Do you feel tired mostly all the time, not having the energy to do even the simplest daily tasks? Do you manifest rapid mood changes? Do you notice sometimes that your skin tone does not look healthy, that you cannot get focused on your work and that you get some memory gaps especially with faces and names? If it is the case, these can be some symptoms that you have a lack of vitamin B12 in your body.
A study by the Tufts University in 2000 revealed that about 40% of the U.S population suffers from a B12 deficiency. Since then, it is more widespread than thought and not only among vegans as often perceived.
It is a real issue as vitamin B12 is a crucial B-vitamin responsible for supporting heart and mind functioning.
Benefits of vitamin B12 are numerous and essential to get your body work properly. In this post, you will know how does this vital vitamin serves the body and why you should consider seriously any deficiency.
What is Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is a vital vitamin for the proper functionning of the body.
It is also called Cobalamin as it contains the mineral cobalt.
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin with the most complicated structure. It is one of the eight B-vitamins that is naturally present in some foods like clams, liver fortified cereals, salmon and other. It is also available as a dietary supplement or a prescription medication. Meaning that the body does not make it.
It exists in many forms. The ones that are active in the human body are Methylcobalamin and 5-deoxyadenosylcobalamin.
What Role Vitamin B12 Plays in The Body?
Vitamin B12 does many things for the body. It is needed for the brain function, the nerve tissue health and the blood health.
First, it is involved in the metabolism of every cell in the human body.
It is also a cofactor in DNA synthesis and in the metabolism of fatty acids and amino acid.
Vitamin B12 has additionally an important role in the normal functioning of the nervous system as it helps form the protective nerves covering called cell’s myelin sheath. Thus, any low level of that vitamin means the deterioration of the cognitive function.
Besides its role in the neurological function and DNA synthesis, vitamin B12 is important for the production of red blood cells, which transport oxygen in the blood. That’s why if this vitamin is lacking, red blood cells get lower and have a larger size.
It is important to note that since the body does not store vitamin B12 for long, you should get it on a regular basis.
What is The Recommended Daily Intake of Vitamin B12?
The amount of vitamin B12 that you need daily depends on many conditions notably your age and your health conditions.
Hereunder, the average daily recommended amount of vitamin B12 for a normal person depending on age, presented in micrograms (mcg):
If suffering from a vitamin B12 deficiency, it is important to take your healthcare professional advice.
What are the benefits of Vitamin B12?
As mentioned before, vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in the proper functioning of every cell. Hereunder how this beneficial substance supports the overall health :
. Helps Maintain Energy Levels and Vitality
Vitamin B12 plays an important role in maintaining energy levels due to its role in energy metabolism.
It is known that any lack of fat, protein or carbohydrates have an impact on physical performance. Yet, less information is about low vitamins intake effects. Low Vitamin B12 levels have negative effects on energy levels, vitality and, thus, lead to the permanent feeling of fatigue, tiredness and weakness.
In other words, for people with B12 deficiency, taking foods rich in vitamin B12 or supplements will improve their energy.
For people with sufficient levels, vitamin B12 helps them maintain the normal levels and do not boost more their energy as any excess of this vitamin is eliminated naturally by the body through urine.
. Prevents Memory Loss and Brain Atrophy
Many studies emphasize on the impact of vitamin B12 on the brain health.
Indeed, low levels of this vitamin in the body are associated with worse cognition especially in older adults.
Thus, vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in preventing loss of neurons called brain atrophy that is always linked to memory loss and dementia.
That’s why, taking foods high in vitamin B12 or supplements helps people having deficiency boost their memory performance and prevent mental decline.
. Reduces the Risk of Neurodegenerative Diseases
A sufficient intake of vitamin B12 can lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer and Parkinson, as some preliminary studies found and the researches are still ongoing.
The study shows that any increase of homocysteine a protein that occurs inside the body, raises by 16% the risk of Alzheimer.
Another study linked B12 deficiency with an increase level of homocysteine. Thus, with each increase of vitamin B12, notably holotranscobalamin, the active protein of vitamin B12, the risk of Alzheimer reduces by 2%.
Besides, the same results were found with the correlation between Parkinson’s diseases and vitamin B12 levels.
. Boosts Mood and Helps Prevent Depression Symptoms
Some researches have associated vitamin B12 deficiency to depression
Normal levels of vitamin B12 are essential to maintain the integrity of the neurological system and the balance of the brain neurotransmitters.
Here, we are talking about serotonin, an important neurotransmitter responsible for mood regulation, and thus for preventing any depression disorder, as B12 acts as a cofactor in synthesis of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.
In the journal “Annals of neurology”, a study was published about the link between low levels of vitamin B12 and decreased serotonin production.
That’s why, if you are deficient in vitamin B12, you may feel tired and experience symptoms of a depressed mood due to the decrease in serotonin production.
Besides, another study on people with depression and low vitamin B12 levels emphasized what is said before. Those who were given antidepressants and B12 supplements had significantly improved depressive symptoms compared to those who were given antidepressants only.
. Helps Maintaining Heart Health
Vitamin B12 has an important role in preventing cardiovascular diseases.
Studies associated vitamin B12 deficiency and the risk of cardiovascular diseases development.
In other words, low levels of vitamin B12 are linked to high levels of homocysteine, an amino acid associated to an increased risk of heart diseases.
That’s why, by decreasing homocysteine levels, vitamin B12 may help reduce the risk of heart diseases.
Researches are still ongoing to further understand this relationship.
. Promotes a Healthy Skin, Hair and Nails
Due to its role in cell production, sufficient levels of vitamin B12 are required in order to maintain hair, skin and nails health.
Following many researches, vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to many dermatological manifestations like hyperpigmentation, hair and nail changes, vitiligo (patchy loss of skin color), acne, nail discoloration and other diseases.
In many cases, supplementing people having B12 deficiency with vitamin B12 has been shown to improve these dermatological symptoms.
Yet, for people with normal levels of vitamin B12, taking more of this vitamin has not been proven to ameliorate skin health or nail and hair strength.
. Helps with a Healthy Pregnancy and May Prevent Major Birth Defects
Sufficient vitamin B12 levels are important to prevent major birth defects and have a healthy pregnancy.
Vitamin B12 is crucial for a proper development of the brain and nervous system of the fetus.
That’s why, B12 deficiency while starting pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of birth defects like neural tube defects and may even contribute to preterm delivery or miscarriage.
Furthermore, studies emphasize that vitamin B12 level in woman should be more than 300 ng/L before becoming pregnant to assure a healthy pregnancy and a good health for the infant after birth. Thus, with a lower level of vitamin B12, the risk of birth defects increases.
. Helps Produce Red Blood Cells and Prevent Anemia
Vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in red blood cell formation in the body.
B12 deficiency generates the reduction of red blood cells and can lead to the deformation of these cells.
In other words, healthy red blood cells are round and small, while they become larger and oval if vitamin B12 is in low levels.
This irregular shape and low number of blood cells affect the transport of oxygen to the brain and the other organs, which leads to fatigue and general body weakness.
. Helps Support Bone Health and Prevent Osteoporosis
Sufficient vitamin B12 levels help maintain a good bone health and formation.
Studies show that B12 deficiency may be an important factor for osteoporosis, bones decreased mineral density and higher risk of fractures.
Some further researches link this to higher levels of homocysteine in blood due to low vitamin B12 levels.
Besides, more studies have emphasized the previous results especially in elder women, who should pay a special attention to their B12 level to maintain their bones healthy, strong and with high mineral content.
. May Reduce Risk of Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration is a degenerative condition affecting the central part of the retina and leading to the distortion or loss of central vision. This eye disease affects more the older people.
Researches link elevated homocysteine levels, an amino acid in the blood, and the risk of age-related macular degeneration.
Supplementing with vitamin B12 may reduce homocysteine levels. Hence, the risk of age-related macular degeneration is reduced.
Who is at Risk of Vitamin B12 Deficiency?
Certain groups may be at more risk of vitamin B12 deficiency due to insufficient intake or problem with its absorption. These groups contain:
- Older adults that do not have enough hydrochloric acid in their stomach to absorb vitamin B12 naturally
- People having pernicious anemia that can’t absorb enough vitamin B12 from food as they lack the intrinsic factor, which is a protein made in the stomach.
- People with gastrointestinal surgery or having digestive disorders due to problem of B12 absorption
- Vegetarians or vegans as vitamin B12 is present naturally only in animal sources
- Alcohol consumption
What are the Vitamin B12 Deficiency Symptoms?
Vitamin B12 deficiency has many symptoms affecting the overall health.
These symptoms include for instance weakness, fatigue, feeling of tiredness, dizziness, pale skin and weight loss.
People with B12 deficiency can experience also heart palpitation, shortness of breathe, numbness, tingling of feet or hands or even poor body coordination.
Besides, as far as the brain is concerned, other symptoms may include loss of memory and forgetfulness, a depressed mood, a poor concentration and even confusion.
Moreover, B12 deficient people may also manifest constipation or diarrhea, gas, loss of appetite, soreness of the mouth or tongue and bone fragility.
What are the Negative Effects of Vitamin B12 Deficiency?
Because the symptoms may appear similar to those of other health conditions, vitamin B12 deficiency can be misdiagnosed, which may lead to severe negative effects on health.
As an example of health effects associated with B12 deficiency, there is Anemia, brain abnormalities, cardiovascular diseases, depression, dementia and hallucinations, frequent bone fractures, infertility and so on.
Therefore, in case of deficiency, talking to your healthcare professional is important to reduce the risk of this lack.
1 – Where does vitamin B12 come from?
Vitamin B12 is abundant in red meat like beef liver, in poultry, in dairy products like eggs, cheeses and also in fish like sardines and others.
So, this vitamin is mainly obtained from animal sources products. For vegans and vegetarians, it is, hence, recommended to take B12 supplementation and to consider checking their digestive ability to absorb B12 in order to be in safe of any deficiency.
2 – Does vitamin B12 have any side effects?
Vitamin B12 has not been proven to cause any harm for health. As it is a water-soluble vitamin, the body can flush any excess through urine. So, it is a safe and non toxic vitamin.
Yet, it is always best to get only the recommended daily intake.
3 – Am I getting enough vitamin B12?
Your healthcare professional can test your vitamin B12 level and inform you if you have a deficiency.
Yet, for the following groups of people, it is better to give a special attention to vitamin B12 level as they can have troubles with its absorption:
1- Older adults who do not have enough hydrochloric acid in their stomach to absorb this vitamin.
2- People suffering from pernicious anemia.
3- People with digestive disorders.
4- Vegans and vegetarians.
4 – If taken as a supplement, are they any interactions with vitamin B12 that should be known?
Yes, vitamin B12 can interact with some medicines if taken simultaneously.
This can lower the vitamin B12 absorption or use by the body. Hereafter some examples of medicines that can interfere with vitamin B12 supplements :
1- Chloramphenicol, an antibiotic for treating infections.
2- Proton pump inhibitors, drugs that are used to treat gastroesophageal reflux diseases.
3- Histamine and ranitidine administration for treating peptic ulcer diseases.
4- Metformin, a drug for diabetes.
5- Potassium supplements can also reduce vitamin B12 absorption.
It is, thus, important to inform your healthcare provider with the medicines you take in order to avoid any interaction.