Even though it seems like now more than ever, we’re paying attention to our vitamin intake, it is quite noticeable how vitamin B12 is somehow left behind. We’re taught to take vitamin C to improve our immune system, vitamin D for healthy bones, but how much do we know about the importance of vitamin B12? We’ve asked experts from the weight loss center Chicago to answer this question for us.
The human body can’t produce vitamin B12 (also known as cobalamin). Therefore, people can get them either through some types of food or by taking supplements.
When it comes to food, B12 is naturally found only in animal products. Its highest concentration is found in beef liver, clams, salmon, eggs, and dairy as well. It can be added to cereals which is something we usually see, so that, for example, vegans can get their daily dose of it.
It can also be added to non-dairy milk. And since vegans and vegetarians are at higher risk of developing a B12 deficiency, they should consider taking supplements instead. Most multivitamins include B12, but it can be found in vitamin B complex supplements. There is a recommended daily dose of it, but if you go over the board, don’t stress; your body will take the amount it needs, and the excess will get flushed out through the urine.
Research has shown that around 6% of people aged less than 50 have a B12 deficiency, whereas that percentage rises to 20% for people older than 50. That may not be alarming, but in some other parts of the world this percentage goes way too high; 40% of children in Latin America and 70% of those in Africa don’t get enough of this vitamin in their systems.
It appears that vitamin B12 is necessary for us even before we are born, and it doesn’t get less important as we age. So let’s see how it’s responsible for many aspects of our health throughout life.
- Before we’re even born, this vitamin is highly involved in DNA synthesis, especially when combined with folic acid. It then makes sure our brain and nervous system develop properly, and for achieving this, a fetus needs to get enough B12 from its mother. It also prevents birth defects and lowers the chance of premature birth. To achieve this, the mother needs to take 2.6mcg of it daily. That way, the newborn will have enough of it for the next few months.
Otherwise, a B12 deficiency during pregnancy can be responsible for the fetus developing birth defects, such as neural tube defects. It can also contribute to a miscarriage or premature birth.
- While we’re growing up, B12 makes sure our blood cells develop properly so that they’re small and round. In case they’re bigger in size, they can’t move from bone marrow to the bloodstream (carrying oxygen), which can cause anemia. Infants should develop at a certain pace, they start moving and learning at this time, and enough B12 (0.5mcg) should be provided by breastfeeding or consuming animal products. When it comes to children and teenagers, the recommended daily dose is between 0.9mcg and 1.8mcg, depending on how old they are.
Otherwise, a deficiency in infants can lead to anemia, problems with movement, and delayed development. Children who are lacking this vitamin may witness memory disorders, lack of concentration and appetite, irritability.
- As teenagers and fully developed adults, we still need to pay attention to our daily B12 intake. It should be around 2.4mcg to ensure our nervous and immune systems function properly. You can call it a powerhouse too, and without it, our metabolism can’t work properly. If you have skin issues, dry hair, or brittle nails – it’s time to indulge in this vitamin. Unfortunately, by this time, several things can affect our B12 absorption. For example, drinking alcohol, taking heartburn drugs, or suffering from pernicious anemia, atrophic gastritis, or an immune system disorder (such as lupus) can highly affect this vitamin’s absorption. Luckily, we can now take it in the form of supplements too.
Otherwise, early symptoms of its deficiency can occur, that is, weakness and fatigue. It can then cause nerve damage that leads to shaky movement, trouble with walking and balancing, tingling, brain fog, and sometimes even depression. Also, visible signs can occur in the forms of pale skin, mouth ulcers, or bruising easily. It can even change how some cervical cells look and then trigger a false-positive result on a Pap test.
- When we reach old age, we become weaker, and our bodies become more fragile. The B12 absorption becomes less efficient as we age because the stomach acid production is also reduced. It first manifests as a disability to extract and absorb the vitamin from food, but it can only be taken via injections if it goes too far. Bones tend to heal way slower when you’re old, and you need B12 to keep to bone density. If you aim to prevent cognitive decline and brain atrophy at this time, take your supplements on time to make sure you get the best out of them.
Otherwise, you might be at risk of neuro-related diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, closely associated with loss of neurons. In case you break a bone, the recovery could be much longer and might not even end with satisfying results.
As you see, making sure you always have enough B12 in your system can prevent many diseases throughout life. It’s sometimes hard to tell whether you have a deficiency because symptoms such as lack of concentration, weakness, and brain fog are associated with other illnesses or fatigue. Not only that, but symptoms tend to show up gradually since this vitamin’s supplies can last up to a few years. If you’re not sure, you can always check your B12 level via a blood test, which is the only way to confirm a deficiency. If its blood levels are less than 160pg/mL, you need to take some action.