A valuable member of the B vitamins group, vitamin B12 is essential for keeping in good health. Whether you are an avid meat eater, vegetarian or vegan, you need vitamin B12 in order to stay healthy. Vitamin B12 is also known as cobalamin and is a water-soluble vitamin with great health benefits on the nervous system. In addition to supporting brain activity, it supports red blood cell formation. Also, meeting daily requirements is shown to significantly improve cardiovascular health. And the benefits go on.
Vitamin B12 has the reputation of being the most complex of all vitamins. What is interesting is that it cannot be synthesized by the human body or by animals, nor can it be found in plants; it can be produced solely by bacteria. Herbivores get their B12 either through diet (they don’t wash their grass of bacteria) or with the help of the bacteria in their gut, which helps synthesize the vitamin. Carnivorous animals eat herbivores, while people eat either animal products (meat, milk, eggs, fish) or take supplements.
Why is vitamin B12 also called cobalamin? The bacteria which synthesize the vitamin feed on a metal called cobalt. Various chemical forms of vitamin B12 are also known as cobalamins. As stated earlier, vitamin B12 is crucial for good health. From protecting the integrity of the myelin sheath covering the tail of our nerve cells to helping produce red blood cells, contributing to normal brain development of babies in the womb and restoring a feeling of vitality, there are many benefits to the vitamin. As such, see below why vitamin B12 is good for you.
What are the benefits?
1) Necessary for the good functioning of the nervous system. Vitamin B12 helps protect the integrity of the myelin sheath, a layer surrounding the axon (the tail) of a neuron (nerve cell). The myelin sheath basically mediates communication between nerve cells. Damage to this layer prevents nerves from transmitting impulses or electrical signals to one another and represents the leading cause of many degenerative neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Severe damage causing the destruction of the myelin sheath cause ultimately leads to death.
2) Vitamin B12 prevents ataxia, a condition which leads to involuntary muscle contractions, loss if sensitivity in limbs, distorted perception, instability and overall poor muscle coordination. This effect has to do with vitamin B12 helping preserve the insulating coating (called a myelin sheath) surrounding the tail of nerve cells. The myelin sheath makes sure electrical impulses from the brain do not scatter and reach muscles, resulting in controlled movements.
3) Essential for the production red blood cells. By supporting a process called erythropoiesis, essentially the production of new red blood cells from stem cells in bone marrow, vitamin B12 proves its importance in preventing and treating anemia caused by a deficiency. (New insights into erythropoiesis: the roles of folate, vitamin B12, and iron). The vitamin further holds benefits for pregnant women.
4) Supports energy metabolism. By helping the body metabolize fats, proteins and carbohydrates, facilitating macronutrients as well as vitamins and minerals absorption. Actually, it has been shown that a small amount of vitamin B12 is produced by special bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract. Also, by contributing to the production of red blood cells which will ultimately help transport oxygen to muscles, the nutrient further ensures elevated energy levels and a strong feeling of vitality.
5) A sufficient intake lowers homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid believed to cause cardiovascular disease, mood disorders, depression, schizophrenia and even Alzheimer’s disease. More recent studies appear to suggest there is a connection between elevated homocysteine levels and increased cancer risks. Low vitamin B12 levels permit the accumulation of homocysteine in the blood. This causes artery damage, blood clots, stroke, vascular inflammation, heart attacks and other related diseases.
6) Plays a role in the prevention of autoimmune diseases. The human body has great defense mechanisms and can protect us from almost anything. In autoimmune diseases, the white blood cells that should be protecting us from outside threats start attacking the cells in our body. If the condition is left untreated, they may end up destroying entire tissues and organs, thus endangering the sufferer’s life.
How does vitamin B12 prevent our own body from attacking us? Each cell contains within its membrane a sort of marker. It’s like the cell is wearing a T-shirt saying ‘I am a citizen of this body. You are not allowed to attack me.’ And white blood cells do not attack it. Vitamin B12 preserves the integrity of cell membranes, ensuring their safety marker remains intact. Simple, yet vital.
Vitamin B12 is crucial for a healthy body and mind. If your diet is restricted by moral or religious principles, make sure you at least meet your daily vitamin B12 requirements from dietary supplements. Otherwise, you can rely on vitamin B 12-rich foods. For example, duck eggs, goose eggs and any egg variety really provides significant amounts of the nutrient and can help meet daily values. See other vitamin B12 foods.
Also, if you are going through a stressful time, whether it’s increased physical or intellectual effort, and you are not feeling quite up to the challenge, talk to your doctor and work out a supplementation program suited to your individual requirements of various essential nutrients you might be missing or have an increased requirement of. Vitamins are life-sustaining and there is no reason to not get an adequate intake every single day.
Vitamin B12, for instance, is water-soluble which means it is very unlikely you will reach a dangerous intake from supplements recommended by your doctor and whose doses are carefully regulated. Diet is just as important for a healthy body and mind and eating natural and varied is the key to good health and a good vitamin B12 intake.