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. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia that makes people tired and weak.

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 made by the stomach called intrinsic factor and is absorbed by the body. Some people have pernicious anemia, a condition where they cannot make intrinsic factor. As a result, they have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 from all foods and dietary supplements.

What foods provide vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 is found naturally in a wide variety of animal foods and is added to some fortified foods. Plant foods have no vitamin B12 unless they are fortified. You can get recommended amounts of vitamin B12 by eating a variety of foods including the following:

Beef liver and clams, which are the best sources of vitamin B12.

Fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and other dairy products, which also contain vitamin B12.

Some breakfast cereals, nutritional yeasts and other food products that are fortified with vitamin B12. To find out if vitamin B12 has been added to a food product, check the product labels.

What happens if I don't get enough vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 deficiency causes tiredness, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, and megaloblastic anemia. Nerve problems, such as numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, can also occur. Other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include problems with balance, depression, confusion, dementia, poor memory, and soreness of the mouth or tongue. Vitamin B12 deficiency can damage the nervous system even in people who don't have anemia, so it is important to treat a deficiency as soon as possible.

In infants, signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency include failure to thrive, problems with movement, delays in reaching the typical developmental milestones, and megaloblastic anemia.

Large amounts of folic acid can hide a vitamin B12 deficiency by correcting megaloblastic anemia, a hallmark of vitamin B12 deficiency. But folic acid does not correct the progressive damage to the nervous system that vitamin B12 deficiency also causes. For this reason, healthy adults should not get more than 1,000 mcg of folic acid a day.

What are some effects of vitamin B12 on health?

Scientists are studying vitamin B12 to understand how it affects health. Here are several examples of what this research has shown:

Heart disease
Vitamin B12 supplements (along with folic acid and vitamin B6) do not reduce the risk of getting heart disease. Scientists had thought that these vitamins might be helpful because they reduce blood levels of homocysteine, a compound linked to an increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Dementia
As they get older, some people develop dementia. These people often have high levels of homocysteine in the blood. Vitamin B12 (with folic acid and vitamin B6) can lower homocysteine levels, but scientists don't know yet whether these vitamins actually help prevent or treat dementia.

Energy and athletic performance
Advertisements often promote vitamin B12 supplements as a way to increase energy or endurance. Except in people with a vitamin B12 deficiency, no evidence shows that vitamin B12 supplements increase energy or improve athletic performance.

Reference:
http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Vitaminb12-QuickFacts/

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