Vitamin B12 is probably one of the most known and studied of vitamins. It is a powerhouse vitamin and it works with folate to help produce and maintain the myelin surrounding nerve cells. It also helps with mental ability, red blood cell formation, and the breakdown of some fatty acids and amino acids to produce energy.
There are only two ways you can obtain B12. By eating foods that are rich in B12, such as meat, poultry and milk products, or you must obtain it from a supplement. Unlike other B vitamins, deficiencies are common, particularly in vegans and older adults, since B12 is most commonly found in animal products. It is also available in soy products, fortified foods and nutritional yeast. Deficiency symptoms include anemia, fatigue, weakness, depression, confusion, dementia, poor memory, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, numbness and tingling in hands/feet, balance issues, and soreness of the mouth and tongue.
Reasons to take vitamin B12
Most omnivores get all the B12 we need from animal foods: red meat, fish and dairy products. However, little or no B12 is found in plant-based foods. Although vitamin B12 deficiency is fairly rare in healthy adults, it is common in strict vegetarians who eat no animal products. In these cases, taking a supplement would be beneficial.
2. Gastrointestinal problems
Deficiency can also be a problem for those who suffer with digestive system disorders, such as chronic gastric reflux, that limit the absorption of the nutrient, and in elderly people whose stomach acid production has dropped. That’s because B12 is absorbed into the body when hydrochloric acid in the stomach breaks down the protein and combines with a substance called intrinsic factor so the nutrient can be absorbed through the digestive tract.
3. Boosts brain power
Sometimes the only symptom of B12 deficiency is a barely noticeable decrease in cognitive function. Over time, if the deficiency is not reversed, anemia and dementia that looks very similar to Alzheimer’s disease can develop.
A simple blood test for B12 level is essential, especially in someone who is elderly and in whom memory loss has been noticed. For all of those people, B12 supplementation is crucial. Memory loss that is attributed to deficiency of B12 will often significantly improve or even reverse the condition, when supplementation is introduced.
B12 may also help with depression. Studies have demonstrated a benefit of supplementation with vitamin B12 alongside antidepressants in patients with low-normal B12 levels and depression.
4. Prescription drugs
Certain drugs can deplete vitamin B12. Metformin, a commonly prescribed prescription medication for type 2 diabetes (once known as adult-onset diabetes), depletes B12 reserves in the human body. Research suggests that 10 to 30% of patients taking metformin have evidence of reduced vitamin B12 absorption.
Some studies have found an association between heartburn medications and increased risk of vitamin B-12 deficiency. Medicines to treat heartburn, also called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), work by suppressing stomach acid. Blocking stomach acid and other secretions may also block B-12 absorption.
5. Heart health
A deficiency in B12 can cause an increase in homocysteine levels, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Vitamin B12 supplementation can help reduce homocysteine build-up, protecting the heart. Studies have shown that although a vegetarian diet is extremely heart healthy, the lack of vitamin B12 could negate its positive effects, and supplements are recommended.
What supplement to take?
Before taking any supplement, be sure to consult with a healthcare practitioner to make sure it is right for you. Vitamin B12 supplements are available in many forms including flavored lozenges, gummies and pills. Vitamin B12 is often included in multivitamin formulations and is also part of vitamin-B complex supplement products that include the range of B vitamins.
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