What is Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA the genetic material in all cells. Also known as cobalamin, it is an essential water-soluble vitamin.
Vitamin B12 also helps prevent a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia that makes people tired and weak. It plays an essential role in the production of your red blood cells and DNA, as well as the proper functioning of your nervous system.
Vitamin B12 is found naturally in animal foods, including meats, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy. However, other products fortified with B12 are some varieties of bread and plant-based milk.
Role of Vitamin B12 in the Body
Two steps are required for the body to absorb vitamin B12 from food. First, 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 produced by the stomach called intrinsic factor and is absorbed by the body. Some people have pernicious anemia, a condition in which they cannot make inherent factors. As a result, they have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 from all foods and dietary supplements.
Vitamin B12 does a lot of things for your body. It helps make your DNA and your red blood cells. Since the body does not produce vitamin B12, you have to get it from animal-based foods or supplements. And it would help if you did that regularly because your body does not store vitamin B12 for a long time.
Recommended Amounts of Vitamin B12
The average recommended amounts, measured in micrograms (mcg), vary by age:
Infants up to age six months: 0.4 mcg
Babies age 7-12 months: 0.5 mcg
Children age 1-3 years: 0.9 mcg
Kids 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)
Benefits of Vitamin B12
Vitamin B-12 is crucial to the normal function of the brain and the nervous system. It is also involved in the formation of red blood cells and helps to create and regulate DNA.
The metabolism of every cell in the body depends on vitamin B-12, as it plays a part in the synthesis of fatty acids and energy production. Vitamin B-12 enables the release of energy by helping the human body absorb folic acid.
The human body produces millions of red blood cells every minute. These cells cannot multiply correctly without vitamin B-12. The production of red blood cells reduces if vitamin B-12 levels are too low. Anemia can occur if the red blood cell count drops.
Symptoms of Deficiency
Vitamin B-12 deficiency occurs when the body does not receive enough vitamin B-12. It can result in irreversible and potentially severe damage, especially to the nervous system and brain.
Even slightly lower-than-normal levels of vitamin B-12 can trigger deficiency symptoms, such as depression, confusion, memory problems, and fatigue. However, these symptoms alone are not specific enough to diagnose vitamin B-12 deficiency. Other symptoms of vitamin B-12 deficiency include constipation, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
Once symptoms escalate, they can include neurological changes, such as numbness and tingling in the hands and feet. Some people may have difficulty maintaining balance.
Infants who lack vitamin B-12 may demonstrate unusual movements, such as face tremors and reflex problems, feeding difficulties, irritation, and eventual growth problems if the deficiency is left untreated.
Vitamin B-12 deficiency carries a severe risk of permanent nerve and brain damage. Some people with low vitamin B-12 have a higher risk of developing psychosis, mania, and dementia. Low vitamin B-12 can also lead to anemia. The most common symptoms of anemia are fatigue, shortness of breath, and an irregular heartbeat.
Vitamin B-12 deficiency also leaves people more susceptible to the effects of infections.
Who Is At Risk For Vitamin B-12 Deficiency?
Vegans face a risk of vitamin B-12 deficiency, as their diet excludes animal-sourced food products. Pregnancy and lactation can worsen the shortage in vegans. Plant-sourced foods do not have enough cobalamin to guarantee long-term health.
People with pernicious anemia may lack vitamin B-12. Pernicious anemia is an autoimmune disease that affects the blood. Patients with this disorder do not have enough intrinsic factor (IF), a protein in the stomach that allows the body to absorb vitamin B-12.
Other at-risk groups include people with small intestine problems, such as individuals whose small intestine was surgically shortened. They may not be able to absorb cobalamin properly. People with Crohn’s disease are said to be at risk, but researchers maintain a lack of evidence to confirm this.
People with chronic alcoholism may lack vitamin B-12, as their bodies cannot absorb nutrients efficiently. Individuals treating diabetes with metformin are advised to monitor their levels of vitamin B-12. Metformin might reduce the absorption of vitamin B-12.
Treatment includes vitamin B-12 injections. A vitamin B-12 injection is administered to people that have problems with nutrient absorption.
If untreated, it may lead to the following symptoms:
- Weakness, tiredness, or lightheadedness
- Heart palpitations and shortness of breath
- Pale skin
- A smooth tongue
- Constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or gas
- Nerve problems like numbness or tingling, muscle weakness, and problems walking
- Vision loss
- Mental problems like depression, memory loss, or behavioral changes
- Weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- Personality changes
- Unsteady movements
Vitamin B12 is LIKELY SAFE when TAKEN BY MOUTH, APPLIED TO THE SKIN, SPRAYED INTO THE NOSE, GIVEN BY IV, or as A SHOT.