Vitamin B-12 is an incredibly important nutrient for your body with many health benefits.
Fatigue, mood swings, mental sluggishness, and irritability are all potential signs of being low in vitamin B12 — something which is, unfortunately, a common occurrence.
Because B-12 is involved in so many functions within your body — from energy and memory to skin and hair health — it’s critical that you get enough of it in your diet. This may be more challenging for some who follow a plant-based diet but it is not at all impossible.
Here’s an in-depth look at the many roles vitamin B-12 has in your body, signs of deficiency, and how to make sure you’re getting enough of it.
What Is Vitamin B-12? The “Healthy Cell” Vitamin
Vitamin B-12, also known as cobalamin, is a water soluble vitamin. It belongs to the collective B vitamin group and is considered the most important vitamin in that group.
Your body needs this essential vitamin for many different functions but can’t manufacture it. This is why it’s vital to consume it regularly.
B-12 works in complex ways within your body, but one of its most critical functions is keeping nerve cells and blood cells healthy. It’s also involved in the synthesis of DNA, which is the genetic material present in every cell in your body.
To put it simply, vitamin B-12 supports your body at the most basic level. Without it, your nervous system can’t function properly, DNA synthesis may be impaired, and cell division is hindered.
B-12 also plays a major role in creating red blood cells and keeping them healthy. This is important because red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to every other cell in your body and taking carbon dioxide back to your lungs to be exhaled.
Because vitamin B-12 is so necessary for keeping cells healthy, it’s involved in many crucial processes, as you’ll soon see.
Top Health Benefits of Vitamin B-12
Needed to Maintain Energy Levels
Vitamin B-12 is critically involved in energy production and metabolism at a cellular level. This is why one of the most common symptoms of a deficiency is fatigue or lethargy.
B-12, along with several of the other B vitamins, is needed to convert food (especially carbohydrates) into the glucose your body uses as a primary energy source. Without this conversion process, the carbohydrates would remain in an unusable form.
As mentioned, vitamin B-12 is also needed for the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout your body. This includes carrying oxygen to your muscles, enabling them to keep up with the demands you put on them.
Without enough B-12, you’ll frequently feel tired and will have low endurance for exercise.
Helps Protect Memory and Overall Brain Health
Researchers still aren’t sure how vitamin B-12 contributes to brain health, but there are clear associations between deficiency and a greater risk of neurodegenerative diseases like dementia.
In fact, some research has shown that supplementing with B-12 can be helpful for early-stage dementia when a deficiency is present. One study found that pairing omega-3s with B-12 was even more effective for slowing cognitive decline.
This essential vitamin also seems to be involved in the day-to-day health of your brain.
One fascinating study from 2016 found that concentrations of B-12 on the low end of the normal range were associated with poorer memory and learning ability than concentrations on the high end of the normal range.
This seems to indicate that boosting B-12 may be helpful for cognitive function, even when there isn’t a clinical deficiency. It’s also possible that the amount of B-12 our bodies need is higher than previously thought.
Important for Mood and Nervous System Function
One of the more surprising benefits of vitamin B-12 is its role in lifting your mood.
Not only is B-12 essential for keeping nerve cells healthy and supporting nervous system function, it also has a role in synthesizing serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that affect your emotions. This is likely one reason why a deficiency is linked to a great risk of mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
Some studies even indicate that supplementing with B-12 can improve the effect of antidepressants.
Protective of Heart Health
Vitamin B-12 is needed by your body to reduce a little known risk factor of heart disease: homocysteine levels.
Homocysteine is an amino acid that appears to be related to artery damage when levels of it get too high. It’s still being researched for its potential role in causing cardiovascular disease but is already considered a risk factor for atherosclerosis, which is a disease of the arteries characterized by plaque buildup.
Some studies even indicate that B-12 plays a role in maintaining healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels, which is more good news for your heart!
May Support Healthy, Strong Bones
Several different nutrients are involved in bone health. The most notable one is calcium, although it needs vitamin D in order to be absorbed and do its work. Magnesium and vitamin K play supporting roles as well.
It may surprise you to learn that there are also benefits of vitamin B-12 for bone health and bone density.
Several different studies have now shown that low B-12 levels are associated with lower than normal bone density. There’s also indication that it affects women more than men and can contribute to osteoporosis.
One possible theory for these findings is that B-12 is involved in bone formation because of its role in DNA synthesis.
Whatever the reason, it’s especially important that you get enough of this vitamin, along with calcium and other bone-supporting nutrients, as you age.
Essential for Healthy Skin, Hair, & Nails
Vitamin B-12 is an essential nutrient if you want healthy skin, hair, and nails. It plays a major role in cell production, which is especially important for hair and skin because they have some of the fastest growing cells.
Skin, hair, and nail cells also need a steady supply of oxygen to continue regenerating themselves. This is something else B-12 is needed for, since it’s involved in the creation of red blood cells (the oxygen carriers).
In fact, vitamin B-12 is so critical for healthy skin that low levels or a deficiency can lead to dermatological symptoms like acne, hyperpigmentation, and dermatitis. Nail discoloration and brittle hair are also common if your body is low on B-12.
Aids Digestion and Boosts Gut Health
Digestion is yet another normal function of your body that needs B-12 to operate smoothly.
To start with, vitamin B-12 is involved in the production of digestive enzymes. These enzymes are needed to break down food and allow the nutrients to be absorbed and used by your body.
Research also indicates that B-12 promotes healthy bacteria in your gut and may play a role in keeping gut microbes in balance. This is very important because a strong population of beneficial bacteria is needed to prevent the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria that can cause digestive disorders.
Helps Prevent Anemia
Vitamin B-12 has major benefits for preventing certain types of anemia.
Anemia is a condition in which your body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout your body. This leads to symptoms like fatigue, weakness, lightheadedness, and shortness of breath.
Normally, anemia is associated with an iron deficiency, but a B-12 deficiency (typically from poor absorption) is another possible cause. It’s usually called “vitamin deficiency anemia” and occurs when your body can’t produce enough healthy red blood cells.
A vitamin B-12 deficiency can also cause your body to produce large, oval red blood cells instead of the normal small, round ones. This leads to something called megaloblastic anemia in which the red blood cells can’t move into your bloodstream at the right rate.
Getting enough B-12 in a highly absorbable form can prevent both of these types of anemia.
Critical for a Healthy Pregnancy (And Lowering the Risk of Birth Defects)
It’s especially crucial for women to get enough B-12 throughout pregnancy. Not only does it support their bodies, it may also help to prevent some serious birth defects.
Vitamin B-12 is needed for DNA synthesis. This makes it an absolutely critical nutrient for the growth and development of the fetus, especially where the brain and nervous system are concerned.
Studies have shown that low B-12 levels, particularly during the beginning stages of pregnancy, may increase the risk of neural tube defects and other birth defects. Some research puts the risk of birth defects as much as five times higher for women with low B-12 levels.
Vitamin B-12 Deficiency: Signs & Symptoms
Given all the benefits of vitamin B-12, it’s clearly a nutrient your body can’t function without, but a deficiency can be hard to recognize. People often assume their telltale symptoms come from being too busy, not getting enough sleep, etc.
And the number of people with low or borderline B-12 levels is even higher.
Here are the most common symptoms of B-12 deficiency to be aware of:
- Constant fatigue or lethargy
- Brain fog and trouble focusing
- Muscle aches or weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Memory problems
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Frequent mood swings
- Mood disorders, especially depression
- Unexplained weight loss
- Digestive problems
Most At-Risk Groups for Vitamin B-12 Deficiency
Anyone can be deficient or borderline for B-12, but certain groups are more at-risk for this happening.
Older adults tend to absorb B-12 less effectively because of lower amounts of stomach acid. This puts them at higher risk of a deficiency, especially if a digestive disorder is also in the equation.
In fact, anyone who has a digestive disorder is more at risk for a deficiency because nutrient absorption is typically impaired with these types of disorders.
Those who follow a plant-based diet may also be more prone to have low B-12 levels. This is because most sources of B-12 come from meat or animal products.
Daily Recommendation + Top B-12 Food Sources
For adults 14+, the U.S. government’s recommended daily intake (RDI) is 2.4 mcg. The RDI goes up to 2.6 mcg during pregnancy and 2.8 mcg while breastfeeding.
However, keep in mind many consider the government’s RDI the bare minimum.
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning, in short, it is safe to consume at higher levels, as your body absorbs only as much as it needs and eliminates the rest through your urine.
And you may want to consider ensuring you consume higher levels — such as 25 mcg daily — to make certain your body is getting the amount of vitamin B12 it needs.
(NOTE: Some supplements contain extremely high levels, in the range of 2000 mcg. You should talk to your health care provider before taking any new vitamin or herbal supplements at all, of course, especially if you take medications, but if you do consider a B12 with very high levels such as those please definitely do.)
If You Do Eat Meat (Or Animal Products)…
Those who eat a lot of animal-based foods may be less likely to have a problem getting enough B-12 because it’s found abundantly in these foods.
Eggs, meat, dairy products, and fish are all top sources.
Plant-Based Sources of Vitamin B-12
While going more or entirely plant-based in your diet is outstanding for warding off serious diseases and your longevity in general, getting enough vitamin B12 is one of the biggest challenges.
Now, two of the best plant-based sources of vitamin B-12 are sea vegetables (also called edible seaweed), while certain types of mushrooms have “decent” levels of it.
Purple laver (often called nori) and green laver are both edible algae/seaweeds with substantial amounts of B-12. One study recommends eating around 4 grams (dried) of either one to meet the RDI for B-12.
Shiitake mushrooms are the best fungi to get vitamin B-12 from. Other mushrooms contain B-12, but it’s usually present in an inactive form that the human body can’t use.
However, even when it comes to shiitake mushrooms, to get your entire RDI of B-12 from shiitake, you’d have to eat around 50 grams a day, which is quite a stretch.
Apart from sea vegetables and mushrooms, other plant-based sources of vitamin B-12 come from fortified foods. This means B-12 is added in instead of being naturally present.
Unfortunately, though, fortified foods are often heavily processed foods, meaning they’re high in other ingredients that can work against your health.
The most popular fortified foods for a plant-based diet are cereals, certain plant milks, and nutritional yeast.
Some fermented foods like tempeh, miso, and sauerkraut may also contain B-12 because it can be manufactured by certain bacteria, but the amount present varies widely.
The 4 Keys:
What You Must LOOK for & AVOID in Your Vitamin B Supplement
Even many people who are not plant-based eaters can be low in vitamin B12 today and should consider a high-quality, organic supplement.
(As always, it is recommended you talk to your health care provider first before taking any type of vitamin or herbal supplement at all, especially if you have a health condition or are on medication.)
However, if you are more plant-based to fully vegetarian or vegan in your diet, it can be very challenging to get proper vitamin B12 levels from plant sources.
To ensure you are getting your vitamin B-12, a high-quality and independently verified organic supplement that provides you a balance of all eight essential vitamin Bs via whole food sources may be the most important supplement you can take.
These are the 4 KEYS to look for and avoid in a supplement:
1) Taking a complete vitamin B complex that provides you all eight essential Bs — versus a supplement that only provides you vitamin B12 in isolation — is highly recommended, as vitamins work synergistically together to support your energy, brain, metabolism, and more.
2) Most vital of all, it’s important you know that supplements in general may be the #1 worst “contamination” offender out there when it comes to feeding your body synthetic and potentially toxic ingredients that can (ironically) work against your health. This certainly includes many vitamin B supplements.
Just some of the common ingredients to avoid (many from true contamination of the products, some even intentionally added) include artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, artificial preservatives, pesticides / herbicides, excess heavy metals, hydrogenated oils, and magnesium silicate / talc.
That’s why it is truly mission-critical to choose a vitamin B complex supplement that is USDA Certified Organic.
USDA Certified Organic means the entire formula (not just a few specific ingredients) has been independently verified as non-GMO and free of these synthetic and potentially toxic ingredients — and even the plant-based ingredients that are used in the formula must be grown organically, meaning free of pesticides, herbicides, and more!
3) Next, there is a lot of misinformation and myth out there regarding the two forms of vitamin B12 in supplements, cyanocobalamin and methylcobalamin.
First, when cyanocobalamin enters the body, it is converted to either methylcobalamin or adenosylcobalamin, the two active forms of B12 in people, and the body extracts what it doesn’t need. (Research also suggests your body may be able to better absorb cyanocobalamin versus methylcobalamin.)
Second, while many cyanocobalamins in supplements are synthetic, there are now Certified Organic sources of natural-sourced cyanocobalamin that higher-quality supplements use. And the highest quality supplements ferment that Certified Organic and natural-sourced cyanocobalamin with probiotics, which can make it even more bioavailable to your body.
The bottom line here is that fermented, natural-sourced cyanocobalamin might be slightly better, but methylcobalamin is also a good source.
4) Finally, your supplement should also provide you ample amounts of the vitamin B12.
As noted above, B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, so your body uses what it needs and discards the rest through your urine.
Therefore, you may want to make sure you consume higher levels — such as 25 mcg daily / around 1000% of the Daily Value — to ensure your body is getting the amount of vitamin B12 it needs.
(Again, as noted above, some supplements out there contain extremely high amounts of vitamin B12, such as over 2000 mcg daily — definitely do consider consulting with your healthcare provider before taking supplements with that level).
The #1 Recommended Vitamin B Supplement:
The USDA Certified Organic ORGANIC B COMPLETE
As you now understand, a highly effective and independently verified organic and non-toxic supplement that provides you all eight essential B vitamins — including ample amounts of safe vitamin B12 from fermented, natural sources — is truly one of the most important supplements you can take.
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Seeing a huge gap in the market for a highly effective vitamin B complex that was also truly USDA Certified Organic and safe, Purity Woods set out to create the most effective vitamin B supplement available anywhere — and it is literally guaranteed that you’ll feel the difference and agree it is the best!
Purity Woods’ Organic B Complete provides you:
–> A proper balance of all 8 essential B vitamins
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–> Whole food sources such as beet root, guava, and holy basil
–> A fully USDA Certified Organic formula (supplements in general are perhaps THE products with the most synthetic and potentially toxic contaminants that people put into their bodies, so this is HUGE)
–> Vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, non-GMO
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Whatever you do choose, though — for the sake of your brain, energy, mood, heart, joints, skin and overall longevity — please do take proper care to ensure you are getting adequate amounts of B12 and all the B vitamins!