- Keep energised, Vitamin B12 helps you to keep your power levels up.
Its Role In Energy Metabolism
Vitamin B12 or cobalamin as some might call it, is one of the key members of the B vitamin family. It’s one of the vitamins involved in energy metabolism and literally helps you with your ‘va va voom’. Why ? It is essential for red blood cell manufacture. So you can understand how it makes sure you have the machinery to transport oxygen which we need for life’s metabolism so all your tissues keep functioning properly. Red blood cells pick up oxygen from the lungs and transport it via haemoglobin in the blood stream. The vitamin is also essential for other functions like general conversion of food into energy and helping insulin to do its job properly in stabilising and reducing blood sugar levels.
Folic acid is a great friend of vitamin B12 – they both work synergistically in helping us thrive.
Role In Keeping Our Heart Healthy
Vitamin B12 is needed to help with homocysteine regulation. Too much of this particular amino acid is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Incidentally, folic acid and vitamin B6 also have their parts to play in converting homocysteine to the non-damaging form which means all three are necessary in our nutrition.
Helping Our Nervous System
Adequate levels of vitamin B12 means our nervous system and general state of alertness are at their peak performance levels. A deficiency is associated with poor mood, tiredness and fatigue, and low cognitive performance. As mentioned before, any tissues including those involved with the nerve system and our brain need plenty of B12. It’s also vital for keeping our immune system secure.
Damage to our nerves is one of the signs of a lack of vitamin B12. It is often one of the first signs not all is well and it continues can affect the way we walk, run and ultimately our balance. Keeping our levels of this vitamin at its optimum reduces the risk of such nerve damage and there are signs that if caught early enough is reversible.
A Healthy Mouth
It may seem strange to say that vitamin B12 is needed for good oral health but one early sign that we do not have enough cobalamin is an inflamed tongue. This is called glossitis. The tongue becomes swollen, red and inflamed which stops us speaking and eating properly. Even our taste buds disappear which indirectly affects our sense of taste and appetite.
Maintaining Our Eyesight
We mentioned before that vitamin B12 is essential for maintaining our nerve health. One consequence is damage to the optic nerve which connects vision signals from our eyes to the brain. Poor eyesight results with low levels of vitamin B12.
How Much Do We Need?
The average recommended amounts, measured in micrograms (mcg), vary by age:
- Infants up to age 6 months: 0.4 mcg
- Babies age 7-12 months: 0.5 mcg
- Toddlers age 1-3 years: 0.9 mcg
- Small children age 4-8 years: 1.2 mcg
- Children age 9-13 years: 1.8 mcg
- Teens age 14-18: 2.4 mcg (2.6 mcg per day if pregnant and 2.8 mcg per day if breastfeeding)
- Adults: 2.4 mcg (2.6 mcg per day if pregnant and 2.8 mcg per day if breastfeeding)
A deficiency in vitamin B12 often comes with aging. We are most likely to notice the impacts of low B12 after the age of 50. Severe clinical deficiencies are produced by malabsorption in the intestine. In other cases it is down to low dietary intake because a low or virtually absent in take of B12 from animal sources as with vegetarian and vegan diets (Miller & Green, 2020).
We’ve already mentioned some of the key symptoms of low vitamin B12 levels.
Deficiency also occurs if we suffer from:
- pernicious anaemia – the conditions means that this vitamin is not absorbed in the gut because cells that do so have been damaged.
- atrophic gastritis – when the stomach lining is too thin
- small intestine conditions such as Crohn’s Disease, celiac disease, parasites etc.
- immune system conditions such as Graves’ disease and lupus.
There are medications such as omeprazole and ibuprofen which reduce uptake of vitamin B12 in the gut. If you are concerned about symptoms that may relate to a lack of vitamin B 12 then always consult your GP. Lack of vitamin B12 once its determined can be remedied with supplements or even regular injections.
Don’t worry if you have taken excess vitamin B12 as the body absorbs what it needs and gets rid of the rest.
Vegetarians and vegans are especially prone to a lack of vitamin B12 because it is present in animal products such as meat, dairy foods and eggs. Supplementation is suggested, otherwise, eat plenty of certain plant foods like lentils, rice, peas and beans, and green-leaf vegetables (spinach and kale). All these plant foods contain plenty of folic acid and folates which work well with B12.
Liver incidentally isn’t just great with onions, it contains 1,000 per cent of your daily needs (RDA).
Milk – an average glass of say 240ml provides 35 per cent of your RDA
Two eggs gives you 35 per cent of your daily requirement.
Seafood is a great supplier of B12. Clams, they say contains 3,000 per cent of your diary needs if you eat 20 of them. A typical portion of salmon, mackerel or mussels gives you 100 per cent each.
A number of fortified foods are available too with B12. Soy products and cereal breakfasts are often reinforced with some B12. A bowl of All Bran™ not only provides fibre could provide you with 100 per cent of your daily requirement in one serving.
Marmite is exceptional. About 1tsp of Marmite provides roughly 5 per cent of your RDA (recommended daily allowance).
If you supplement, then methylcobalamin is the best form for absorption. Nutritionists nowadays recommend tabs for placing under the tongue (sublingual). There are versions which are combined with folic acid and vitamin B6 which should be tried too.
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Miller, J.M., Green, R. (2020) Assessing vitamin B-12 absorption and bioavailability: read the label, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 112, Issue 6, December, Pages 1420–1421, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqaa271