Can you think of the last time you thought about your vitamin levels? In this article, we're going to tackle one of the most prevalent nutrition deficiencies, Vitamin B12 deficiency, and the amazing benefits of this crucial vitamin, together with the best sources of the vitamin. But first things first.
What is Vitamin B12?
So you wonder what this important nutritious compound is. Vitamin B12 is one of the water-soluble B-vitamins required by the body for normal body functioning, with it being the most complex of them all. It is also known as cobalamin. Every cell in the body requires this vitamin to perform its vital functions. It especially has an important role in the production of red blood cells important for oxygen circulation in the body. Its deficiency, therefore, leads to poorly formed erythrocytes leading to destruction of body cells and consequently, degeneration of the nervous system cells. In humans, this vitamin is mainly stored in the liver.
This vitamin is also important in the generation of DNA material in the cells and to top it all, brain development. These are but some few amazing benefits of vitamin B12. But before we continue with the rest, some stats.
The Amazing benefits of Vitamin B12
So we have seen what the signs of Vitamin B12 deficiency are. Now imagine the immense benefits that await you if you ingest enough of this vitamin.
Vitamin B12, as stated earlier, is a compound found in every cell of the body. As such, you cannot afford to lack it. It is important in major body metabolism processes as well as synthesis of major body chemicals. Apart from that, this vitamin is responsible for DNA generation and propagation in cells among other benefits. So without further ado, here are the amazing benefits of vitamin B12?
1. High energy levels
Vitamin B12 is an important chemical when it comes to the synthesis of digestive juices. It's availability in the body cannot be downplayed as it increases the ability of the body to digest foods, thus providing the much needed energy required in the body.
This vitamin also plays a major role in the digestion of carbohydrates and their breakdown into simple compounds like glucose that can easily be absorbed into the bloodstream.
Apart from digestion, the vitamin is responsible for the formation of red blood cells. Red blood cells are the cells in the body important for translocation of oxygen from the lungs to all the parts of the body. Vitamin B12 therefore increases the body's ability to produce high quality red blood cells and this in turn leads to efficient circulation of oxygen in the body which is required for body metabolism and energy.
This notwithstanding, the brain activity is also improved due to the supply of enough oxygen and therefore reducing the levels of fatigue and tiresomeness. Let's just say you always maintain high levels of revitalization.
Vitamin B12, interestingly, plays a major role in fostering development of important bacteria in the gut. These bacteria are responsible for efficient absorption of some minerals into the blood stream. While on the same note, the same vitamin helps in the eradication of harmful bacteria -- those responsible for causing pathogenic diseases. As such, your body's health is in a much better shape, giving you all the ability to engage in energy-intensive activities or work without much trouble.
2. Memory enhancement
To add to this list of amazing benefits of vitamin B12 is its role in the formation of the important myelin sheath which covers the nerve cells against damage. With this healthy sheath, the memory nerve cells are in a much better place to perform their function, thereby improving memory.
Also, as stated earlier, this vitamin plays a major role in the formation of certain brain chemicals that are essential in the functionality of the brain. These chemicals include methionine and S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe.. These chemicals, found in every tissue of the body, play a major role in brain functions. Ultimately, a healthy brain means an enhanced memory.
The brain cannot perform its functions well enough without sufficient supply of blood, and oxygen, for that matter. Vitamin B12 plays a critical role in the formation of red blood cells which are responsible for oxygen translocation. As such, having enough vitamin B12 in the body leads to enough oxygen being supplied to the brain which in turn leads to enhanced brain functionality. So are you wondering why your baby is not as sharp in school as the other children? Consider increasing foods rich in Vitamin B12 in their diet. You will see the results.
Because of this high quality blood and enough oxygen circulation in the body, nerve cells are unlikely to get damaged. As such, diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer's are highly unlikely to develop in the latter stages of life.
3. Improves Mood
Being moody was one of the signs of vitamin B12 deficiency. Well, increase your bodily intake of this vitamin and see a huge a difference in your moods stability. Why?
Vitamin B12 is responsible for the synthesis of major brain chemicals as we have seen earlier. Serotonin and Dopamine, chemicals responsible for mood changes and stabilization, require vitamin B12 to be synthesized. These chemicals provide the mechanism through which the brain is able to control your emotions. A balanced production of these chemicals is therefore important if your brain is to stabilize your moods.
Insufficient amounts of Vitamin B12 leads to low production of serotonin and dopamine and this in turn puts you at a higher risk of developing depression.
Vitamin B12 is also responsible for the production of another compound, S-adenosylmethionine. This chemical is responsible for stabilizing your moods.
4. Red Blood Cells Formation
The amazing benefits of vitamin B12 cannot be complete without this major benefit. Vitamin B12 is involved in the synthesis of these vital cells responsible for transport of oxygen throughout the body and in the organs. They help supply oxygen by providing a surface area for the oxygen molecules to attach themselves and combine with hemoglobin, a chemical with high affinity for oxygen. This chemical is also dependent on availability of vitamin B12 for its formation.
On the flipside, these erythrocytes also transport carbon dioxide, a gaseous waste of metabolism, from body organs to the lungs and out of the body, thus detoxifying the body. As such, it helps reduce fatigue, tiresomeness, and damage that the cells may sustain if left for too long in such toxic environment.
With efficient oxygen circulation in the body, the B12 helps maintain a healthy body, full of energy, and vibrancy. Lack of it will therefore lead to poorly formed red blood cells leading to a type of anemia known as megaloblastic anemia, where the erythrocytes degenerate and die in a short lifecycle.
5. DNA production
To add to this list of amazing benefits of Vitamin B12 is its importance in the modulation of DNA and RNA material in the cells. This vitamin is responsible for structural stability in chromosomal regions and subtelomeric DNA. It plays a major role in DNA methylation, an important process in embryogenesis and carcinogenesis.
Vitamin B12 is a necessary enzyme of methyltransferas in the formation of methionine from homocysteine which is important for the methylation of biological compounds such as DNA.
Insufficient amounts of B12 lead to low levels of serum in the blood, which lead to poor DNA synthesis and may lead to DNA damage.
For this reason, Vitamin B12 proves important in the control of chronic diseases and protection from cancer, a major problem in the current world of medicine.
6. Prevents Brain Disorders
The nervous system's efficiency lies in the one-carbon metabolism cycle mechanism. This cycle exists in all cells but is actually more important in the synthesis of DNA and RNA neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, and nor-epinephrine.
Vitamin B12 plays a critical role in this one-carbon cycle because it acts as a co-factor in the formation of methionine from homocysteine (an amino acid high in neurodegenerative diseases., thus ensuring low levels of this amino acid in the brain.
The vitamin is also needed in the synthesis of the myelin sheath which is a protective tissue that guards around the neural cells. Insufficient amounts of B12 would therefore mean poor myelin sheath formation and therefore may cause damage to the nerve cells leading to brain and neural disorders.
For the elderly, 40-90 years old, the effects of vitamin B12 deficiency become even more severe. These people are highly likely to develop neurological diseases such as myelopathy, neuropathy, Alzheimer's, and many more.
During early pregnancy, Vitamin B12, together with folic acid, is an important factor in the formation of the neural tube of the fetus. It's inadequateness, therefore, may lead to poor brain development in the infant and thus poor cognitive functions.
7. Improves sleep patterns
Vitamin B12 is responsible for the synthesis of melatonin, a hormone crucial to sleep. It does this by working alongside with the pineal gland, which produces melatonin. With adequate amounts of this vitamin, enough melatonin can be produced and this will ease your ability to fall asleep and hence have good sleeping patterns.
A study conducted in 1996 proved that vitamin B12 is important in sleep patterns together with blue light.
As indicated earlier, this vitamin is responsible for revitalizing your body energy levels at a constant level and reducing levels of fatigue. As such, with sufficient amount of this vitamin, one can be able to control their sleep time and maintain good sleep patterns. With its deficiency, it becomes very hard to control your sleeping rhythm due to the fatigue caused by poor blood quality and low energy levels in the body.
8. Reduces Depression
Another recent study conducted, individuals who had lower levels of vitamin B12 were found to have higher instances of depression than those who had sufficient amounts of the nutrient.
One of the reason for this link between B12 and depression is the fact that the vitamin is involved in the synthesis of serotonin in your brain. This chemical helps in regulating your mood, and in particular, depression. Low levels of serotonin, therefore, increase your chances of developing depression.
Dopamine is another brain chemical that vitamin B12 is involved in its synthesis. Dopamine is the hormone responsible for excitement and happiness. As such, high amounts of this hormone reduce your chances of being depressed and in turn reduce your depression levels. High levels of vitamin B12 will therefore see you being happier and less depressed.
9. Good for healthy skin and hair
One of the amazing benefits of Vitamin B12 is its ability to fight off eczema together with its associated symptoms. It also improves retention of moisture in the skin, thus preventing drying, and giving the skin that glowy, silky healthy look. The vitamin also helps in evening out the skin tone as it regulates skin pigmentation. While at it, it also helps heal damaged skin.
Another one of the amazing benefits of vitamin B12 is its ability to maintain a youthful skin by preventing premature lines and wrinkles from appearing from the face.
The other benefits of vitamin B12 are associated with healthy hair. Having sufficient amounts of this vitamin prevents premature hair loss. This is because, with a deficiency, the body is not able to easily absorb nutrients from the digestive tract, leading to poor nutrition which leads to unhealthy weak hair follicles. As such, a sufficient level of vitamin B12 will improve your hair growth as it facilitates absorption of nutrients into the body which are also essential for hair growth.
10. Controls Cholesterol
Control of cholesterol joins the list of amazing benefits of vitamin B12. The vitamin helps in controlling levels of triglycerides and cholesterol thereby improving the health of the heart.
11. Helps fight Prions
Prions are unhealthy proteins which, when they enter the body, attack the healthy proteins and render them useless. They also might attack the nervous system. This vitamin helps in fighting these prions and therefore protects you against such nervous damage.
12. Maintains your heart health
Heart disease is currently the number one killer disease around the world. Regular intake of Vitamin B12 will, however, make a significant contribution in improving your cardiovascular health. For example, it helps to manage high homocysteine levels which are a risk factor for heart disease. By regulating the high levels of homocysteine in the body, Vitamin B12 reduces your chances of getting a heart attack or even suffer a stroke. This vitamin is, especially important to older individuals who are part of a demography that is at risk of these heart diseases.
13. Good digestion
Vitamin B12 helps in aiding the digestion process. Due to its function in assisting in the production of digestive enzymes, this vitamin is important in ensuring a healthy metabolism and digestion of food in your stomach. Furthermore, it creates a conducive environment within the gut by eliminating any harmful bacteria in the tract. Not only does this aid the digestion process but it also prevents digestive disorders including candida or inflammatory bowel disorders.
14. Better pregnancy
As highlighted above, Vitamin B2 plays a crucial role in the creation of nucleic acid which is the fundamental genetic material that creates the body. This means that Vitamin B12 is a vital ingredient necessary for growth and even development, an important aspect of a healthy pregnancy. Not only does it help in the growth of the body during pregnancy but also in lowering the risk of incurring birth defects.
The Bottom line
Vitamin B12 is an important nutrient that is required to be ingested in the body in sufficient amounts. As listed above, there are a myriad of amazing benefits of vitamin B12, and the list may not be exhaustive.
These benefits, some of which include mood improvement, sleep pattern improvements, prevention against brain disorders, red blood cells formation, high energy levels, are just but a few that can be derived simply by taking sufficient amounts of this vitamin.
As seen above, the risk of developing this deficiency increases with age. As you grow old, your digestive system becomes less and less efficient in absorbing nutrients. In the process, your vitamin B12 levels reduce gradually, and before you know it, a lot of damage has already been done. As such, as you age, ensure you increase your vitamin B12 intake if you are to reap all these amazing benefits of vitamin B12.
In case you experience any of the above symptoms, please consult your physician first before starting to take vitamin B12 supplements, as an excess supply of this compound may also have adverse effects on your health. This information is therefore only for giving you direction and does not, whatsoever, replace the doctor's recommendations or prescriptions. Seek medical advice if symptoms persist.
Now that we have seen the signs of deficiency and the amazing benefits of Vitamin B12, how can we obtain this vital nutrient? Simple. Eat foods high in this nutrient. If the deficiency is severe, take on supplements following your doctor's prescription.
Now, it should be noted that this vitamin is only available in animal products and animal meat. Vegetarians are highly recommended to take on supplements of this vitamin as they may not find it in any plant products, a situation that may render them highly susceptible to being deficient to this vitamin.
On the other hand, observe discretion. Ingesting high amounts of animal products does not mean that levels of vitamin B12 will automatically increase. Only certain foods have enough of this nutrient in abundance. As such, these foods should be included in your diet on a regular basis to ensure your vitamin B12 never falls below the optimum level.
Below is a list of the best sources of vitamin B12 that you will find important in maintaining optimal levels of this vitamin. The list may not be exhaustive and you're encouraged to dig further if the ones listed here are not enough.
Best Sources of Vitamin B12
Tasty as they come, this fish can be eaten fresh from the can or the grill. One serving contains approximately a fifth of your daily intake of vitamin B12. Interestingly, they contain a chemical compound known as docosahexaonic acid, a very important compound in fetal neural development and adults' cognitive enhancement.
Eggs are a major source of vitamin B12. They contain about 15% of the daily amount required for vitamin B12. Whether boiled, fried, or raw, the eggs will supply you with enough vitamin B12, keeping its deficiency at bay. An advantage of this source is that it's cheap and easily accessible by everyone.
Red meat, particularly from pasture-fed cattle, is one of the best sources of vitamin B12. A ground serving will supply you with your daily intake of vitamin B12 for the day. Taking meat on a daily basis will keep Vitamin B12 deficiency at bay.
Meat is also easy to prepare, easily accessible, and can be eaten together with a myriad of other food types, making it a convenient source of Vitamin B12. In fact, majority of us never care if we take vitamin B12 since mostly, it is found in the food we eat. But to enhance your intake, you can have meat on a daily basis.
Milk is one of the best sources of vitamin B12. It equally contains high amounts of this vitamin. If you're not looking to gain weight, you can have skimmed milk or non-fat milk, which still provides the same amount of protein and the vitamin. One cup of latte has approximately 20% of your required daily intake of vitamin B12.
5. Nutritional Yeast
Casually known as nooch, it is a major source of fortified vitamin B12, providing up to three times of required daily intake of vitamin B12. You can use it as topping on your food, sandwiches or even in popcorns to provide that umami flavor. This yeast also contains 9 essential amino acids hence considered a full protein source. It is a favorite for many vegans and vegetarians looking to increase their intake of vitamin B12.
Chickens contains about 5% of recommended daily intake of vitamin B12 per 100 grams. It is a good source of vitamin B12 and also easily available.
7. Swiss Cheese
This cheese has high levels of B12 compared to other types of cheese. Make a sandwich and add the cheese on top for a flavorful snack full of nutritional benefits.
8. Feta Cheese
This cheese is made from Sheep's milk and is a good source of vitamin B12. On top of that, the cheese contains other B vitamins important for body metabolism. So it is a double-edged sword when it comes to B vitamin nutrition. Go for the one made from raw sheep's milk and the results will be even better.
9. Atlantic Mackerel
This fish type is one of the best sources of B12 delivering as high as 100% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin B12. It contains Omega 3s that are also hugely important in maintaining good health.
10. Beef Liver
This is another one of the best sources of vitamin B12. The content of B12 is very high. The best liver is one from grass-fed cattle, and not grain-fed cattle. Even better, beef liver will help fight off anemia as it also contains high amounts of iron.
A delicious source of vitamin B12, shrimp boasts of providing 80% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin B12. It's also a great source of choline which is a chemical important in heart and brain development. Serve together with vegies or salads for an even better experience.
12. Fortified Cereal
Some cereals are fortified with vitamin B12 and are a good sourcea of the vitamin. One serving has about 30% of the recommended daily intake. Enjoy with a cup of yoghurt or skimmed milk.
The most commonly used form of vitamin B12 supplement is Cyanocobalamin. It is an unnatural form of B12 and the most stable without a direct role in cellular metabolism. Others include methylcobalamin and hydroxyB12. Supplements are by far the most guaranteed source of vitamin B12 as that's what they're specifically made for. In very dire situations of Vitamin B12, supplements are recommended. Please make sure to consult with your doctor before deciding to take any supplements.
Some stats on Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Let's get to the meat of the matter now. Vitamin B12 is one of the leading nutrition deficiencies in the world with approximately 40% of U.S. population showing signs indicating the deficiency. This is according to a study conducted in the year 2000. The figures don't get any better as you age. The odds become even higher, with the simple reason being that our digestive system becomes less efficient with age.
A recent research also revealed that Vitamin B12 deficiency is prevalent among certain groups of people. Pregnant women (62%), children (25-86%) and the elderly (11-90%) were found to be at a higher risk of lacking this essential vitamin. Vegetarians were also found to be at risk of lacking Vitamin B12. You should, however, note that those who adopted the vegan lifestyle when young or at birth, are more prone to the deficiency as compared to those who adopt the diet at a later stage. A relatively higher rate of deficiency was found in all vegetarians regardless of their age, nationality or vegan diet.
Why is it so easy to have Vitamin B12 deficiency?
Vitamin B12 cannot be produced by our bodies. In fact, no complex living organism can produce the compound apart from some types of bacteria. So the best sources of vitamin B12 is through ingestion of certain foods, primarily, animal products. We shall get on to these down in the article.
Can you measure your Vitamin B12 levels?
Another reason for the deficiency prevalence is the fact that it's hard to measure levels of Vitamin B12 in the body. Some people actually have the deficiency but due to errors in measurements done during hospital visits, may not realize the problem.
When do the symptoms for Vitamin B12 deficiency show?
Another reason could be the fact that symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiencies take light years to show. Okay, not literally, but they take a long time compared to other nutrition deficiencies. On average, you won't notice that you're deficient for up to 5 years when the signs will start showing, and by this time, lots of damage will have been done. The signs are so similar to folate deficiency and an expert should conduct further tests to avoid misdiagnosis. Now, let's see the signs of deficiency.
Signs of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
This is probably the first sign that will pinpoint the deficiency of vitamin B12. If you woke up one hour ago from sleep despite sleeping in the best environment with a comfortable mattress and an air purifier, yet you're already feeling like going back to sleep, you might be deficient. Mostly, the fatigue is not due to extraneous activities, but rather, a lack of oxygen circulation in the body.
Vitamin B12 is responsible for the formation of red blood cells. When these cells are poorly formed, oxygen circulation is minimized, and what sets in is the feeling of constant tiresomeness. Having a good source of Vitamin B12 will, definitely, leave you feeling robust and ready to conquer the world.
Have you ever searched the entire house for your car keys turning it upside down only to realize later that the whole time, the keys were in your hands? That's poor memory. I don’t mean you are deficient, but it's one of the signs.
Vitamin B12 is important in maintaining a healthy nervous system as we stated earlier. It is especially important in brain development and neural formation. Its deficiency, therefore, will lead to poor brain memory. Unfortunately, this is usually mistaken for dementia in the elderly folks. A physician's checkup, however, will help clear that up.
This is a direct physical sign of vitamin B12. If you notice your skin becoming pale and yellowish in color, it could be because of megaloblastic anemia, a degeneration of poorly formed red blood cells in the body. This degeneration is what produces the yellow chemical which turns your skin pale. While some people may experience little symptoms when they have jaundice, most individuals will experience severe symptoms such as dark-colored urine, skin itching, fever and even nausea. Rush to the hospital if you see such a sign.
Smooth red tongue
Check your tongue. Do you see those little buds on your tongue that make it rough? Those are the taste buds. If those disappear, making the tongue smooth and soft, and the tongue changes color from pinkish to reddish, it could be a sign of deficiency. While this could still be associated with other health conditions, it is best to check if you're taking enough vitamin B12.
Every time something small happens, you burst into tears or get worried sick. Or you just suddenly become happy with no particular reason. Brace yourself. You might be deficient in Vitamin B12.
Though not clear, scientists believe that this vitamin is involved in the synthesis of major brain chemicals, serotonin and dopamine, that are important in mood regulation. The vitamin is also responsible for synthesis of methionine and S-adenosylmethionine, a compound found in every part of the body and an important mood stabilizer.
Insufficient amounts of this vitamin, therefore, will mean poor synthesis of these chemicals, plunging you into a vastness of depression.
Do you see the trend here? Most signs involve your nervous system. Poor vision will develop if you lack this vitamin because the optic nerve responsible for vision may be damaged due to poor oxygen circulation. (Remember Vitamin B12 is involved in red blood cells formation..
Poor vision is especially a common occurrence to the elderly who are deficient of the vitamin and so it's important that as you age, you ingest enough foods that provide you with this compound. We shall talk about which foods are the best sources of Vitamin B12 along the article.
This is an extension of the fatigue symptom. You might find yourself dead sleep in the middle of the afternoon because the urge to sleep is usually so powerful. It is a way of your body telling you that you're not supplying enough energy to the cells and the best you can do is just sleep. Well, it might be because of vitamin B12 deficiency. Poor formation of red blood cells leads to poor circulation of oxygen around the body, hence the sleepiness.
Pain and Prickly Sensation
This is the sensation of small numerous needles prickling your skin from underneath. The sensation comes about especially when we sit in a bad posture, blocking capillaries from passing blood to areas like legs and hands leading less blood circulation in such area. That's the normal way. However, if you are having this sensation even when freely lying down, it could be a sign of vitamin B12 deficiency. Be sure to check that out.
What to remember
It's great that you have read through the article and reached thus far. I believe you have gained enough insight on the various topics we have touched upon and I'm certain you will benefit from this information. We started by defining what vitamin B12 is, and outlined some of its functions in the body. These included DNA formation, prevention of brain disorders, red blood cells formation, maintaining high energy levels, memory enhancement, improving sleep patterns, to say but a few. We then went ahead to show the amazing benefits of vitamin B12, and how the vitamin helps in body metabolism and functionality. We proceeded with the best sources of vitamin B12 and gave you a cheat sheet of foods with a high content of this vitamin so that you can avoid developing the deficiency.
We stated a few stats on the percentage of population that has this deficiency. We also expounded on the signs and symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency and also outlined the reasons for those signs. This review concludes with ahead and identified the groups that have the highest risk of developing Vitamin B12 deficiency and these included the elderly, infants and children, and pregnant women, and also vegetarians. With all this information, I believe you have no excuse to become deficient in vitamin B12. You have gained the knowledge and insights that you can use as your shield and defense against B12 deficiency.
By now, you should be looking forward to take advantage of these amazing benefits of vitamin B12 and make it your business to seek most of these, if not all, benefits of having sufficient amount of B12. They say prevention is better than cure, and this also holds true in this context. In the spirit of helping out your neighbor, make it a point to share this information with friends and relatives. A lot of people might be deficient, and oblivious of the risk it poses to their health. You might save someone's life. Being that diagnosing the deficiency of vitamin B12 is hard, general knowledge of its symptoms and its sources puts you in a much better position to help yourself and those you care about from undergoing the degenerative neural disorders. With the insight gained, you're now at a much better place of monitoring your B12 levels in the body as well as understanding the amazing benefits of vitamin B12.
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.