Vitamin B12 is necessary to ensure the proper functioning and health of nerve tissues, brain function, and red blood cells.
A wide variety of signs and symptoms may occur when you are deficient including cognitive impairment and slowed mental processing and a host of behavioral and emotional issues such as depression, irritability, and psychosis. In young children, the symptoms include poor growth and development, and difficulties with movement.
This vitamin can be found most commonly in foods such as meat, fish, and dairy products. As you age, your body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 from food slows down making it difficult to reap vitamin B12 benefits. The following as some of the benefits of Vitamin B12:
1. Helps maintain a healthy digestive system
Vitamin B12 also protects against heart disease by regulating cholesterol levels, which assists in the prevention of high blood pressure.
Improving absorption begins with consuming adequate amounts of B12-rich foods including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy and other fortified foods which assist in producing healthy gut bacteria. Healthy gut bacteria keeps the digestive system functioning well and ensures that B12 is properly absorbed.
2. Helps keep hair, skin and nails healthy
Vitamin B12 helps in the reproduction of tissue cells and cellular regeneration is essential for healthy skin, hair, and nails. It is important for metabolism and its metabolic boosting properties assist in boosting the skin’s metabolism. Nutrients are able to more easily reach your skin, resulting in healthier tissue, vibrant skin tone and strong healthy hair and nails.
3. Helps in healthy regulation of the nervous system
Healthy amounts of vitamin B12 can assist in reducing brain shrinkage which can cause depression and stress. B vitamins play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions. Low levels of B-12 and other B vitamins such as vitamin B-6 and folate are linked to depression.
4. It is a natural energy enhancer
Low energy levels, lethargy and the feeling of not wanting to do anything may be a sign that you are not getting enough Vitamin B12. Working in concert with the other B vitamins, B12 is known for its ability to keep you alert and feeling energized. It is needed to convert carbohydrates into glucose in the body, leading to energy production and a decrease in fatigue and lethargy in the body
5. Helps to prevent anemia
B12 is necessary for the production of a healthy level of red blood cells. The constant production of red blood cells helps to ward off megaloblastic anemiawhich causes chronic fatigue and physical weakness throughout the body.
6. Protects and treats certain types of cancer
Vitamin B12 helps in the prevention and treatment of certain cancers, particularly prostate, lung, breast, and colon cancer.
7. Protects Against Heart Disease
B12 has been shown to assist in sustaining and improving the cardiovascular system overall. Adequate levels of vitamin B12 is a major part of a comprehensive approach to maintaining a healthy heart.
8. Helps to prevent stroke
B vitamins have been linked to a lower incidence of stroke which is a condition that occurs when a blood clot blocks blood flow to the brain, or a blood vessel bursts in the brain. Vitamin B12 helps to protect against heart disease like a heart attack or stroke by lowering high homocysteine levels in the blood.
Foods that enhance vitamin B12 benefits
Foods high in Vitamin B12 include shellfish, liver, fish, crab, fortified soy products (tofu, soymilk), fortified cereals, red meat, low-fat dairy, cheese, and eggs. Below are the top 10 foods ranked in order according to the percentage of B12 they contain based on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recommending daily value (DV) index.
- Shell fish: Clams, oysters and mussels contain massive amounts of B12. One 3 oz. serving of cooked clams contains 1401% of the recommended DV.
- Liver: A three-ounce serving of beef liver will provide you with 1178% of the recommended DV.
- Fish: Fish highest in B12 are Mackerel (269% DV), Smoked Salmon (257% DV), Herring (186% DV), Tuna (154% DV) , Canned Sardines (126% DV) and Trout (106% DV)
- Crustaceans: Crustaceans include crayfish, shrimp, lobster and crab. A three oz. serving of crab contains 163% DV.
- Red Meat: Beef and lamb are particularly high in this vitamin. A three ounce serving of cooked beef contains 85% DV
- Fortified Soy Products: This category is inclusive of food items such as tofu and plain soymilk which contains 34% DV.
- Fortified Cereals: The amount of B12 in cereals will vary by brand and in order to find the correct cereal to fit your nutritional needs, make sure to check the label. A cup of Kellogg’s All-Bran Buds cereal contains 300% of the recommended DV. Most cereals do not have B12 levels this high.
- Dairy products: These products include: Nonfat Yogurt (25% DV), Reduced Fat Milk (22% DV), Skim Milk (21% DV) Whole Milk (18% DV), and Full Fat Yogurt (15% DV)
- Cheese: Adding three ounce serving of the following cheeses to your favorite dishes is a great way to get some additional B12 incorporated into your diet: Swiss (14% DV), Reduced Fat Mozzarella, Parmesan and Gietost (11% DV), Tilsit (10% DV) and Feta (8% DV).
- Eggs: Surprisingly, there are a variety of eggs that provide a good dose of B12, including: Chicken eggs (6% DV per yolk), Goose (122% DV), Duck (63% DV), Turkey (22% DV), and Quail (2% DV).
As you can see, most foods delivering vitamin B12 benefits are primarily meat products, which can prove to be problematic for those who do not eat meat or meat products.
Here are some ways vegans can maintain their meat-free diet and still avoid becoming B12 deficient:
- Eat fortified foods two or three times a day to get at least three micrograms (mcg or µg) of B12 a day
- OR Take one B12 supplement daily providing at least 10 micrograms
- OR Take a weekly B12 supplement providing at least 2000 micrograms.
It is important to note that the less frequently your body receives B12 the more you will need to take. Vitamin B12 is best absorbed in small amounts although there is no harm in exceeding the recommended amounts or using more than one option above to receive the recommended daily dose. Fortified foods such as grains, nut or grain ‘milks’ and nutritional or brewers yeast can be added to foods to provide B12 organically. Yeast can easily be added to foods with little or no effect on the taste or texture.
Vitamin B12 is considered safe for most people when taken orally, applied to the skin, taken through the nose, administered as a shot, or injected into the vein (by IV). It is even considered safe in large doses. However, here are a few specific precautions and warnings you should be aware of:
- Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Doctors recommend that pregnant and breast-feeding women are careful not to exceed the recommended DV as the effects of taking higher doses during these times are unknown.
- Post-surgical stent placement: Vitamins B6, B12 and folate should be avoided after this type of coronary procedure as it could cause the blood vessels to narrow and lead to complications.
- Allergy or sensitivity to cobalt or cobalamin; Leber’s disease or a hereditary eye disease: People with these conditions should avoid taking B12
- Abnormal red blood cells (megaloblastic anemia): This condition is often treated by vitamin B12 therapy, however, it could also exacerbate this condition. Follow the advice of your health care provider
- High numbers of red blood cells (polycythemia vera): Vitamin B12 deficiency therapy could unmask the symptoms of this condition.