foods such as meat, eggs and dairy. It is also found in nutritional supplements and food fortified with it.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommendation for daily vitamin B intake as 2.4mcg for males and females aged 14 and older. Recommendations for other ages and circumstances (pregnancy, lactation) are available in a chart, available from the National Institute of Health.
Who is at Risk?
Because vitamin B12 is found in animal foods, vegans are among those at the highest risk for vitamin B12 deficiency. Other groups include those who have medical problems related to nutrient absorption. People who eat little or no dairy and meat products for any reason (poverty, lactose intolerance, etc) are also at a higher risk for vitamin B12 deficiency.
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
People in higher risk groups may want to monitor their vitamin B12 levels. Additionally, those with symptoms common to vitamin B12 deficiency may wish to use a home test. While symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are also symptoms of other medical problems, testing for vitamin B12 deficiency is a simple way to help correctly diagnose the problem.
The most common symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are:
- Eye spasms
- Balance problems
- Numbness in hands and feet
- Tingling in hands and feet
- Soreness of mouth or tongue
- Loss of appetite
- Memory problems
The good news is that it is possible to test b12 blood levels at home. One test, available at testcountry.com, is priced at $199 and is a mail-in test. The results are reviewed by a medical doctor. The product claim is for sensitivity and accuracy. A sample of urine is collected in order to determine b12 levels. For this test, the price decreases per unit when more than one is purchased at a time.
This test measures methylmalonic acid, which is declared by various sources to be the most accurate test method for determining vitamin B12 deficiency. This is because methylmalonic acid is produced and excreted when vitamin B12 is deficient in the body. This testable accumulation begins within 10 days of the deficiency start date.
Though vitamin B12 blood sample tests are available, they tend to be less accurate than the methylmalonic acid (MMA) test.
Additionally, Norman Clinical Laboratory provides mail-in testing of b12 blood levels, and also states that urine collection is more effective than blood collection. Their test also measures methylmalonic acid. However, the cost is not listed on the site. The company must be contacted in order to price and order.
How to Test
The exact method for testing will depend upon the particular test. It may require a urine sample or a blood sample. It will need to be mailed in and results will be reviewed by a medical professional.
Packages of test kits will contain all necessary instructions and at least some of the supplies needed to take the test. A telephone number should be provided with the test kit that can be contacted regarding questions or problems.
As with any test, human error can occur. This problem is more prevalent with home tests than those performed in medical settings such as at a doctor’s office or in a medical laboratory.
The most common errors related to home b12 testing are not following the directions exactly, not watching the timing carefully and contamination of collected samples.
The best way to prevent errors is to:
- Carefully read the directions in full before starting the test.
- Call the provided phone number if you don’t understand what you have read.
- Assemble all needed test items before starting the test. Make sure that your kit has everything it is supposed to have in order to take the test.
- Read the directions carefully as you take the test. Call the provided phone number if you run into problems or have questions, as you go.
- Follow the directions exactly. Don’t guess and don’t ‘bend the rules’. Call the provided number for help.
- Watch timing carefully. Too much time and too little time can give false results.
- Use extreme care when collecting the blood or urine sample. Follow kit directions closely to prevent contamination and inaccurate results.