What is Vitamin B12 Supplement and Why You Need It?
by Zailinah Safiee
May 8, 2019
Do you feel sluggish or in perpetual fatigue, no matter how much rest you get or how long you sleep?
While there could be a dozen reasons why you are feeling that way, a more likely reason could be the lack of vitamin B12.
In fact, fatigue is not the only sign that your body lacks this nutrient. Not having enough B12 can also lead to other health issues such as anxiety, memory problems, and impaired vision.
What is Vitamin B12 Supplement?
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble supplement that is also known as cobalamin.
It is a nutrient that helps to keep our body’s nerve and blood cells at their optimum. For example, B12 is necessary for maintaining the rapidly dividing cells that line our gastrointestinal tract.
B12 Vitamin Benefits
In addition to preventing our nerves and cells from deterioration, there are five other benefits of vitamin B12 :
1. Boosts Energy
Vitamin B12 has the ability to produce DNA, which is essential for the growth of new cells in the body. It is also responsible for producing healthy red blood cells and converting the food we eat into glucose. As such, vitamin B12 boosts energy levels in the body and subsequently increases the body’s metabolic rate.
Thus, the feeling of fatigue and weakness could be a sign that the body is low on vitamin B12.
2. Improves Brain Health
Apart from developing the nerve cells, Vitamin B12 also helps to produce myelin sheaths that protect cells in the brain. Deficiency in B12 will reduce the ability of the body to produce these protective myelin sheaths, leading to possible nerve damage, cognitive and memory issues.
3. Protects The Heart
Homocysteine is a type of protein that can be harmful to the body if left unchecked and allowed to find its way into the bloodstream.
Studies have shown that high levels of homocysteine in the body are associated with cardiovascular disease as it damages arteries and causes inflammation.
Taking vitamin B12 helps the body to get rid of homocysteine and ultimately keep the arteries and heart in better shape.
4. Strengthens The Bones
As we age, one of the most common problems that we encounter is the gradual loss of bone mass density.
While regular exercise and a healthy diet rich in nutrients such as calcium, phosphorous and Vitamin D, can help maintain bone mass density, recent studies on intake of vitamin B12 found a close association between low levels of B12 with low rate of bone mass density.
Although scientists could not determine the exact mechanism of how B12 can improve bone mass density, they believe that the nutrient’s ability to reduce homocysteine could be a contributing factor as lower levels of homocysteine is directly linked to higher bone mass density.
5. Maintains Healthy Hair, Skin and Nails
As vitamin B12 has a vital role in cell production, adequate levels of this nutrient are necessary for the maintenance of healthy hair, skin, and nails.
Dermatologic conditions such as hyperpigmentation, vitiligo (the loss of skin color in patches) and angular stomatitis (inflamed and cracked skin around corners of the mouth) have been linked to low levels of B12 in the body.
This is also true in cases of nail discoloration as well as worsening of hair condition (such as hair loss).
However, it must be emphasized that taking more vitamin B12 than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) will not improve hair, skin and nail conditions, particularly for those people who already have adequate B12 in their system.
Dosage Vitamin B12
The need for vitamin B12 increases gradually with age.
Generally, it is recommended that people 14 years of age and older take 2.4 mcg (micrograms) of B12 daily.
As vitamin B12 is vital in the development of cells, pregnant women, as well as those who are breastfeeding, are advised to consume higher dosages.
For pregnant women, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 2.6 mcg while those breastfeeding are advised to take 2.8 mcg per day.
Natural Sources of Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 can be found naturally in red meat such as beef and lamb, poultry, seafood like fish and clams as well as dairy products.
One of the richest sources of vitamin B12 is beef liver. Three ounces of beef liver contains between 70 to 80 mcg of B12.
However, if eating cow’s organs do not tickle your palate, there are plenty of other options that can provide an adequate amount of vitamin B12 that you need.
For instance, 3 ounces of haddock, salmon or canned tuna can provide you with 2.5 to 5.0 mcg of B12.
Other good sources of vitamin B12 include low-fat milk, yogurt, and eggs.
Sources From Supplements
For people who are not getting enough of vitamin B12 from food sources, an alternative is to get it from supplements with cobalamin.
If the levels of vitamin B12 in the body is dangerously low, doctors may give B12 intramuscular injection or administer it intravenously. A gel formulation, taken intranasally, is also available for those who are afraid of needles.
How Is B12 Absorbed?
B12 from food sources is attached to a protein. Hydrochloric acid in the stomach separates B12 from this protein. B12 then attaches itself to the stomach’s glycoprotein called intrinsic factor before being absorbed by the body.
This process is slightly different for synthetic B12 added to fortified foods such as cereal or dietary supplements. Such B12 is already in free form (not attached to any protein) and therefore does not require separation. The vitamin will attach itself to the intrinsic factor in the stomach before undergoing absorption.
The absorption process of B12 is not the same for everyone. As an example, people with pernicious anemia cannot produce the intrinsic factor protein. As such, they are unable to absorb B12, not only from natural sources but also dietary supplements. A solution is to administer intramuscular B12 injection.
Certain medications can also affect how the body absorbs B12. For instance, metformin, a medication prescribed for diabetes, may decrease the body’s ability to absorb B12. Some medications for acid reflux and heartburn like omeprazole and ranitidine can also affect the absorption of this vitamin, possibly leading to B12-deficiency.
Signs That Your Body Lacks Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is integral in the development of cells in the body.
Some signs that your body lacks this important nutrient are :
- Pale skin
- Memory loss
- Pins and needles sensation in arms and legs
- Impaired/blurred vision
While B12 can be obtained from eating a variety of foods such as red meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy products, it can also be sourced from fortified foods and supplements.
If you are experiencing any of the above signs, it is advisable that you have your B12 levels assessed. This is especially true if you are on medication such as metformin, which can impair the body’s ability to absorb B12.
In addition, as absorption of B12 decreases with age, it is best to consult your doctor for advice on steps to maintain an optimum level of B12. This is to prevent health problems such as memory loss or osteoporosis as we age.