What is Vitamin B12?

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Vitamin B12 is one of the 8 essential B vitamins and has an important role in keeping your body in tip top condition. Learn all about vitamin B12 here.

foods containing b12Vitamin B12 is one of the 8 essential B vitamins your body needs to ensure the proper workings of a range of functions. Commonly included in B-complex and prenatal vitamins, if you’ve spotted this listed on your supplements or purchased food fortified in it, you may be wondering what it is and why it’s so important.

Find out exactly what vitamin B12 is, the recommended daily value, food sources which are rich in the vitamin and the potential benefits in this guide.

What is vitamin B12?

Also known as cobalamin, vitamin B12 is water soluble (as all B vitamins are) and helps to keep your blood and nerves healthy, alongside assisting with the creation and regulation of DNA. On top of all this, vitamin B12 also plays a part in the synthesis of fatty acids and energy production and enables the release of energy by helping the body absorb folic acid.

Vitamin B12 recommended daily value

The current recommended daily intake for vitamin B12 is as follows:

  • Babies up to 6 months 0.4mcg
  • Infants 7 – 12 months 0.5mcg
  • Children 1 – 3 0.9mcg
  • Children 4 – 8 1.2mcg
  • Children 9 – 13 1.8mcg
  • Teenagers 14 – 18 2.4mcg
  • Adults 2.4mcg
  • Pregnant women 2.6mcg
  • Breastfeeding women 2.8mcg

If you’re not getting enough vitamin B12 you may develop a deficiency, but as your body stores 1,000 to 2,000 times as much B12 as you’d eat per day and your body can store the vitamin for up to four years, the symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency can take years to appear.

Sources of vitamin B12

foods containing b12Your body can’t actually produce vitamin B12, so you need to get it from an external source such as food or a dietary supplement. It’s found in its highest quantities in animal-based foods such as meats and dairy, which is why vegetarians and vegan are most at risk of developing a deficiency. The following foods are all great sources of vitamin B12:

  • Fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk and other dairy products
  • Fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, nutritional yeasts and plant-based alternatives

Benefits of vitamin B12

The current research on the impact of vitamin B12 points towards the negativity of a deficiency, however it’s not been determined if taking a supplement when you have normal levels has any specific benefits. Here’s how having healthy levels of vitamin B12 in your system can benefit your life:

1. Helps with a healthy pregnancy

pregnant woman taking b12 tablet

Young pregnant woman taking capsule

A baby’s brain and nervous system relies on the proper levels of B12 in order to develop properly. In fact, studies suggest that a deficiency of B12 toward the beginning of a pregnancy can increase the risk of birth defects such as neural tube defects. Additionally, lacking in the vitamin could contribute to a premature birth or miscarriage. Most prenatal vitamins contain vitamin B12, alongside other essential B vitamins.

2. Supports bone health

In a study carried out on over 2,500 adults, it was found that those with a vitamin B12 deficiency experienced lower than normal bone mineral density. A decreased mineral density can lead to fragile and delicate bones over time, as well as an increased risk of osteoporosis, therefore it’s imperative to ensure you’re getting the correct levels of vitamin B12 in order to keep your bones healthy.

3. May help to improve mood

As B12 plays a part in synthesising and metabolising serotonin (the chemical that regulates mood) a deficiency may lead to decreased serotonin production and cause depressed moods. Studies are currently being carried out in this field and in one experiment the subjects that were given both antidepressants and B12 were more likely to see improved depressive symptoms in comparison to those only being given antidepressants.

4. May help with energy

As B vitamins play a part in your body’s energy production, if you’re experiencing a deficiency, adding a supplement to achieve the correct levels may provide you with more energy as two of the key symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency include fatigue and a lack of energy. However, it’s important to note that there’s currently no scientific evidence that taking vitamin B12 supplements will provide increased energy levels.

5. Supports healthy hair, skin and nails

Vitamin B12 has an important role in cell production, so you’ll need the correct levels for healthy hair, skin and nails. Interestingly, low levels of the vitamin can lead to skin issues such as hyperpigmentation, nail discolouration, hair changes, vitiligo and angular stomatitis. In studies carried out on those with a vitamin B12 deficiency, it was shown that supplements improved these symptoms.

It’s important to note that studies are still being carried out on the impact of vitamin B12 and certain health benefits. Current research suggests that having the correct levels of the vitamin in your body can help ensure the normal workings of essential bodily functions.
If you believe you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, it’s important you seek guidance from a healthcare professional.

Now you know what vitamin B12 is and how important it is to ensure you’re getting the correct levels in your diet. Want to find out more about the essential B vitamins? Learn what vitamin B is and what it does, next.


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