If you don’t know much about vitamin B12, it’s time you did. This vitamin is crucial for your brain and heart health. It also plays a key role in forming red blood cells to help carry oxygen throughout your body.
Here’s the kicker: your body needs vitamin B12, but it doesn’t produce it. That’s why it’s so important to keep your B12 levels up. Keep reading to find out how.
What is vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is an essential, water-soluble vitamin found naturally in animal products, like meat and eggs. It’s also the largest and most structurally complex vitamin out there. Fancy, huh?
Your body can store vitamin B12 for up to four years. It gradually borrows from your stores to keep you healthy, from the brain to the bloodstream.
What are the many health benefits of vitamin B12?
Red blood cell formation
Did you know just three drops of blood contain over one billion red blood cells? These powerful cells carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body so it can function and thrive. But if you have low levels of vitamin B12, it’s harder for red blood cells to form.
The result? Megaloblastic anemia—a condition where your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells to transport oxygen. This type of anemia is caused by a deficiency in B12 or folate.
What does anemia feel and look like? Weakness, fatigue, headaches, pale skin, irregular heartbeats, cold hands and feet, dizziness, and more.
By increasing your vitamin B12 intake, you can boost red blood cell formation and give your vital organs all the oxygen they need.
Babies need a lot of vitamins and nutrients to grow properly. Vitamin B12 is no exception. Research shows that B12 is necessary for a fetus’ brain and nervous system to develop properly.
That’s why vitamin B12 can prevent birth defects, especially in the early stages of pregnancy. One study found that women with less than 250 mg/dL of vitamin B12 were three times more likely to have a child with birth defects. On top of that, some research suggests that vitamin B12 deficiency can cause premature birth or miscarriage.
Vitamin B12 can boost bone health and keep osteoporosis at bay. Several studies have found that low levels of B12 reduce bone density, increase fragility, and boost your risk of fracture.
Good genes? You’ve got vitamin B12 to thank. Vitamin B12 is partially responsible for synthesizing DNA in your body and making sure important parts of the cells are strong enough structurally.
Reduced risk of eye disease
When it comes to vitamin B12 benefits, seeing is believing. Literally.
Scientists believe that vitamin B12 can prevent macular degeneration—an age-related eye disease that impacts your central vision. One study of 5,000 people found that taking vitamin B12 supplements with folic acid and vitamin B6 reduced their risk of developing the disease by 34%. We like those odds.
When you take care of your physical health, your mental health reaps the benefits. The same is true when your vitamin B12 levels are in check.
Vitamin B12 helps make serotonin, also known as a happy hormone. Serotonin regulates your mood, attention span, and behaviour. If you’re not getting enough vitamin B12, serotonin levels can nosedive and depression can set in.
One study even found that vitamin B12 supplements paired with antidepressants improved symptoms of depression better than antidepressants alone. Clearly, vitamin B12 is an important player in your mental health journey.
Have you ever heard of brain atrophy? It’s when your brain starts losing neurons, causing complications like memory loss, dementia, and poor cognitive function.
One potential way to stop brain atrophy is upping your vitamin B12 intake. One study found that a combination of vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids slowed mental decline in patients with early-stage dementia. Other studies have found similar results.
Your brain does a lot for you. Vitamin B12 will make sure it keeps up the good work as you age.
Feeling a little tired—like, all the time? B vitamins are known for increasing energy levels and athletic endurance, especially vitamin B12. In fact, one of the most common symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency is fatigue or feeling lethargic
If you’re feeling slower than usual, increase your vitamin B12 intake. Caution: Random energy bursts might result in next-level productivity, more fun, and a new zest for life. You’ve been warned.
Lower risk of heart disease
Vitamin B12 is proven to lower levels of homocysteine—an amino acid that is often linked to heart disease. When your body isn’t getting enough B12, homocysteine rises and your heart health is in jeopardy. And not the fun game show kind.
For long-term heart health, make sure vitamin B12 is part of your daily diet or supplement routine.
Beautiful skin, nails, and hair
We already know that vitamin B12 is important for cell production. But this amazing benefit isn’t reserved for inner beauty.
Vitamin B12 boosts cell turnover for clear skin, strong nails, and shiny, luscious hair. That’s why some of the first signs of vitamin B12 deficiency are aesthetic, like skin discolouration, hyperpigmentation, and changes in hair density.
How much vitamin B12 do I need each day?
The recommended daily intake for most adults is 2.4 micrograms (mcg). If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you may need more. Talk to your doctor about which dose is right for you and your unique health.
When in doubt, remember that vitamin B12 hasn’t been shown to be toxic or harmful, even at high doses.
What causes vitamin B12 deficiency?
About 40% of all adults in the US have low levels of vitamin B12. Some people are more at risk than others:
- People with intestinal disorders, like Crohn’s disease or celiac disease
- People with pernicious anemia, a type of anemia that makes it difficult to absorb vitamin B12
- Older adults
- Vegans and vegetarians, since B12 is only found naturally in animal products
- People who take metformin for blood sugar control or proton pump inhibitors for chronic heartburn—these medications can decrease the absorption of B12 from foods
Your body can store up to 2,000 times the amount of vitamin B12 you typically eat in a day. That means symptoms can sometimes take years to show up. When they do, here are the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency to look for:
- Depression and mood swings
- Memory problems
- Confusion and difficulty focusing
- Symptoms of anemia (listed earlier)
- Weight loss
- Sore mouth or tongue
How can I incorporate vitamin B12 into my diet?
There are so many amazing sources of vitamin B12. Bonus: all of them are packed with tons of other vitamins and nutrients to boot. If you want to up your vitamin B12 intake, add these items to your grocery list:
- Beef (especially beef liver)
- Fish (especially tuna, salmon, and haddock)
- Dairy products
- Some nutritional yeast products
If you do eat a vegan diet, look for plant-based foods that are fortified with vitamin B12.
Are vitamin B12 supplements a good alternative?
If you’re concerned about getting enough vitamin B12 in your diet, supplements are a great alternative. Even if you do eat a good amount of vitamin B12, supplements are still a good idea just in case.
There are many different types of supplements, from pills to nasal sprays to injections (for more serious cases). It’s important to look for supplements that are approved by your national health body, like Health Canada.
Some supplements can do double duty. For example, Ferosom Forte is an iron supplement that’s also formulated with Folic acid and vitamins D, B6, C, and B12 for extra nutrients and higher absorption rates. If you’re struggling with iron deficiency anemia and vitamin B12 deficiency at the same time (which is common), Ferosom Forte can tackle both.Click here to learn more about Ferosom Forte and how it can support your vitamin B12 and iron needs.