Vitamin B12 Supplements: An Overview of Benefits and Sources
Vitamin B12 supplements have been trending lately, with chewable gummies and capsules lining grocery store and pharmacy aisles. But what is vitamin B12, and why is it so important?
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, helps in the formation of red blood cells, nerve function, and DNA creation. While it is rare to have a deficiency of vitamin B12 as the body can store it for several years, individuals following a low-meat or meat-free diet are at a higher risk. Symptoms of B12 deficiency include fatigue, muscle weakness, mood disturbances, and memory problems.
Animal products, such as meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products, are the best sources of vitamin B12. Some processed foods have vitamin B12 added as well. Vegetarians and vegans face difficulty in meeting their B12 requirements and may need to supplement their diet with oral supplements or injections.
Here are seven science-backed health benefits of vitamin B12:
1. Reduces Risk of Anemia
Anemia is a condition where the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells to properly transport oxygen throughout the body, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and muscle weakness. One of the benefits of vitamin B12 is prevention of anemia since it is essential for red blood cell formation.
2. May Reduce the Risk of Osteoporosis
Vitamin B12 is important in DNA function, making it a key component of bone formation. Individuals with higher levels of vitamin B12 were shown to have higher bone mineral density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
3. May Improve Heart Health
Studies have found that high levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that is a building block of protein, is a risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease. Vitamin B12 helps lower homocysteine levels and reduce this risk.
4. May Reduce the Risk of Birth Defects
Pregnant women need to add more vitamin B12 to their diet than the average adult as it has been associated with birth defects such as neural tube defects and pregnancy complications.
5. May Reduce Risk of Depression
Vitamin B12 deficiency is more common amongst adult women with depression. Elderly subjects were found to be more likely to have depression if they were deficient in vitamin B12. Supplementation may help improve depressive symptoms.
6. May Improve Cognition
Studies found that vitamin B12 markers associated with cognitive function and brain volume were reduced if they showed a deficiency in vitamin B12. In addition, individuals with low vitamin B12 concentrations had poorer memory and learning abilities.
7. May Improve Hair, Skin, and Nail Health
Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to hyperpigmentation, hair changes, skin changes, and inflammation of the tongue. Getting sufficient vitamin B12, either through diet or supplementation, prevents these negative reactions.
The National Institutes of Health recommends that adults get 2.4 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin B12 daily, with specific groups needing differing levels. Pregnant women should take 2.6 mcg per day, and breastfeeding women should increase their dosage to 2.8 mcg per day. As a water-soluble vitamin, the body absorbs only as much as it needs, and excess is excreted through urine. Vitamin B12 is safe, and there is no benefit to taking more than the recommended amount.
In conclusion, vitamin B12 is essential for red blood cell formation, nerve function, and DNA synthesis. Supplementation may improve cognition, reduce the risk of osteoporosis, and reduce the risk of developing depression or reduce depressive symptoms. While it is always preferable to obtain vitamins through diet, vitamin B12 supplements are safe and beneficial for individuals who follow a low meat or meat-free diet. If you are concerned about your vitamin B12 levels, consult with your doctor to determine whether supplementation is right for you.