What is B12?
Vitamin B12 can be found in both food and supplemental form. It is a very important nutrient necessary to prevent disorders and to promote overall health. Both the nervous system and the brain need Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) to assist in better functioning. It helps in blood production, and it is involved in cell metabolism, energy production, and fatty acid synthesis. It is a water-soluble vitamin that can only be made by archaea and bacteria, and it is available in certain foods. Bacterial fermentation is the process of making B12 industrially. A typical vitamin type is cyanocobalamin, and there are methylcobalamin, hydroxocobalamin, and adenosylcobalamin forms as well.
In general, the recommended dosage is 2-3 micrograms per day for adults, while younger teens, children, and babies don’t require as high of a dose. Some people cannot absorb this vitamin, so supplementation or fortified foods are necessary. Those on a vegan diet, or those who do not obtain this vitamin via its animal-based sources, may also need to supplement with this nutrient—or consume foods such as nutritional yeast flakes, soy milk, breakfast cereal that has been fortified with B12, and certain algae.
Alcohol, antibiotics, cobalt irradiation, Metformin (Glucophage), nicotine, proton pump inhibitors (PPI, such as Prilosec, Prevacid, and Nexium), and certain other medications can interfere with the patient’s vitamin B12 absorption and contribute to a deficiency.1 While most people are able to consume enough of this vitamin in their daily life, those who are of advanced age might find their levels dropping due to a slowing of absorption. Disorders of the immune system, such as lupus, and atrophic gastritis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or a parasite might also cause the patient to become more susceptible to a B12 deficiency.2
Medical Uses and Benefits of B12
Vitamin B12 can be “stored in the liver for a year or more”. It is measured in blood work when levels of folic acid are checked. Without folic acid, megaloblastic anemia can occur.3 People with pernicious anemia have a vitamin deficiency. This vitamin can be used to treat cyanide poisoning. High B12 levels in the elderly may offer protection against Alzheimer’s disease, in that it can help prevent brain atrophy (shrinkage). Folic acid can also be used in treating some people with allergies. Without this vital nutrient, people may sustain permanent nervous system damage, as well as depression, poor memory, fatigue, or even psychosis and mania.4 A deficiency that is mild might not show symptoms. It is not unheard of for patients with a B12 deficiency to develop anemia.
Other symptoms and signs of a severe B12 deficiency, especially when it has been left untreated, include weakness, tiredness, heart palpitations, pale skin, shortness of breath, constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite, vision loss, numbness or tingling in the nerves, muscle weakness, and difficulty with walking.5
There are very few, very rare side effects that could occur as a result of taking B12. Cases of rosacea or acne being caused by B12 are not common. The vitamin is not considered to be toxic at high doses, even at doses of 1000 micrograms. The injectable form, cyanocobalamin, contains the same trace levels of cyanide, a poisonous substance, as the amounts found in many fruits and vegetables, so it is not considered to be a very significant health risk. B12 is not recommended for those with kidney disease.6
According to Dr. Mehmet Oz, “15-40% of Americans don’t have adequate levels of B12”. People who lack energy may want to have their vitamin levels checked. Without enough of this vitamin, our body will have trouble with healthy red blood cell formation, getting energy from food, and making DNA for cells. Signs of this deficiency can include, in the short term, fatigue, “dementia-like qualities”, and changes in mood. Other symptoms might be an “inflamed, red, cracked tongue” and “tingling or numbness in the hands or feet”. This vitamin is so vital that, without it, a person can have irreversible nerve damage.
Because of the medications people with reflux, diabetes, and heart disease take (including aspirin and prescriptions), vitamin deficiencies can occur. Those with Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and people who have had gastric bypass surgery may be at risk for not absorbing this vitamin. As people age, those over 50 may have less gastric acid production, and this may leave individuals unable to “unlock adequate amounts of B12 from the foods”. For those people, 25-100 mcg/day of B12 may be the answer. Animal sources of folic acid include buffalo, organic beef, and seafood. Nutritional yeast is the best format for non-meat eaters. People who take vitamin supplements can choose from many types (lozenges, patches, tablets, etc.). For a persistent deficiency, B12 injections may work.7
Find out more about supplements.