Benefits of B12
So what does it do? Vitamin B12 benefits your mood, energy level, memory, heart, skin, hair, digestion and more. It is also an essential vitamin for addressing adrenal fatigue, multiple metabolic functions — including enzyme production, DNA synthesis and hormonal balance — and maintaining healthy nervous and cardiovascular systems.
Because of its wide-reaching roles within the body, a vitamin B12 deficiency can show up in many different negative symptoms, many of which are very noticeable, such as potential chronic fatigue, mood disorders like depression, and chronic stress or feeling run down.
What Is Vitamin B12? B12’s Role in the Body
Vitamin B12 actually exists in many forms, and it contains the mineral cobalt, which is why compounds with vitamin B12 are collectively called cobalamins. Two forms of vitamin B12 that are active in human metabolism are methylcobalamin and 5-deoxyadenosylcobalamin.
Vitamin B12 benefits the central nervous system in many important ways: It helps maintain the health of nerve cells — including those needed for neurotransmitter signaling — and helps form the protective covering of nerves, called the cell’s myelin sheath. This means that when vitamin B12 levels are low, almost every cognitive function can suffer.
Vitamin B12 also helps with digestion and heart health, so a deficiency can lead to both digestive disorders and an increased risk for heart disease. It can come in food sources, hydroxocobalimin vitamin B12 injections or as an intramuscular vitamin.
Vitamin B12 Benefits
1. Helps Maintain Energy Levels
2. Prevents Memory Loss and Lowers Risk of Neurodegenerative Disease
3. Boosts Mood and Helps the Nervous System to Properly Function
4. Plays a Role in Maintaining Heart Health
5. Needed for Healthy Skin and Hair
6. Aids in Digestion
7. Needed for a Healthy Pregnancy
8. May Help Prevent Cancer
9. Helps Produce Red Blood Cells and Prevent Anemia
Vitamin B12 Deficiency Symptoms, Signs, Risks and Causes
Vitamin B12 deficiency can be hard to detect, especially considering how common the symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency can be, such as feeling tired or unfocused. A diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency is typically based on the measurement of serum vitamin B12 levels within the blood.
Symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency can include:
- Constantly feeling tired or chronic fatigue
- Muscle aches and weakness
- Joint pain
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Feeling dizzy
- Poor memory
- Inability to concentrate well
- Mood changes, like increased depression and anxiety
- Having abnormal heart problems, such as palpitations
- Poor dental health, including bleeding gums and mouth sores
- Digestive problems like nausea, diarrhea or cramping
- A poor appetite
- A more serious deficiency can also cause a form of anemia called pernicious anemia, a serious condition that can cause memory loss, confusion and even long-term dementia.
Who is most at risk for having a vitamin B12 deficiency? Elderly people who tend to have impaired digestion are one of the most susceptible populations. This is because older people tend to produce less stomach acid that is needed to convert vitamin B12 properly.
Since animal foods are usually the best sources of vitamin B12, those who follow a vegan diet and don’t eat any animal products are also most likely to have a deficiency. Therefore, both older adults and plant-based eaters are advised to take a daily vitamin B12 supplement.
Other groups that are at a higher risk of having a vitamin B12 deficiency include smokers (since nicotine can block absorption), alcoholics, those with anemia, and anyone with a digestive disorder like celiac or Crohn’s disease.
Bottom line — your ability to properly absorb vitamin B12 depends on the health of your digestive system. If you aren’t able to digest foods that contain vitamin B12, like animal meat, then you will end up with low vitamin B12 levels.
Vitamin B12 Benefits: Top 10 Vitamin B12 Foods
Animal foods are the best food sources of vitamin B12, including organic, grass-fed dairy products, cage-free eggs, grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, organic poultry and organ meats. According to the NIH, plant foods do not naturally contain vitamin B12 unless they are synthetically fortified.
Vitamin B12 can be found to some degree in fortified plant foods like nutritional yeast, fortified grain products and algae sea vegetables. However, most of these are not thought to be nearly as absorbable as natural animal sources.
It is important to note that hydrochloric acid in the stomach separates vitamin B12 from the protein to which vitamin B12 is attached in food. After this, vitamin B12 combines with a protein made by the stomach called intrinsic factor and is absorbed by the body. So the health of your digestive system is just as important in absorbing and using adequate levels of vitamin B12 as the foods you’re eating are!
Here are the top food sources that provide vitamin B12:
- Beef liver
- Wild caught salmon
- Nutritional yeast
- Feta Cheese
- Grass fed beef
- Cottage cheese
How to Overcome Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Here’s a breakdown of the best ways to overcome a vitamin B12 deficiency:
- Start consuming more natural food sources of vitamin B12. Foods provide a complex network of vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and other substances that benefit health in ways that supplements usually cannot. You can prevent a vitamin B12 deficiency and get the most vitamin B12 benefits by adding good quality animal foods, like beef liver, grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon, grass-fed lamb and raw dairy products, to your diet.
- Work on healing your gut. Again, in order to properly absorb vitamin B12 and other nutrients, you need a healthy digestive system. Improve the health of your gut by cutting out inflammatory foods, add more whole foods to your diet and take a probiotic supplement.
- Take the right supplements. You can take a high-quality vitamin B12 supplement or take a B-complex vitamin. There are also vitamin B12 sprays available.
- If you have a confirmed vitamin B12 deficiency, another option is intramuscular injections
Vitamin B12 Supplements and Dosage Recommendations
Vitamin B12 can be taken in tablet form, in drops that you place under the tongue (called sublingual B12), in oral spray form, as gel formulations or even in the form of injection. You can use any of these types of vitamin B12 supplements, but make sure you are choosing a high-quality product from a reputable source. If you are curious about vitamin B12 injections, talk to your doctor about confirming a deficiency and how to go about this process. And keep in mind that sometimes seniors do better supplementing with drops and oral spray forms of vitamin B12 because they have trouble absorbing the vitamin from the stomach.
Can I Have Too Much Vitamin B12?
Because vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, the body has the ability to flush out (through our urine) any excess that it doesn’t need. As a result, vitamin B12 is considered safe and non-toxic, although it’s still always best to stick to the recommended amount and not take large doses of any supplement without consulting with a doctor first. Although rare, some people experience headache, swelling, anxiousness and itching
Also, keep in mind that some people have trouble properly absorbing vitamin B12 because of digestive issues. For these people, taking more and more vitamin B12 isn’t going to solve their problem. They’ll have to identify the reason why they’re struggling with a deficiency in the first place, which may be an issue with their gut health.