B12 is part of the family of B vitamins: 8 different vitamins that help the body perform crucial functions. All of them help the body turn food into fuel; in other words, B vitamins generate energy.
B12 itself is crucial in the processes of metabolism, forming new red blood cells, and maintaining the central nervous system (including the brain and spinal cord).
What are more specific potential B12 benefits? And how can you get them? Let’s take a look.
Supporting Heart Health
Studies suggest that “people with high levels of the amino acid homocysteine are almost two times more likely to develop coronary artery disease and 2.5 times more likely to have a stroke than those with normal levels. B complex vitamins, especially vitamins B9, B6, and B12, help lower homocysteine levels.”
Heart health should always be monitored and discussed with your doctor, but a diet with enough B vitamins may support cardiovascular health.
Feeling exhausted? Run down? One of the symptoms of B12 deficiency is fatigue. A small study has suggested that even those without a B12 deficiency may experience an increase of energy with B12; another study suggested that those suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome may also benefit. So while B12 may support a healthy level of energy, more research is needed.
Supporting Maternal Health
An article published in Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology states that vitamin B12, along with vitamin B6 and vitamin C, plays an “important role in maternal health as well as fetal development and physiology during gestation.” A review of the scientific literature found that potential B12 benefits may include support for the mother and fetus: studies suggested that B12 supplementation “may reduce the incidence of neural tube defects,” although more research is needed to support this.
The Body’s Building Blocks
Another potential B12 benefit? It helps support the production of DNA and RNA: the literal building blocks of life. Additionally, according to the University of Maryland Medical center, “Vitamin B12 works closely with vitamin B9, also called folate or folic acid, to help make red blood cells and to help iron work better in the body. Folate and B12 work together to produce S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), a compound involved in immune function and mood.
Vitamins B12, B6, and B9 work together to control blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine are associated with heart disease. However, researchers are not sure whether homocysteine is a cause of heart disease or just a marker that indicates someone may have heart disease.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Since vitamin B12 has so many benefits, it follows that B12 deficiency would have negative side-effects. There are many symptoms of B12 deficiency, including:
- Shortness of breath
- Shortness of breath
- Tingling sensation in the fingers and toes
Vegans and vegetarians are particularly susceptible to Vitamin B12 deficiency, since Vitamin B12 does not naturally occur in plants. B12 is produced by bacteria, and this bacteria is found in animals; therefore, people who eat animals or animal by-products reap the benefits of B12. B12 is present in fish, shellfish, meat, eggs, and dairy.
Because of vegans and vegetarians follow a diet that is low, or completely lacking, these products, B12 deficiency is common. In fact, studies have shown that 50% of vegetarians and 80% of vegans have a B12 deficiency.
Sources of Vitamin B12
A diet containing B12 might involve any of the following: eggs, milk, fish, shellfish, beef, pork, liver, and kidney. Some people also choose to supplement with multivitamins or specific B12 vitamins. Some people have more success using B12 supplements in spray form, instead of the more common tablet or capsule.
What B12 rich food is your favorite? Do you supplement your diet?