Maintain Healthy Nerve Cells

Vitamin B12 is also called cobalamin because it contains the metal cobalt.

This vitamin helps maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells. It is also needed to help make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Vitamin B12 is a water-soluable vitamin.

Vitamin B12 Health Benefits

  • Aids in the formation of red blood cells
  • Assists in the formation of genetic material
  • Helps the nervous system function

Vitamin B12 is bound to the protein in food. Hydrochloric acid in the stomach releases B12 from proteins in foods during digestion. Once released, vitamin B12 combines with a substance called gastric intrinsic factor. This complex can then be absorbed by the intestinal tract.

Low blood levels of B12 can lead to depression. Depressed people who had low levels of B12 (and were taking antidepressants) felt much better three months after adding a B12 supplement.

For many, vitamin B-12 brings to mind injections to boost energy. While this relates to the vitamin’s traditional role of keeping red blood cells healthy, emerging research reveals that B-12 also offers many other health benefits.

Recent evidence reveals that even the low end of “normal” B-12 levels can create havoc with health, prompting scientists to view this nutrient in a whole new light.

Some experts now suggest that vitamin B-12 may rival vitamin D as the latest key nutrient that many Americans – especially older people – don’t get enough of and could benefit from more. Most people, however, don’t need injections. Inadequate B-12 levels are quite common and harmful, but fortunately easy treated.

Other Health benefits of vitamin B12:

  • Boost Brain Power. A high B-12 status helps you maintain a healthy brain. Older people with lower-than-average B-12 levels were found to be six times more likely to show signs of brain shrinkage, a possible forerunner to impaired cognitive function and Alzheimer’s disease. (University of Oxford study)
  • Deter Depression. B-12’s involvement with brain health may help explain its link to depression. A classic study from the National Institute of Aging found women with low B-12 levels were more than twice as likely to develop depression as women with normal B-12 status. More recent research from Spain suggest the same but found that a low B-12 intake led to more depression only among women, not men.
  • Beef up Bones. In the Framingham Offspring Osteoporosis Study of 2,567 men and women, those with low B-12 levels had lower-than-average bone mineral density. In another study, frail women were more likely to have low B-12 levels. B-12 appears to help bones by aiding osteoblasts (bone building cells) and lowering levels of the amino acid homocysteine.
  • Ease Eye Disease.A Harvard study observed that 34% of participants had a reduced risk of age related macular degeneration when taking high doses of B-12. By lowering homocysteine and providing antioxidant effects, blood vessel function in the eye improved after supplementing with 1,000 micrograms of B-12.
  • Halt Hearing Loss. There may be a connection between B-12 deficiency and hearing. One study found that low blood levels of vitamin B-12 were linked to a higher risk of hearing loss in a small group of healthy women in their 60’s.

As we age, our stomachs produce less gastric acid – a condition referred to as atrophic gastritis – which reduces the body’s ability to absorb naturally occuring vitamin B-12 that’s bound to protein in foods like red meat. People who regularily take medications such as Prilosec, Prevacid and Zantac increase their risk for impaired B-12 absorption.

There is no official upper limit for B-12 intake, so over doing it is not a big concern. However, taking high dose supplements of 1,000 micrograms or getting B-12 injections are necessary only if blood levels are truly suboptimal. And extra B-12 is not a magic elixir.

B-12 Sources

This vitamin is most abundant in protein foods of animal origin, though absorption varies. In one study, dairy products and fish, in particular, were better than meat and eggs at raising B-12 blood levels. Best food sources are:

  • Fortified breakfast cereal.
  • Snapper.
  • Wild salmon.
  • Light, water packed tuna.
  • Non fat plain yogurt.
  • Low fat cottage cheese.
  • Non fat milk.
  • Tenderloin beef.
  • Eggs.

Synthetic B-12, found in supplements and fortified foods like cereals, don’t require stomach acid for absorption, so are particularily suited for people 50 and older. Some experts suggest the time is right for B-12 fortification of foods, much like the addition of folic acid to enriched grains.

In summary, vitamin B-12 is essential for the maintenance of healthy nervous tissue and plays a role in energy metabolism in the body.

Why Does it Work?

Your brain uses B12 to manufacture dopamine and serotonin. Many conditions, from dementia to depression, are linked to B12 deficiencies. Like depression, B12 deficiency isn’t rare: As many as two-fifths of adults may have at least marginal deficiencies, says the Framingham Offspring Study.

Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal foods including fish (trout, salmon, haddock, clams, tuna), meat (beef, pork), poultry (chicken breast), eggs, milk, and milk products. Fortified breakfast cereals are a particularly valuable source of vitamin B12 for vegetarians.

Results of two national surveys, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals found that most children and adults in the United States (U.S.) consume recommended amounts of vitamin B12. A deficiency may still occur as a result of an inability to absorb B12 from food and in strict vegetarians who do not consume any animal foods. As a general rule, most individuals who develop a vitamin B12 deficiency have an underlying stomach or intestinal disorder that limits the absorption of vitamin B12.

Vitamin B-12 Deficiency

When researchers measured blood levels of vitamin B-12 in 3,000 men and women ages 26 to 83, 39-percent had low levels of this vitamin. Previously, researchers believed B-12 helps maintain a healthy nervous system and normal brain function. B-12, along with B-6 and folic acid — also helps keep artery-damaging homocysteine at healthy levels. You can get B-12 from supplements, fortified breakfast cereals, dairy, meat, poultry or fish.

The recommended daily amount is 6mcg, but if you are over 50, 25mcg is better. However, if you’ve had gastric surgery or radiation, or have low stomach acid or an inflammatory condition in your GI tract, you may not be able to absorb B-12. In these cases, you would need B-12 shots.

Signs of Vitamin B12 deficiency

  • Anemia.
  • Pale complexion.
  • Numb fingers/toes.
  • Poor memory.
  • Depression and fatigue.

Studies Say…

  • According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, B12 is beneficial in people over age 50 who often have a reduced ability to absorb naturally occurring vitamin B12.
  • Studies on individuals diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (also known as CFS) concluded that B-12 injections significantly improved sleep and energy.
  • Studies have also shown that high homocystiene levels are associated with Alzhiemer’s and Heart disease. Studies have also shown that supplementing vitamin B12, B6, and folic acid can balance homocystiene levels.

Vitamin B-12 is important for proper function the heart and circulatory system. It also promotes energy production in the body. As we age, we lose our ability to absorb B-12 from foods that we eat. Vitamin B-12 also plays a central role in the regulation of sleep, appetite and energy.

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