Vitamin B12 or Cobalamin is one of the eight B vitamins. This group of vitamins aids the body in converting carbohydrates into glucose, which enables the production of energy. In addition, this vitamin group also helps the body utilize proteins and fats and the enable the nervous system to function properly.
Vitamin B12, in particular, is a water soluble vitamin, which means that the body does not store it. This vitamin is added to some foods while in others this vitamin is already present. This is also available as a prescription medication or as a dietary supplement. This vitamin exists in several forms. It contains cobalt, which is why this is often referred to as cobalamins.
Uses of Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 has several important functions in the body. In fact, this vitamin is required for the proper formation and production of red blood cells, working closely with vitamin B9 or folic acid. This is also important in DNA and RNA synthesis and neurologic function, as this is important for maintaining the health of the nerve cells.
Vitamins B6, B9 and B12 work collectively in controlling the levels of the homocysteine, which is an amino acid, in the blood. High levels of this amino acid in the blood often indicate heart disease. However, experts have yet to confirm if the rising levels of this amino acid in the blood is the cause of the condition or a marker that indicates heart disease.
Low Levels of Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 deficiency is not common in young people. This condition is a common occurrence in older people as their diets tend to be not as healthy as it used to be or their stomach produces less acid, which is needed to absorb vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 deficiency causes several symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, nervousness, diarrhea, tingling sensation in the fingers and toes, and numbness. In severe causes, this deficiency condition can cause nerve damage.
Who Are At Risk of Developing Vitamin B12 Deficiency?
While anyone can develop this deficiency condition, there are certain groups of individuals who are more at risk. For instance, those who adhere to a vegetarian diet are more at risk, especially those who do not eat eggs or dairy products. It is important to note that Vitamin B12 is found in animal products only.
People who have health conditions like pancreatic disease and Crohn’s disease are at risk, as they often have problems related to absorption of nutrients. There are some medications that hinder absorption of nutrients. Those who are taking these medications are also at risk.
People who have Helicobacter pylori infection are also at risk to developing Vitamin B12 deficiency. H. pylori are intestinal organisms that cause ulcer. This organism damages the stomach cells that create intrinsic factor, which is needed by the body to absorb vitamin B12. In addition, people with HIV, diabetes, and eating disorders are also at risk.
Dietary and Other Sources of Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is found only in animal foods. For optimum intake of this B vitamin, you can eat fish, shellfish and dairy products. Food sources like organ meats such as kidney and liver are also high in vitamin B12. Egg, pork and beef are also good sources of this vitamin.
Aside from dietary sources, this vitamin is also available in various forms like multivitamin syrups, B complex vitamins, and supplements. Moreover, you can find intranasal forms as well as capsules, soft gels and tablets of vitamin B12.
The Recommended Dietary Intake of Vitamin B12
Dietary regimens that include shellfish, fish, milk and other forms of dairy, vitamin B12 supplementation may not be necessary, as you would already have met the recommended daily requirements for this vitamin. Vegetarians who do not take any form of animal product should take vitamin B12 supplements.
The right dosage of vitamin B12 is determined by your health care provider based on your needs. Pediatric patients like newborns need about 0.4 mcg of vitamin B12. This increases in children who are already a year old. The recommended vitamin B12 dose for children aged one to three years old is 0.9 mcg. However, children who are four to eight years old need 1.2 mcg and children who are nine to 13 years old need 1.8 mcg of vitamin B12. Teenagers aged 14 to 18 years old need 2.4 mcg of this vitamin.
Adults need 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12 while pregnant women need 2.6 mcg and breastfeeding mothers need 2.8 mcg.
Since taking vitamin B12 supplement has some side effects as well as interaction precautions with some medications, this supplement must be taken only with supervision from your health care provider. While this vitamin is non toxic and safe, taking supplementations of this vitamin for long periods of time can result to imbalance of the other B vitamins.
Who Should Take Additional Supplementations of Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 supplementation is often recommended if you have certain health conditions like pernicious anemia, heart disease, fatigue, breast cancer and male infertility. Vitamin B12 supplement is needed for those who have pernicious anemia as this condition is characterized by the body’s impaired vitamin B12 absorption. The impaired absorption is caused by the inability of the stomach cells to produce intrinsic factor.
According to studies, vitamins B12, B6 and B9 are important in lowering homocysteine levels. The level of this amino acid in the blood increases when the person has a heart disease. However, it has not been established yet if this amino acid actually causes the heart disease or this is simply a marker of the condition.
Fatigue is often felt by those people who are suffering from vitamin B12 deficiency. In one study, it has been noted that people who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome can benefit from taking vitamin B12 supplementation.
Even though there is no evidence yet that shows that vitamin B12 reduces the risk of breast cancer, studies show that women who take ample vitamin B12 in their diets have a lower risk to developing breast cancer. On the other hand, there are also studies that show that vitamin B12 actually improve sperm production and quality.