astounding vitamin b12 benefits you didn’t know about

Jill Bridges, SATI STAFF

You’d be amazed at how many people are deficient in vitamin B12. It’s an essential nutrient for brain and body function, but at the same time, it’s one of the leading deficiencies suffered by people all over the world. It helps your energy levels, your mood, your heart and lung function, your digestion, your memory, hormonal and metabolic functions. Because it affects so many different systems in your body, when you’ve got a deficiency there can be a whole range of symptoms.

If B12 is so important, you may wonder how so many people are deficient, how you can determine if your levels are low and where you can get the nutrients you need in your diet. Can you simply take supplements or do you need to get injections like you may have read about on nutrition websites? Let’s explore some astounding vitamin B12 benefits you didn’t know about and how you can identify and correct deficiencies in the most efficient and safest way.

1. About vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is also known as cobalamin. It’s a water-soluble nutrient, meaning that it generally doesn’t store in your body, and when you get too much it simply passes out in your urine. It’s naturally available in some foods, and others are enriched with it. It’s also available as a dietary supplement both over the counter and in prescription levels. It’s required to keep your body running in the right ways and is naturally present in animal products including meat and dairy, but not naturally in vegetable products[1,2].

The recommended daily intake for vitamin B12 in adults is between 2 and 6 mcg per day. This doesn’t seem like a great deal, so why are so many people deficient? The simple answer is that we don’t eat right in general. Too many people make dietary choices that rob them of their essential nutrients. Your body doesn’t make B12 naturally so it must be had through diet or supplemental intake. Your intake also needs to be regular since your body doesn’t store it[3,4].

2. Cobalamin deficiency

Vitamin B12 deficiency is growing more common every day, especially among people who follow vegetarian and vegan diets. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 90% of people who follow these diets are deficient in cobalamin[5,6]. The reason for this is that vitamin B12 is only naturally found in animal foods. That being said, there are even some meat eaters who suffer deficiency due to a lack of natural ability to absorb the vitamin[7,8].

It’s also common among the elderly, who experience a decreased ability to absorb B12 with age. Others at risk for deficiency include those who have had surgery and those with gut diseases like Crohn’s or celiac disease. This is because a certain protein produced in your stomach called the intrinsic factor is required for processing B12, and when your metabolism isn’t working at its most efficient, your intrinsic factor also decreases[9,10].

3. Vitamin B12 benefits

There are many vitamin B12 benefits that are well known in the health and nutrition community and are backed by science. These include healthy brain function, mood regulation and focus, strong bones and teeth, eyesight, boosting energy levels and even helping with weight loss[11]. While many of these benefits are solidly supported by science[12,13,14], others have very little to back them up, or at least the science is relatively new regarding them[15].

In the end, a deficiency of B12 can have serious health consequences that can present in a number of ways, but making sure your levels are proper will have an equally large range of health benefits. Make sure you get the right amount of B12 every day whether through diet or through taking supplements to keep your mood stable, your energy levels up, your brain function sharp and your bones and teeth strong.

4. Are vitamin B12 supplements safe?

Yes, in general vitamin B12 supplements are quite safe, whether you take them as an over-the-counter pill or through injections. There are no major known side effects known related to vitamin B12 and your body doesn’t store it, so the risk of toxicity is so low as to be nearly nonexistent. Any excess B12 in your body will simply be passed out through your urine, since it’s a water soluble vitamin.

This also means, however, that taking too much will likely not net you additional benefits. In extremely rare cases, some side effects can be experienced by people who happen to have a specific sensitivity to B12 or who happen to be allergic to the other ingredients and fillers used in the injections[16,17]. If you experience any potential side effects from the injections, you should call your doctor right away.

5. Good sources of cobalamin

As previously stated, the best sources of vitamin B12 are in animal products and other foods that are fortified with the vitamin. Such sources include milk and certain breakfast cereals. The best possible dietary sources of B12 include liver, kidney, trout, salmon, beef, eggs and chicken. Because these foods are all animal proteins, it can be difficult to get B12 as a part of a regular vegan or vegetarian diet routine.

For people who follow a non-meat diet, B12 oral supplements or shots are essential to getting the levels of cobalamin you need in your diet. On the upside, evidence is increasing that shows supplements can raise your blood levels just as effectively as getting it from your diet[18,19,20, 21]. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan it’s recommended that you take 10 mcg per day orally, or get a 2,000 mcg supplement at least once per week.

6. Symptoms of a deficiency

Since vitamin B12 is so essential to so many aspects of your body’s function, symptoms of a deficiency can present in a broad number of ways. This makes it important, if you experience any sort of symptoms indicative of something being wrong, that you speak with your doctor. The good news is that if you have a deficiency, it’s usually pretty easy to address and get taken care of through supplementing your diet or getting shots.

Symptoms can include chronic fatigue, weakness, muscle aches, respiratory problems, joint pain, dizziness, problems with memory, concentration and focus, mood issues, heart palpitations, dental health problems, digestive or appetite issues or even, in severe cases, anemia[22,23,24,25]. Again, the elderly, those with Crohn’s or digestive disorders, and those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet may be at the highest risk. Also, certain medications for conditions like diabetes can affect B12 levels.

7. Maintain your energy levels

Vitamin B12 can be essential in keeping your energy levels up. If you’re feeling lethargic, tired and having problems with fatigue, vitamin B12 can be a great solution. This is because vitamin B aids in your body’s metabolic functions. It’s important to note that on its own vitamin B12 doesn’t create energy; there’s no scientific evidence to support the idea that it does. However, it helps to regulate nerve transmissions, synthesize DNA and create new blood cells[26,27].

Further, the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency can include chronic fatigue, so it stands to reason that correcting this deficiency will boost your energy. It also helps your body to convert carbohydrates into energy and to create chemicals that are required to synthesize lipids and protein, which are also used by your body to produce energy. Thus, while its energy effects are secondary rather than direct, it is important[28,29].

8. Promote healthy brain function

Vitamin B12 can be absolutely essential to your brain health. In fact, deficiency in this nutrient can cause serious psychological consequences including depression and even an increased risk of neurodegenerative conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This is a vitamin that’s essential to your nerves working right, and in processing signals from the brain to the body. That means that it’s important to pretty much everything that goes on inside you[30,31].

Potential brain and focus-related issues related to vitamin B12 deficiency include brain fog, a lack of ability to concentrate on tasks at hand, memory issues, bipolar and other mood disorders, and more. If left untreated for too long, a deficiency in B12 can actually lead to permanent and irreversible brain and nerve damage. It will lead to an increased risk of degenerative brain disorders and depression[32,33]. Like most benefits of B12, it’s not a booster unto itself, but not having enough can cause serious troubles.

9. Heart health

Vitamin B complexes in general and B12 specifically can be important to benefit cardiovascular health in a number of ways. Since heart disease is the number one cause of death all over the world, anything we can do to stave off this epidemic is important. B12 helps to reduce levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which is considered a marker for heart disease risk factor. By lowering these levels, vitamin B12 can thereby reduce the risk for heart-related illness[34,35].

This means that by getting enough B vitamins in your diet, you will protect yourself against stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular conditions. In addition, there’s some scientific evidence that B12 can positively influence your cholesterol levels, reducing bad cholesterol and in turn, reducing your chances for high blood pressure and atherosclerosis, both of which can also contribute to a heightened risk of heart disease[36, 37].

10. Skin and hair benefits

B12 is one of the most important vitamins for maintaining healthy skin and hair. The function of the vitamin that plays into this aspect is its ability to foster healthy cell reproduction. It can help to keep skin moist and taut, and reduce inflammation, redness, acne and inflammation from skin conditions. It can be useful for reducing skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. It can also help to reduce hair breakage, build body and keep hair strong[38,39].

One thing that’s important to remember is that no B-vitamin works in a vacuum. There’s a reason why there are so many B-vitamin complexes—they all work together as a team. A deficiency in any of your B complexes could cause problems with the functionality of the rest. That’s why it’s often best to boost your vitamin B levels by taking a multivitamin complex instead of just focusing on one[40,41].

11. Digestion and metabolism

Cobalamin also plays a vital role in making sure your metabolism and digestive system truck along exactly the way they’re supposed to. It plays an important part in helping produce digestive enzymes that are needed to support your digestion of foods and nutrients. Your gut is also full of bacteria that are essential at turning food into energy and nutrients—these “good bacteria” are important in preventing disorders like IBS and Candida[42,43].

Feeding these good bacteria requires foods that are called prebiotic, and B-vitamin complexes are outstanding prebiotic foods. B-12 also helps to build your DNA and produce myelin, which is a protective shell surrounding your nerves. Few people consider their nervous system when thinking about digestion, but your gastrointestinal system relies on the right signals from your brain, and without healthy nervous function[44,45] you’ll encounter everything from constipation to illness.

12. Pregnancy

It’s vital for pregnant women to keep their nutrition up. After all, you’re not just trying to keep your own body fit and ease your delivery, but you’re eating to provide nutrition for your baby as well. Cobalamin is essential to creating and replicating DNA, which is the basic genetic building block of all life. It’s a key nutrient for all growth and development, and it is vital to maintaining a healthy pregnancy. It can help to lower birth defects as well[46].

Recently there have been reports that vitamin B12 in high levels may be associated with an increased risk of autism in children. It’s important to keep in mind that this research is new and that it is a small sample study. In any case, the key is balance. Get the B12 you need, but don’t go overboard. B12 is essential to your baby’s development and as long as you don’t overdose, it can play an important role in your pregnancy[47].

13. Cancer

Supplementing your diet with vitamin B12 is essential to your health in many ways. It’s great for boosting your immune system due to its antioxidant properties and protecting against free radicals is a great way to defend yourself against a wide variety of illnesses, with certain kinds of cancers front and center among them. B12 works in close conjunction with folate and vitamin B-6 in this process, and a lot of research is starting to show that it can have benefits to protect against cervical, prostate and colon cancer[48].

Vitamin B-12 can not only be important in reducing your risk of cancer, but in your body’s ability to fight cancer as well. This can be critical among patients who alter their diet during cancer treatments, especially those who adopt a vegan or vegetarian diet for the purpose of fighting cancer. This can result in low levels of B-12, which can actually make the problem worse[49]. It’s vital to keep your B-12 levels strong to keep fighting the good fight!

14. Cellular health

Finally, and to sum everything up, vitamin B-12 is essential for pretty much every cell in your body. From creating DNA chains to supporting digestion to creating protective protein shells around each individual cell, it helps in every way to support healthy cell creation, division and metabolism. It’s important to red blood cells, to preventing anemia, to fighting chronic fatigue syndrome and in overall metabolic health[50].

Vitamin B-12 helps to support the cells in your nervous system, which improves your brain’s ability to communicate with every part of your body. It can help to battle against dementia and other degenerative brain disorders and sustain memory and focus, as well as keeping your muscles strong and your body able to function at peak performance levels.

The sati line

In the end, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be supplementing your vitamin B-12 intake. Unless you’re a pregnant woman, excess vitamin B-12 will do you no harm and carries no side effects. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, it’s absolutely essential to supplement your diet, as 40% of adults all over the world suffer from a deficiency in this vitamin, which can cause a number of problems from memory issues to chronic fatigue and even to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and cancer.

Interestingly, it’s not a factor of gaining vitamin B12 benefits, but rather a factor of avoiding the negative side effects of being deficient. The people who are at most risk for deficiency are those who don’t eat meat, the elderly and those on certain medications such as metformin for diabetes.

Information about high levels of B12 in pregnant women and the risk of autism is still new and the science still thin. Still, as with any supplement, it’s important to get the right levels; going overboard won’t help.

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