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Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, which is a part of the vitamin B complex. It is naturally present in certain food items, and is also available as a dietary supplement and prescription medication. 

Vitamin B12 has several health benefits. It is vital for the formation of red blood cells, which prevents the development of anaemia. Vitamin B12 is also beneficial for your skin and hair. 

This article discusses the sources of vitamin B12 and its benefits, along with the recommended age-wise daily dosage.

  1. Sources of Vitamin B12
  2. Vitamin B12 benefits
  3. Vitamin B12 daily requirement
  4. Vitamin B12 deficiency
  5. Vitamin B12 side effects

Vitamin B12 is available in different forms, namely cyanocobalamin and methylcobalamin, the latter is naturally occurring while the former is available as a supplement.

Being inherently present in animal products, methylcobalamin is the more bioavailable and preferred form of vitamin B12 as compared to the other form. It is also better absorbed by the body and can be stored for longer durations without causing any serious side effects. Our body relies more on methylcobalamin for its optimal functioning. That is why, if cyanocobalamin supplements are taken, they are converted to methylcobalamin for use in the body. 

Vitamin B12 is found in a variety of foods, particularly those derived from animal sources. But, there are a plenty of vegan and vegetarian options as well. Let's have a look at the two.

  1. Vitamin B12 foods: Animal sources
  2. Vitamin B12 foods: vegan

Vitamin B12 foods: Animal sources

Vitamin B12 is naturally present in animal food products. You can include the following sources in your daily routine if you happen to be a non-vegetarian:

  • Milk and milk products like cream, cheese (ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, swiss cheese), cottage cheese (paneer), yogurt or dahi
  • Eggs
  • Fishes like salmon, trout, sardines or tuna
  • Shrimp
  • Clams
  • Oyster
  • Pork
  • Liver
  • Ham
  • Chicken breast

Vitamin B12 foods: vegan

If you are on a strict vegan diet (vegetarian, non-dairy diet) diet or are lactose intolerant (inability to digest milk products), you can include the following sources in your diet:

  • Almond milk
  • Soy milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Yeast
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Leafy greens like spinach and kale

Other than these sources, vitamin B12 is available as supplements, which may be required for vegetarians, but it is recommended to not take them without a physician’s prescription. Vitamin B12 is also present in B complex supplements, taking which also requires a physician's consultation.

(Read more: Soybean benefits)

Vitamin B12 performs several functions because of which it is an essential vitamin for your body.

It is required for the formation of RBCs (red blood cells), normal cell division and formation and maintenance of bone, skin, teeth and nails.

It is also essential for the metabolism of homocysteine, which may have a role in the prevention of cancer. These and other important health benefits of vitamin B12 are explained below.

  • For skin: Vitamin B12 moistens and soothes the skin and scalp. It is known to prevent skin conditions like eczema and hyperpigmentation along with enhancing the process of wound healing.
  • Promotes oral health: Deficiency of vitamin B12 is associated with oral conditions such as angular stomatitis and glossitis, which refer to inflammation in the angles of mouth and tongue respectively. So, it is important to take sufficient amount of this vitamin in your diet.
  • Prevents pernicious anaemia: Pernicious anaemia is a reduction in RBCs caused due to a deficiency in vitamin B12. It causes fatigue, weakness, constipation and headache. Consuming the recommended amount of b12 vitamin would help prevent this condition.
  • For heart: Optimum levels of vitamin B12 prevents the damaging effects of homocysteine (an amino acid) on the cardiovascular system, thus reducing the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
  • For brain: B12 is known to protect brain function and prevent depression. It also reduces the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
  • For postmenopausal women: Vitamin B12 counters the deteriorating effects of homocysteine on bones, which is otherwise responsible for an increased risk of fractures and osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Research evidence indicates that optimum levels of this vitamin are helpful in reducing the risk of breast cancer.
  1. Vitamin B12 reduces depression
  2. Vitamin B12 for women
  3. Vitamin B12 for skin
  4. Vitamin B12 for oral health
  5. Vitamin B12 prevents Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia
  6. Vitamin B12 for the heart
  7. Vitamin B12 for eyes
  8. Vitamin B12 for the brain

Vitamin B12 reduces depression

Depression is a mood disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, lack of interest and hopelessness, affecting more than 4.5% of the Indian population. Due to constant mood swings and hormonal changes during pregnancy, depression is more likely to occur in pregnant women. A deficiency of vitamin B12 further potentiates the symptoms of depression and feelings of sadness.

In a study involving community-dwelling women, it was observed that a deficiency of vitamin B12 caused a twofold increase in the risk of severe depression. It has also been found that alongside the conventional treatment of depression involving antidepressants, supplementation with vitamin B12 was helpful in its management.

Vitamin B12 for women

Deficiency of vitamin B12 and an increased level of homocysteine has an effect on the bone density and increases the risk of fractures and falls. These effects are often more pronounced in women, and a deficiency of vitamin B12 is a significant yet modifiable risk factor for osteoporosis. It has been evidenced that women with a lower level of vitamin B12 are more prone to developing osteoporosis.

Studies have suggested that an increase in the levels of vitamin B12 is likely to improve bone health and reduce the risk of fractures in postmenopausal women. Low levels of vitamin B12 often cause bone loss in women, particularly around the hip.

Other than restoring bone health in women, vitamin B12 is also associated with lower risk of certain types of cancer. Studies have shown that an intake of vitamin B12 is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer.

It is thus highly beneficial for women to include more dietary sources of vitamin B12 in their diet.

Vitamin B12 for skin

Vitamin B12 is a crucial vitamin for your skin, hair and nails and helps in keeping their health. It ensures proper skin hydration and enough moisture, which helps in avoiding dryness of skin. Vitamin B12 is often a constituent of skin creams and lotions, and is found to be beneficial for individuals with dry skin. For this reasons, it is also useful in treating and avoiding disorders associated with dryness of skin, like eczema. Topical vitamin B12 has been found to be beneficial in the treatment of eczema, particularly in children.

A deficiency of vitamin B12 is associated with several other cutaneous manifestations, like hyperpigmentation (excessive pigmentation of skin forming dark patches) of skin and vitiligo (loss of skin colour in patches).

Hyperpigmentation of the skin due to deficiency of vitamin B12 is, however, reversible. Research evidence has suggested that intramuscular injections of cyanocobalamin can reduce pigmentation and have the potential to normalize the skin colour in the affected area.

Other than this, vitamin B12 is known to aid in proper wound healing. Topical application of vitamin B12 enhances the physiological process of wound healing. Since vitamin B12 promotes hair and nail health, a deficiency of this vitamin often leads to brittle nails and hair. To avoid these manifestations, it is suggested to add more vitamin B12 in your diet. You can also opt for over the counter products to enhance your hair and skin health.

Vitamin B12 for oral health

As stated, vitamin B12 is essential for the health of your skin and mucous membranes, which includes your oral mucosa.

A deficiency of this vitamin has been commonly associated with

  • Angular stomatitis: inflammation of the angles of the mouth
  • Glossitis: inflammation of the tongue
  • Aphthous ulcers and aphthous stomatitis: small and shallow lesions within the mouth

Thus, to avoid these conditions and to maintain the best health of your oral cavity, it is recommended to increase the intake of vitamin B12 rich foods.

(Read more: Inflammatory diseases)

Vitamin B12 prevents Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia

Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia or pernicious anaemia, as the name suggests is caused when the body cannot produce enough RBCs due to a deficiency of vitamin B12.

In this type of anemia, lesser than usual number of RBCs are present in the blood, which are larger in size. Vitamin B12 helps in the division of RBCs, and in its deficiency, RBCs become large and malformed. This can occur due to dietary deficiency of vitamin B12 or its poor absorption by the body.

Deficiency is more common in vegans or vegetarians. Symptoms of pernicious anemia are fatigue, nausea, constipation, vomiting, headache and in severe cases where nerve damage has occurred, feeling of tingling or numbing is present in the fingers.

To avoid this disease, it is recommended to consume sufficient amounts of vitamin B12 in your diet.

Vitamin B12 for the heart

Deficiency of vitamin B12 is associated with an increased level of homocysteine in the body. Homocysteine is an amino acid present in the body, higher levels of which can be damaging. It is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disorders and is a potential risk factor for heart attacks. Increased levels of homocysteine in the blood are known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disorders including heart attack and stroke by 20%. Since higher levels of this amino acid are associated with vitamin B12 deficiency, supplementing your diet with foods rich in vitamin B12 may have a protective role on your heart.

Research evidence has also supported this notion stating that supplementation with vitamin B12 may have a protective effect on the heart. For this purpose, vitamin B12 supplements are often prescribed to vegetarians who are more likely to suffer from its deficiency. They must however not be taken without a doctor’s prescription.

Vitamin B12 for eyes

As already stated, vitamin B12 helps in reducing the levels of homocysteine in your body, which has several other damaging effects. Increased levels of homocysteine is found to be a risk factor for age-related macular degeneration or AMD (gradual loss/blurring of vision with advancing age) in the eyes. High levels of homocysteine and a deficiency of vitamin B12 is a modifiable risk factor, which can be managed by adding vitamin B12 rich foods in your diet before macular degeneration has taken place. Several studies have suggested that daily supplementation with vitamin B12 may reduce the risk of AMD. 

Vitamin B12 for the brain

Having a poor diet, low in vitamin B12 is likely to increase the levels of homocysteine in the body, which is a predictor of serious health problems, like Alzheimer's or dementia, concerning the brain. Poor concentration and judgment are other common complications of high homocysteine levels. These effects are however reversible with the help of dietary supplementation of vitamin B12 and folic acid, as per various researchers. This is found to be helpful even in individuals who have normal levels of vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 is required in different amounts by the body, depending on your age, weight, height, etc. These are the average recommended dosages of vitamin B12:

  • Birth to 6 months- 0.4 mcg
  • 7 months to 1 year- 0.5 mcg
  • 1 year to 3 years- 0.9 mcg
  • 4 years to 8 years- 1.2 mcg
  • 9 years to 13 years- 1.8 mcg
  • 14 years to 18 years- 2.4 mcg
  • Adult dosage- 2.4 mcg
  • Dosage in pregnancy- 2.6 mcg

You can include more food sources of vitamin B12 in your diet to meet these requirements. It is not advisable to take any supplements without consulting with your doctor.

Vitamin B12 deficiency occurs due to a limited dietary intake of vitamin B12 or its poor absorption by the body, owing to certain digestive disorders. As already stated, a deficiency of vitamin B12 can lead to pernicious anemia. Some other common symptoms of deficiency are weakness, fatigue and numbness or tingling sensations in the limbs.

Since deficiency is more common among vegetarians and the elderly, they are recommended to undergo regular checkups to maintain adequate levels of this vitamin. Checkups are particularly recommended for children, in order to avoid future deficiencies.

Dietary consumption of vitamin B12 is not likely to cause any side effects since they usually do not exceed the recommended daily allowance. Higher doses of 1 mg are preferred in the treatment of conditions like pernicious anemia without any observable side effects. However, a few side effects are observed with cyanocobalamin injection, which are as follows:

In severe cases, anaphylaxis reaction can occur, in which, wheezing, shortness of breath, rash, fast heartbeat, difficulty in breathing or swallowing may occur.

You are requested to immediately see your doctor if any of these side effects are observed.

(Read more: Difficulty in swallowing)

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