Vitamin B12 refers to a group of compounds known as cobalamins. What is Vitamin B12 used for? What happens to the body when there is not enough? What are the best food sources of this nutrient?
Vitamin B12 has a number of roles in the body. It is a member of the B complex of vitamins, which work together to benefit the body. Vitamin B12 is important for both mental and physical well-being. It is necessary for the well-being of the nervous system and becomes increasingly important as the body ages and has more trouble absorbing nutrients. Enough vitamin B12 in the body may help protect against neurological disease and neurological deterioration. It maintains fatty sheaths, which cover and protect nerve endings and prevents nerve damage.
For cardiovascular health, vitamin B12 works with other nutrients such as folic acid to convert homocysteine into methionine. High homocysteine levels can lead to an increase of plaque build-up along artery walls. It also works with folic acid to prevent anemia by helping with red blood cell formation and iron utilization.
Other uses of vitamin B12 in the body include:
- Aiding in digestion and the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates
- Producing the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which helps with memory and learning
- Helping with cell growth and promoting the longevity of healthy cells
- Maintaining fertility
Including in the Diet
Without enough vitamin B12 in the body, a range of problems can occur, including constipation, digestive disorders, depression, irritability, tongue inflammation, bone loss, enlargement of the spleen, memory loss, headaches and eye disorders. As the body can store this nutrient for several years, signs of a deficiency can take time to appear. The human body can store up to five years worth of vitamin B12.
While a healthy, well-balanced diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes is enough for most essential nutrients, getting plenty of vitamin B12 requires something else such as animal products and seafood.
The best food sources include meat, eggs, dairy products, clams, herring and mackerel. Vegetarian sources include brewer’s yeast, sea vegetables, and herbs such as alfalfa and hops.
People who are on a vegetarian diet need to make sure they are including vegetarian sources. Simply adding sea greens and brewer’s yeast to the diet on a regular basis can add vitamin B12 to the diet as well as many other vitamins and minerals.
Understanding what vitamin B12 is used for and where it is found you can make sure you are including enough of this essential vitamin in your diet. Keep in mind that it, as well as other B vitamins, is even more important as you age.
Food sources are the best sources as they are easily absorbed and utilized, but if necessary talk to your doctor about taking supplements. When purchasing supplements of vitamin B12 make sure they are in methylcobalamin form, not cyanocobalamin.
Balch, Phyllis A. " Prescription for Nutritional Healing.” Fourth Edition (Penguin Books, 2006).
Page, Linda. “Healthy Healing: A Guide to Self-Healing for Everyone, 11th Edition” (Traditional Wisdom, 2003).
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