Vitamin B 12 is a water-soluble vitamin. It is one of the eight B-vitamins (Vitamin B-complex). It is naturally present in some foodstuffs and can also be available as artificially added to the food. It can also be available in the form of dietary supplements. Since it contains mineral cobalt, the compounds with vitamin B12 activity are also called cyanocobalamin. The human body can store vitamin B12 for up to 4 years, almost 50% of it in the liver. Excess of vitamin B 12 is excreted out of our body through urine.
Vitamin B-12 from the food gets absorbed into our body in a two-step process. In the first step, the acid (Hydrochloric acid) secreted in the stomach separates vitamin B12 from the protein to which it is bound. In the second step, the free vitamin B12 attaches itself to an intrinsic factor (A protein present in our digestive system, especially in the stomach). Once attached, the body absorbs them together.
Vitamin B 12, when taken as a dietary supplement, does not require the first step. Still, the second step of binding to the intrinsic factor is necessary for its absorption. Thus, sometimes people suffering from certain ailments of the digestive system or those taking some medications that reduce gastric acid secretion can suffer from the deficiency of Vitamin-B12 despite regular intake through food or in the form of dietary supplements.
IMPORTANCE OF VITAMIN B12:
It is an essential vitamin since our body needs it but cannot produce it independently. Vitamin B12 plays a significant role in many physiological processes in our body, such as DNA Synthesis, Red Blood Cells (RBCs) formation, Normal functioning of nerve cells, Increasing energy, Improving memory, Improving cardiovascular health, Keeping skin, hair, and bones healthy, Enhancing mood and many more…
Now let’s study them one by one,
- Necessary for healthy Red Blood Cell Formation and Anaemia Prevention.
Vitamin B12 is essential for the healthy formation and development of red blood cells (RBCs) in our body. Insufficient vitamin B12 leads to inadequate development of the red blood cells (RBCs), resulting in anaemia. These abnormal red blood cells fail to carry oxygen efficiently to the cells and tissues in our body.
- It is vital for a healthy pregnancy.
Vitamin B-12 plays a crucial role in developing the brain and nervous system of the foetus. Thus, having sufficient levels of Vitamin B12 is vital for a healthy pregnancy
- It is necessary for healthy and strong bones and to Prevent Osteoporosis:
Sufficient Vitamin B12 helps in maintaining a healthy bone density. Healthy bone density reduces the risk of Osteoporosis (Weak bones) and subsequent risk of injuries and fractures, etc.
- Reduces the risk of suffering from severe eye problems (Macular Degeneration)
Macular degeneration is one of the common age-related causes of vision loss. Excess homocysteine levels are associated with the development of macular degeneration. Adequate vitamin B12 levels help in the reduction in the homocysteine levels. Thus, along with vitamin B6 and folic acid, vitamin B12 is necessary for reducing the risk of severe eye problems.
- May Improve Mood and Symptoms of Depression
The hormone serotonin helps in the regulation of mood. Sufficient serotonin secretion improves our mood and relieves depressive symptoms. Vitamin B12 plays a vital role in the synthesis and metabolism of the hormone serotonin; thus, optimum vitamin B12 levels are necessary for overcoming depression and improving mood.
- Helps in the prevention of Memory loss (Dementia) and Alzheimer’s Disease
Sufficient vitamin B-12 levels help keep the levels of homocysteine within normal limits. By keeping homocysteine levels in check, vitamin B12 protects the nerve cells from the damage and subsequent risk of suffering from dementia (Memory Loss) and Alzheimer’s disease.
- It keeps our energy level high
- May Improve Heart Health by decreasing the levels of homocysteine
- Supports Healthy Hair, Skin and Nails
THE RECOMMENDED DAILY INTAKE OF VITAMIN B-12
The amount of vitamin B12 required daily depends on the individual’s age. Average daily recommended amounts of Vitamin B12 for different age groups are listed below in micrograms (mcg):
VITAMIN B 12 DEFICIENCY
CAUSES OF VITAMIN B12 DEFICIENCY:
- INADEQUATE VITAMIN B12 INTAKE
People who are vegetarian or those who do not even consume milk and dairy products are at increased risk of suffering from vitamin B12 deficiency due to its inadequate intake.
- INADEQUATE VITAMIN B12 ABSORPTION
Problems associated with the digestive system like:
- Worm infestation
- Decreased digestive acid secretion
- Inflammatory bowel diseases, etc.,
It hampers the adequate absorption of vitamin B12 present in the food.
- SPECIFIC HEALTH CONDITIONS:
Specific health conditions like:
- Pernicious anaemia
- Malabsorption syndrome
- Genetic disorders
- Certain medications, etc.
ADVERSE HEALTH EFFECTS OF VITAMIN B-12 DEFICIENCY:
- Fatigue, tiredness, muscles weakness and Pale skin
Vitamin B-12 is necessary for the development of healthy Red Blood cells. These Red blood cells contain haemoglobin, which carries oxygen to various cells and tissues in our body. When our body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to tissues, we are going to feel weak, tired and exhausted. Skin becomes pale due to anaemia.
- The nerves that conduct impulses from the brain and spinal cord to the various tissues and organs in our body are mostly covered under a protective cover called a myelin sheath. Vitamin B12 is necessary for the development of this myelin sheath. Vitamin B12 deficiency results in damage to the myelin sheath, which manifest in the form of abnormal neurological impulse conduction:
- A tingling sensation or numbness in the hands and feet.
- Gait and balance disturbances
- Rarely a risk of vision loss (When optic nerve- Nerve to our eyes) is affected. ( In case of severe deficiency)
- Low Vitamin B12 levels are associated with increased sulphur-containing amino acid Homocysteine levels in our body. Excess homocysteine levels can be harmful to our body as it increases inflammation and oxidative stress levels. It can cause damage to the DNA, various cells and tissues, which can manifest in the following health issues such as:
- Frequent Headaches
- Mental confusion
- Forgetfulness/Memory impairment
- Difficulty in concentration
- Personality changes (Behavioural problems)
- Irregular heartbeat (Palpitations)/arrhythmias.
- Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases (Myocardial Infarction, Stroke, High blood pressure, etc.)
- Development of Insulin resistance and risk of Diabetes Mellitus (Type-2)
- Pain and Inflammation around mouth and tongue
- Lack of sufficient healthy red blood cells leads to insufficient blood circulation, oxygen supply, and nutrition to the digestive tract. Thus it manifests in the form of Digestive issues like:
- Loss of appetite
SOURCES OF VITAMIN B 12 IN DIET
The Vegetarian food sources of Vitamin B12 are minimal such as:
- Food items fortified with vitamin B12 (Bread, cereals, etc.).
Most of the dietary vitamin B12 sources are of animal origin (Non-vegetarian) products such as:
HOW TO OVERCOME VITAMIN B12 DEFICIENCY?:
As we have already seen, Vitamin B12 is stored in our body, especially in the liver, for a long time (Almost up to 4 years). Thus, it takes anywhere between 3-5 years for a deficiency to develop even during its inadequate intake.
One can overcome the deficiency of vitamin B12 by including the foods mentioned above. Since many of the food items rich in vitamin B12 are non-vegetarian in origin, it becomes difficult for those who are vegetarian.
Sometimes there can be issues with our digestive tract (Deficiency of intrinsic factor, diseases of the digestive system, etc.) or intake of certain medications that reduce the effective absorption of vitamin B12 from the food we eat.
In such scenarios, overcoming this deficiency through dietary measurements becomes extremely difficult; thus, it is recommended to visit the physician/family doctor and take appropriate vitamin B12 supplements in the dosages they advised during such a situation.
COVID-19 AND VITAMIN B 12
Along with all the recommended medicines, it is necessary to have enough Vitamin B12 to fight the coronavirus infection effectively. An adequate amount of vitamin B12 in our body helps keep homocysteine levels under control, thus reducing excess oxidative stress and inflammation, which can be beneficial and positively aid in the management of Covid-19 and all other approved therapeutic strategies.
However, it has also been observed that infection with covid-19 results in rapid depletion of vitamin B12 levels in our body, as covid-19 infection, interferes with vitamin b12 (Cobalamin) metabolism. Thus, it becomes essential for those who have recovered from Covid 19 should consult their physician and take vitamin B12 supplements if necessary