Last Updated on March 21, 2021
What Is Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a fundamental role in the metabolic processes that take place in every cell within the human body. Also known as cobalamin, vitamin B12 is a co-factor in DNA synthesis, as well as in the metabolism of both fatty and amino acids. The name cobalamin is inspired by the fact that vitamin B12 contains the rare element cobalt.
Vitamin B12 exists in four different forms, namely cyanocobalamin, hydroxocobalamin, methylcobalamin, and adenosylcobalamin. Cyanocobalamin and hydroxocobalamin are the forms of the vitamin used in the prevention or treatment of vitamin deficiency. After absorption, these two compounds are converted into methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin, which help to maintain certain physiological functions.
Health Benefits of Vitamin B12
1. Prevents Anemia
Anemia is a debilitating disease that results from reduced production of red blood cells. As such, one of the effective ways of treating the condition is by ramping up red blood cell production. Vitamin B12 plays a fundamental role in the production of red blood cells, which explains why it might help to prevent or treat anemia.
But vitamin B12 doesn’t just boost the production of red blood cells. It also promotes the formation of these cells. Now, healthy red blood cells are typically small and round, whereas abnormal red blood cells tend to be larger and irregularly-shaped.
According to research, the large size and awkward shape of abnormal red blood cells inhibits the ability of these cells to travel from your bone marrow into your bloodstream. That results in megaloblastic anemia. Since vitamin B12 promotes the formation of healthy red blood cells, it can, therefore, help to reduce the risks of megaloblastic anemia.
2. Prevents Birth Defects
Vitamin B12 is one of the most recommended vitamins for expecting moms, and understandably so. The vitamin promotes the development of a fetus’ brain and central nervous system, thereby lowering the risks of birth defects.
Studies have shown that supplementing with vitamin B12 during the first trimester may reduce the risks of birth malformations like neural tube defects.
Other studies have even cited vitamin B12 as one of the leading preventions against preterm births and miscarriages.
3. Contains Antidepressant Effects
Anxiety and depression are the two most common mental conditions. These twin conditions can result from an array of causes. But the most common cause is reduced signaling of ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters like serotonin.
Generally, substances that improve the body’s signaling of ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters can produce antianxiety and antidepressant effects, and vitamin B12 happens to be one such compound.
The vitamin enhances the synthesis and metabolism of serotonin and other ‘happiness’ hormones, thereby calming you down and elevating your mood.
4. May Trigger Neural Regeneration in the Brain
Loss of neurons in the brain, also known as brain atrophy, is the primary cause of poor memory as well as diminished motor and cognitive skills. Prevention of brain atrophy is another crucial area where vitamin B12 might be useful.
When consumed alongside omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12 might slow down mental decline significantly, preventing the early onset of diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
In fact, medical experts now believe that vitamin B12 could improve memory even for people who are not necessarily suffering from an underlying brain condition.
5. Relieves Fatigue
Fatigue is usually a direct consequence of engaging in physically-strenuous work or workouts. But it can also be a medical condition in itself, as is the case with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
Without treatment, fatigue might set you back thousands of dollars in lost workplace productivity.
The good news is that you don’t need medication to relieve fatigue, at least not before you’ve tried vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 treats fatigue by enhancing the body’s energy production processes.
6. Reduces Bone Damage
It’s generally observed that people with vitamin B12 deficiency also experience reduced bone mineral density. Therefore, it’s logical to deduce that an increase in vitamin B12 intake might prevent bone damage and regeneration.
The vitamin is particularly beneficial for people with diseases that lead to bone wastage, such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
7. Reduces Macular Degeneration
Vitamin B12 may not be as important for eye health as vitamin A is. However, the vitamin still impacts the health of your eyes, albeit indirectly.
Vitamin B12 has especially been cited for its role in preventing age-related macular degeneration. The vitamin’s effects against age-related macular degeneration have a lot to do with its ability to suppress the accumulation of the protein homocysteine in blood vessels.
8. Improves Your Oral Health
Ever woken up to a tingling, painful, or discolored tongue but you couldn’t tell how that came about? The chances are that you could be suffering from an underlying medical condition.
Your tongue can speak volumes about your general state of health. People with a compromised immune system can experience glossitis, or tongue inflammation.
If untreated, glossitis could adversely affect how you speak or eat. Increasing your intake of vitamin B12 can help to reduce tongue-related issues, including inflammation, redness, or tingling.
9. Improves Your Heart’s Health
Heart and cardiovascular disease are some of the leading causes of death globally. According to doctors and nutritionists, a sedentary lifestyle is the greatest risk factor for these diseases.
Which means that you can prevent them from happening by making some positive lifestyle adjustments like upping your intake of vitamin B12.
Like many other minerals, vitamin B12 prevents heart disease by addressing some of the common causes of the disease. For instance, the vitamin reduces the built-up of the protein homocysteine on arterial walls. As such, it prevents heart disease by keeping your blood pressure in check.
10. Improves Your Skin’s Health
Numerous studies have shown that vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to skin problems, such as hyperpigmentation and the loss of skin coloration in patches, also known as vitiligo.
People with angular stomatitis, or inflammation and soreness around the corners of the mouth, can also benefit from the therapeutic effects of vitamin B12.
In addition to improving the health of your skin, vitamin B12 is also beneficial for your hair and nails. The vitamin has been shown to lower nail and hair discoloration.
Signs of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Like all B vitamins, you’re unlikely to experience a deficiency in vitamin B12. However, various factors like malnourishment and certain restrictive diets could cause a deficiency in this essential mineral.
Generally, the signs of vitamin B12 deficiency include:
• Disorientation in space and time
• Dementia or progressive memory loss
• Anxiety and depression
• Mood swings
• Poor coordination due to brain atrophy, bone wastage, or muscle weakness
• Generalized fatigue
• Digestive issues
• Soreness or inflammation of the mouth or tongue
Vitamin B12 doesn’t get a fair mention compared to many other B vitamins. But as we’ve seen, it’s just as effective as its other cousins in the B family of vitamins, and a deficiency could be life-threatening.