Vitamins are a group of materials that are important for normal cell function, growth, and development. They play important roles in bodily functions like immunity, metabolism, and digestion. Vitamin B12 is the most popular among all the essential B vitamins. Vitamin B12 is one of the major water-soluble vitamins that help keep the body’s blood cells and nerve healthy and immensely helps produce DNA, the genetic substance in all cells. Water-soluble vitamins completely dissolve in water. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent the kind of anemia commonly known as megaloblastic anemia that makes men and women weak and tired. The body can store vitamin B12 for several years in the liver.
Reasons and Effects of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Deficiency of Vitamin B12 may happen if you have certain conditions, like: pernicious anemia, atrophic gastritis, surgery that removed portions of the small intestine or stomach, including weight loss surgery, conditions affecting the small intestine, like celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, a parasite or bacterial growth, heavy drinking, immune system disorders, like lupus or Graves’ disease and long-term use of acid-lowering drugs. Low blood level of vitamin B12 has been associated with the following B12 deficiency symptoms:
- Weakness, tiredness, or lightheadedness
- Pale skin
- Rapid heartbeat and breathing
- Sore tongue
- Stomach upset and weight loss
- Easy bruising or bleeding, including bleeding gums
- Diarrhea or constipation
Amazing Health Benefits of Vitamin B12
Though vitamin B12 is absorbed in small amounts by the body, it is necessary for us to get sufficient of this nutrient from the diet. The foods rich in vitamin B12 include cereals, eggs, dairy products, meat, seafood, yogurt, turkey, beef, and pork. There are several health benefits of Vitamin B12. Here we have jotted down a few common health benefits.
Reduces the Risk of Pernicious Anemia
Vitamin B12 deficiency is not directly attached to anemia. Pernicious anemia is a medical condition where vitamin B12 is not absorbed by the human body properly, resulting in overall ill-effects of deficiency. The common symptoms of pernicious anemia are –feeling weak and tiredness, numbness and tingling in hands and feet, and a bright, smooth red tongue. However, with vitamin B12 shots and supplements, there is a good opportunity that the body can be protected against pernicious anemia.
Since vitamin B12 is immensely required for the formulation of RBCs (red blood cells) its deficiency is directly linked to fatigue and overall weakness. Anemia, insomnia, deficiencies in key nutrients, thyroid, diabetes, depression, undiagnosed heart disease and lack of exercise are the common reasons for fatigue.
Red blood cells are the major elements of blood. Their main task is to transport oxygen to the body’s tissues in exchange for unhealthy carbon dioxide; that is carried to and eliminated by the lungs. Several scientific studies suggest that vitamin B12 supplementations are widely used as a potential treatment to combat fatigue and tiredness.
Helps Lower the Risk of Heart Disease
Sufficient levels of Vitamin B12 are needed to lower the levels of a compound commonly known as homocysteine that is directly linked to stroke risk and heart attack. With the growing age, the arteries tend to lose the ability to stretch and vitamin B12 can immensely help maintain the elasticity. It also helps protect our heart from the damaging effects of free oxygen radicals.
It also helps prevent the blood vessels from becoming blocked and slow the developmental process of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). According to new scientific studies, enhancing dietary intake or supplementation of vitamin B12 along with essential fatty acids, can significantly lower the possibilities of heart disease and blood clot formation (resulting in a stroke).
Improves Mental Health
The role of vitamin B12 in cognitive and mental improvement has been studied extensively and it was found that, increased levels of homocysteine (the compound propagated by vitamin B12) are not only linked to heart diseases but also to cognitive impairment or gradual decline in the functions of brain. Recent scientific Studies have suggested that B12 supplementation can play an immensely important role in improving the signs and symptoms that indicate delirium.
Delirium is a serious disturbance in a man’s mental abilities which results in a reduced awareness of one’s environment and confused thinking. The attack of delirium is sudden, often within hours or a few days. Delirium can be traced to one or more contributing factors, such as infection, medication, a severe or chronic medical illness, surgery, alcohol or drug abuse.
Reduces the Incidence of Birth Defects
Vitamin B12 is immensely important for synthesizing DNA of our cells. Hence with decreased levels of vitamin B12, DNA defects can result. Birth defects are functional or structural abnormalities present at birth that cause mental and physical disability. Birth defects can be caused by problems with chromosomes, genetic problems, or environmental factors.
Structural birth defects are mainly related to a problem with body parts such as cleft palate or cleft lip, heart defects such as misshaped or missing valves, abnormal limbs like a club foot, and neural tube defects like spina bifida. The immense importance of vitamin B12 in the human body becomes clearly evident when defects in DNA are expressed as birth defects. Recent scientific Studies have linked vitamin B12 deficiency with higher risk of Down’s syndrome in neural tube defects (NTD) and children.
Boosts Hepatitis C Treatment
Vitamin B12 is widely known for its role in boosting immune-function. This function was vividly indicated by a scientific study published in the journal Gut; that assessed role of vitamin B12 in patients with hepatitis C infection. Hepatitis C is one of the infections of the liver. Jaundice, loss of appetite, stomach pain, fatigue and nausea are the main symptoms of hepatitis C.
It’s mainly caused by the hepatitis C virus. Out of 85 patients with HCV infection, the ones who directly received vitamin B12 supplements along with a good treatment for hepatitis C showed enhanced response rate against the virus after completion of the medical treatment. The main vital response was reported to strengthen by 35 percent. Vitamin B12 also helps protect against cancer.
Keeping in mind the important role of vitamin B12 in DNA synthesis and repair, many researchers explored the association between cancer and Vitamin B12. One of them was a study by Slater and colleagues that found that high intake of vitamin B12 along with Vitamin B6 decreased the risk of colon cancer by 25% to 35% in participants having genes that can enhance the risk of cancer in them.
Might help to Reduce Depression
A study by Bolander-Goalie C and Copper A showed that decreased levels of vitamin B12 are also intimately linked to clinical depression and mood disorders. The main reasons for depression include abuse, conflict, certain medications, genetics, death or a loss, personal problems, serious illness and substance abuse.
Further, it has also been observed that low levels of B12 interfere with the appropriate response to treatments with antidepressants. The recent scientific studies suggested that the supplementation of vitamin B12 can help improve outcomes in persons with mood disorders.
Protect Against Alzheimer’s Disease
There is specific evidence that enhanced vitamin B12 levels can prevent Alzheimer’s disease by reducing the levels of homocysteine in the body. The common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include confusion, memory loss, challenges in solving simple problems, difficulty in performing tasks, struggling to socialize, misplacing things, drastic changes in personality, difficulty in reading, repetition of words and withdrawal from social activities. A recent scientific study highlighted that with every picomolar enhance in the level of active vitamin B12 decreased the risk Alzheimer’s by three percent.
Prevents Memory Loss in Elderly
Scientists have long been researching the intimate relation between memory loss and low levels of B12 (cobalamin). According to a new scientific study, enough B12 in the diet can help improve memory. A recent study published in an Indian science magazine showed that regular intake of vitamin B12 supplements is closely associated with improvement in mental health scores and completion of the memory tasks in the elderly population (58-75 years) after a period of 2 years. Vitamin B12 deficiency is very common among older people, persons with stomach or bowel issues or strict vegetarians. The diabetes drug metformin has also been shown to lower vitamin B12 levels.
Vitamin B12 is found in all multivitamins. Dietary supplements that contain only vitamin B12, with nutrients like folic acid and other B vitamins are also available. A pharmacist and a doctor should be consulted for use in other indications.
Image Sources: hepatitisc.org.au, daviddarling.info, nytimes.com, hindustantimes.com.