Astonishing Health Benefits of Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 has historically been regarded as a “fatigue fighter” and rightfully so. This is because the first symptoms that occur when we lack B12 are excessive tiredness and poor resistance to infection. However, nutritional significance of this vitamin is enormous, not just limited to preventing fatigue and infection.
Other Conditions Linked to Vitamin B12 Deficiency
B12 is actually involved in the metabolism of every single cell in the body. The main reason it is associated with energy is its pivotal role in the production of hemoglobin, which is the oxygen-carrying pigment found in red blood cells. Vitamins B12 and B9 (folic acid) work in combination and are needed by the body to synthesize hemoglobin.
As we can suffer from iron deficiency anemia, we can also be anemic if we lack B9 and B12. This is a serious condition resulting in overall physical and mental fatigue, recurrent infections, sensitivity to cold, depression, memory lapses, abnormally low blood pressure, hair loss and much more.
Furthermore, vitamin B12 is essential for brain and nervous system function. In fact, it is crucial for the synthesis of myelin, an insulating material surrounding the nerves. A deficiency of this vital vitamin ultimately leads to deterioration in mental functioning or neurological damage. The consequences can include moodiness, depression, disorientation, confusion, dementia and memory loss. In fact, studies have shown that deficiency in vitamin B12 can mimic Alzheimer’s disease as well as other types of dementia. In these situations, replenishing this important vitamin usually restores normal cognitive function. Since B12 also functions as a methyl donor, it plays a critical role not only in energy metabolism and immune system function but also in nerve function.
Vitamin B12 may even protect against breast cancer as studies found that women with breast cancer tend to have lower serum vitamin B12 levels than other women.
There is little doubt about the anti-inflammatory benefits of B12, as many of those suffering from arthritis or chronic sciatica can attest. Even for people with no diagnosis of arthritis, who feel stiff in the morning when they get out of bed, have tightness in their low back when they bend or experience neck pain if they do too much work, supplementation with vitamin B12 can be of great benefit, because it combats stiffness and inflammation. The main reason why B12 supplementation helps with painful conditions such as sciatica, fibromyalgia or carpal tunnel is because of B12 ability to maintain healthy nerve and myelin tissue while suppressing inflammation.
Healthy gums require plenty of vitamins B12 and B9 (folic acid). In fact, one of the symptoms of B12 deficiency are pale, bleeding gums. Supplementation with these two vitamins often leads to rapid improvement.
Cardiovascular health is also closely linked to certain B vitamins. Homocysteine is a toxic compound, damaging the inner lining of blood vessels and it is a major cause of arterial lesions and atherosclerosis. Vitamins B6, B9 and B12 activate enzymes to safely metabolize homocysteine, thereby keeping its levels down.
Methylcobalamin is a special methylated form of vitamin B12, otherwise known as cyanocobalamin. Methylcobalamin is the neurologically active form of this vitamin and studies found it to be effective in neuron regeneration. There is some evidence of vitamin B12 effectiveness in protecting diabetics against neuropathies. When methylcobalamin was used, it significantly reduced symptoms in the legs, such as heaviness and burning pain. This form of vitamin B12 appears to have this effect because it regenerates damaged neurons in the brain and central nervous system.
Improving Absorption of Vitamin B12
In order for the complex molecule of vitamin B12 to be absorbed in the body, it must first be liberated from food by hydrochloric acid and bond to a substance known as the gastric intrinsic factor. Sublingual B12 supplements are designed to help overcome such problems with absorption. Elderly people who produce less gastric intrinsic factor are more prone to vitamin B12 deficiency. Also, some medications interfere with the absorption of B12, particularly antibiotics and drugs designed to suppress production of stomach acid. Alcohol, too, impairs the absorption of vitamin B12 and, therefore, many heavy drinkers are deficient in this vitamin.
Dietary Sources of Vitamin B12
Some of the foods that are particularly rich in vitamin B12 are shellfish (e.g. clams), fish, crabs and beef liver. Other natural sources of vitamin B12 include the yolk of eggs, dairy, milk, red meat and chicken. This type of vitamin B is only present in animal foods. For vegans and vegetarians cereals and soy products fortified with vitamin B12 are available.
As we can see, the benefits of vitamin B12 are astonishing and go far beyond just increasing energy. Whether we are concerned with steady nerves, bone density or joint flexibility, a healthy cardiovascular system or healthy gums and hair, vitamin B12 can help us get there.