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B12 – Why We Need It

Vitamin B12 is an essential, water-soluble vitamin that your body needs but can't produce on its own. It is naturally found in some foods and must be converted in your body to its active form, methylcobalamin. Vitamin B12 is essential to keeping your body's cells healthy. While its benefits could be considered subtle, this vitamin is so important that your nervous system won't function properly without it. For those who have absorption issues, or don't get enough of the vitamin from their diet, like strict vegetarians, a supplement can help fill the gap.

Important Benefits of Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is important for the health and maintenance of your cells. Your body needs it to make red blood cells, create DNA and maintain the functionality of your nervous system. Research indicates that your nerves transmit messages that guide almost everything you do. Vitamin B12 supports the protective covering around nerves which facilitates healthy communication between your brain and body. Vitamin B12 also helps produce normal red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout your body, and maintains a healthy brain and sharp mind. Add to that, per a 2014 study in BioMed Research International, vitamin B12 (along with other B-complex vitamins) can even help decrease the severity of migraines. Most people need just 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 each day to obtain its benefits, according to the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements. 

Vitamin B12 deficiency: Warnings to look out for

A Deficiency of B12 can be a serious health problem, according to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  If you don't get enough, you might experience side effects like:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Gastrointestinal problems, like constipation or unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tingling or numbness in your hands and feet
  • Balance issues
  • Confusion and memory issues
  • Problems with your oral health, like sore tongue and mouth

Certain people are more likely to be B12-deficient than others. Those who are over age 50, people with certain health conditions and pregnant women should consider taking supplements.

Vitamin B12 is most commonly found in animal products, so vegetarians and vegans tend to be more likely to experience vitamin B12 deficiency. Those who otherwise don't consume animal products, plant-based sources of vitamin B12 or fortified foods should consider supplements.

Vitamin B12 Supplements

Anyone who doesn't eat enough foods containing vitamin B12 and may be deficient should consider taking supplements. A 2018 study in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews showed that both oral and injectable B12 supplements can resolve even serious deficiency-related side effects.

Although the normal vitamin B12 dosage is just 500 micrograms per day, vitamin B12 supplements may be sold in pills containing thousands of micrograms. Granted, this might seem excessive, but large amounts of vitamin B12 supplements have been clinically recommended for many years. Such large amounts are particularly necessary for people who lack intrinsic factor and remember that only a small amount of synthetic B12 is absorbed by your body.

Lastly, since vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin. any excess, whether you're getting this nutrient naturally from foods or from a supplement, will usually be removed from your body when you go to the bathroom. This means that even if you take in too much vitamin B12, any potential side effects will be limited and will likely go away as soon as you stop supplementation.

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