Why is Vitamin B12 Important for Your Health?

Why is Vitamin B12 Important for Your Health?

We all know that vitamins are an important part of a healthy diet, whether taken as a supplement or found naturally in our food, because they help initiate and maintain crucial bodily functions.  B vitamins, in general, help the body convert food into fuel. B12 is a special B vitamin that possesses unique benefits. At the same time, a lack of B12 can come with some potentially serious effects. 

Benefits of Vitamin B12

B12 is a vital nutrient. Most of us know it as the energy vitamin; however, its job goes even deeper – all the way through your nervous system. (Henriques, 2017; Thomas, 2017) In fact Vitamin B12:

  • Fights fatigue
  • Boosts brain power in the following ways:
    • Improves memory and concentration
    • In high concentration, B12 increases GABA chemicals in the brain, which has been said to help protect against neurological and mental health disorders like depression, epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Is a crucial component in producing functional red blood cells

Symptoms of B12 Deficiency

Vitamin B12 deficiencies are much easier to prevent than to treat (but they are treatable,) so it is extremely important to keep an eye on any symptoms before they become a serious problem. 

According to the Consumers Union of United States Inc. (2017) vitamin B12 deficiencies are most often due to either a diet seriously lacking in nutrients, consistently taking certain medications including Metformin (a diabetes medication) and other types of heartburn drugs, or inability to absorb the vitamin into their gut. 

So what are the symptoms of B12 deficiency?

  • Fatigue – this is the most common and quickly identifiable symptom
  • If symptoms persist and the deficiency isn’t detected this can affect a person’s nerves, resulting in feelings of pins and needles in hands and feet, as well as a numb sensation.
  • Muscle weakness, heart palpitations, weight loss, diarrhea, unsteady movements, and mental confusion are all symptoms of vitamin deficiency anemia
  • Headaches
  • Mouth ulcers, sore tongue

Be aware of a parallel issue between iron and B12 deficiencies. Although iron is a mineral (whereas B12 is a vitamin) it is often linked to B12 because they are found in similar foods (Perkins, 2011.)  Why is that important? First, a B12 deficiency or iron deficiency can easily be misdiagnosed.  But furthermore, because vitamin B12 can be assist the body with effective iron intake. 

So, here are additional B12 health symptoms to pay attention to:

  • Cracking lips
  • Thinning hair
  • Split brittle nails
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Restless legs
  • Mouth ulcers, sore tongue
  • Bad breath (poor oral hygiene also linked to gut health and B12 deficiency)

 Foods That Contain Vitamin B12

B12 is naturally found in meat, fish, and dairy products. You know the watery liquid on top of your yogurt? That’s natural whey and contains B12 – so don’t dump it out; mix it in and enjoy!  Also, for all our British friends: Marmite (a British food spread) has a high concentration of B12 and in a recent study was found to increase levels of GABA (refer to the ‘benefits’ section for a reminder on GABA’s super powers; Henriques, 2017).

The daily required intake for proper health maintenance in the U.S is relatively small, only 2.4 micrograms daily, but few foods contain rich sources of B12 (red meats and offal are highly effective.) More restricted diets, such as vegan/vegetarianism, omit many essential nutrients.  The good news is that people can take more than the recommended dose of B12, so it’s always better to play it safe and increase your vitamin intake (Obikoya, 2017)! 

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Who Specifically Needs to Take B12 Vitamins?

Vitamin B12, the energy vitamin, is important for everyone, especially because the consequences of a deficiency can be significant.  However, it is a bit controversial in that it is believed to be a vitamin that is usually easy to get enough of in your diet, but is also famous for being a vitamin that is difficult to be absorbed efficiently in individuals with a disorder where they lack the proper protein for its digestion. Keeping that in mind, the following list looks at “specialized” groups of people who may benefit more than others from upping their vitamin B12 intake: 

  1. Vegetarians and Vegans:
    • May struggle to meet an adequate daily intake amount of B12
    • Most common group of individual to become B12 deficient based on diet alone due to elimination of meat and dairy sources
  2. Mature and aging adults:
    • As you age, your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food alone decreases, especially depending on individual health histories
    • B12 is especially important for this group because it is essential for red blood cell formation (Obikoya, 2017; Scott & Malloy, 2012)
  3. Athletes:
    • B12 is necessary for the process of converting sugars and proteins into energy
    • B12 is used for the production and repairing of cells (Obikoya, 2017; Scott & Malloy, 2012; Woolf & Manore, 2006)
  4. Those trying to conceive:
    • When trying to conceive, many women start taking prenatal vitamins to increase their chances of becoming pregnant. 
    • B12 affects a man’s sperm count, and a vitamin deficiency can hinder a couple’s attempts to conceive (Hanton, 2012).

So have we answered the question, “Why take vitamin B12?”  Let us know if there’s anything we missed or something you’d like to know a little more about!

Always consult a medical health professional before starting, stopping, or altering your diet or prescribed medications. 

References:
- Consumers Union of United States Inc. (2017). Some vitamins and minerals may carry more risks than benefits. Retrieved from: ConsumerReports.org/Health
- Hanton, R. (2012). Vitamin B12 and fertility. The LBC Health Group
- Obikoya, G. (2017). Why take vitamins? The Vitamin and Nutrition Center.
- Perkins, S. (2011). How does B12 deficiency cause iron-deficiency anemia? - Retrieved from: http://www.livestrong.com/article/403678-anemia-weight-loss/
Scott, J. M. & Molloy, A. M. (2012). The discovery of vitamin B12. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. 61(3), 239-245.
- Thomas, A. (2017). Researchers study benefits of vitamin B12 in Marmite News Medical Life Sciences. News Medical Life Sciences.
- Woolf, K & Manore, M. M. (2006) B-vitamins and exercise: Does exercise alter requirements? International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 16(5), 453-484.

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