What Is Vitamin B12 Good For? Food Sources For Vitamin B12 And How Much Do You Need

Living a healthy and good life is everybody’s priority. But sometimes, even after tonnes of efforts, achieving it can be tremendously burdensome. Our relaxed lifestyle and increase in the consumption of nutrient deficit fast food are not helping either. According to the Global Progress Report by UNICEF, millions of people worldwide lack not just some but several key nutrients with Vitamin B12 being the apex. [1] It’s deficiency is even more prevalent in South America, Mexico, India, some parts of Africa and more, making it a global problem.[2] To understand the gravity of this situation, people need to educate themselves more about the unique and indispensable roles such vitamins and minerals perform to fulfil our body’s demands.

What Is The Role Of Vitamin B12 In The Body?

Also known as Cobalamin due to the presence of Cobalt in its chemical structure, it is another water soluble vitamin belonging to the B- vitamins class which plays a major role in proper functioning of nerve tissues and development of red blood cells in bone marrow.[3] It is also active in the metabolism of every cell and is required for DNA synthesis.[4] It not only impacts neurological and cardiovascular health to a great extent but keeps nerve cells and neurotransmitters healthy as well.[5] Due to such wide and varying roles of utmost importance, B12’s ingestion must be taken seriously.

What Are The Symptoms Of Low Vitamin B12?

If you are suffering from fatigue, apathy, lethargy, anaemia, breathlessness, pale skin and headaches, it may be an indication of low levels of Vitamin B12 in your blood.[6] Medical term for the same is Cobalamin Deficiency. It can be classified to 3 major types:

1. Mild:

All the symptoms mentioned above in addition to poor mood, low concentration and delayed speech in children. It gradually becomes moderate if not taken care of.

2. Moderate:

Strange sensations, soreness and swelling of the tongue, often painful. [7]

3. Severe:

Disturbance in red blood cell formation, pregnancy risks, decreased fertility and troubled child growth. [8]

So it wouldn’t be wrong to conclude that deficiency of Vitamin B12 is an open invitation to unlimited illnesses and health troubles and what’s worse is that without early diagnosis and intervention, it may result in permanent damage.

What Are The Neurological Symptoms Of Vitamin B12 In The Body?

It also gives rise to various grave neurological problems, including the absence of reflexes, poor muscle function, problems with memory, and in severe cases, psychosis and mania. Not only will this affect your nerves negatively, but also have an adverse effect on the working and production of neurotransmitters which means your basic day to day bodily activities, including breathing, will be in danger. Depression is also linked to this deficiency. In simpler terms, it can mess with your head real bad, for life. Thus, in order to avert such irreversible damage, one must start paying attention towards the adequate intake of this vitamin. [9]

What Is Vitamin B12 Good For?

Undoubtedly, above mentioned symptoms can put anyone in a deep thought about their dietary habits and approach to a healthy life. Upon reading further into the benefits of this vitamin, you will definitely want to increase your intake. It will not only rescue you from all the prior stated horrors, but also help you with digestion by boosting your metabolism and improve health of your heart by averting heart diseases. Consuming it in adequate amounts will also enable you to maintain your energy levels properly with a strong grip at your memory. [10]

Because of the role it plays in something as basic as cell production in the body, it further promotes hair and nail growth in addition to keeping the skin healthy. It will also empower you to deal with stress and boost your mood, isn’t that amazing? It does so by producing a compound known as SAM, with the help of folate (Vitamin B9). This compound even helps fight anxiety and fatigue, among other boons.

For men, it also improves lower sperm count and for women, in case of pregnancies this Vitamin must be taken in required quantities for proper nourishment of the foetus and furthermore, when the infant is breastfed. [11]

What Foods Are High In Vitamin B12?

Bad news for vegans as Vitamin B12 is mainly found in dairy products, meat, seafood, poultry and other animal products.[12] Clams have highest amount of this nutrient followed by organ meats such as liver and kidney of lamb, veal, and beef.  If you don’t eat meat but consume diary then you should go for boiled eggs, raw milk, buttermilk, yogurt and Swiss cheese.[13] Wild caught seafood such as salmon, octopus and oyster also have good B12 quantities. [14]

However, some miscellaneous food items like margarine oil, tempeh (fermented soy), tea, mushrooms and edible algae were also found to have this vitamin. [15]

How Do Vegetarians Get Vitamin B12?

Some vegetarians follow a strict diet regime which excludes all the dairy products. For them, fortified foods are bliss. Fortification is the process of increasing the content of micronutrients to the food additionally when it is manufactured, for keeping up with the medically recommended dietary needs. It is really good for the immune system and prevention of diseases. For instance, Kellogg’s corn flakes cereal is just one of many fortified foods with good amounts of vitamin B12. [16]

Other than this, many multivitamin supplements can be found in the market. Lastly, Vitamin B12 injections are also available but these are mainly used for treatment of severe cases of this nutrient deficiency. [17]

How Much Vitamin B12 Do You Need?

For adults, recommended dosage is 2.4 micrograms daily but for ladies that are pregnant or breastfeeding must consume 2.6 micrograms per day, at least. But these values are just a median, as it varies from nation to nation. Children should be fed 0.9 micrograms a day, but this dose should rise up to 1.6 as they reach teenage. [18] Thus, next time while you’re purchasing your groceries or buying supplements, make sure you read the nutritional information part of the packaging to meet the required daily intake.

How Much Vitamin B12 Is In One Egg, Milk And Almond Milk?

  • A whole egg contains about 10.5 mcg of this vitamin, with 5 mcg existing in the yolk. Duck and Goose egg contain 5 mcg and 4 mcg, respectively. [19]
  • A glass of non-fat (skim) milk has about 4 mcg whereas whole milk has 3mcg, based on 100 grams serving of each. An alternate choice could be buttermilk which contains around 3.8 mcg per 100 grams.
  • Generally, almond milk is fortified with Vitamin B12 for better nutritional value. For instance, Drupe Almond Power Milk.

What Is Vitamin B12 1000 Mcg Used For?

Such high quantities starting from 500 mcg and above are used in Vitamin B12 injections. It is an intramuscular injection, injected right beneath the tongue which makes the nutrient’s level rises spontaneously in the body. This is definitely not the long term solution for deficiency but is sometimes prescribed to those who have trouble absorbing it. These shots are also beneficial in treating cases of cyanide poisoning. [20]

How Much Vitamin B2 Is Safe To Take? Can You Take Too Much Of This Vitamin?

There are certain benchmarks set for the daily consumption of this vitamin by various national and international organisations and departments like WHO, RDA and many more. But it has been found that even its high doses have no disadvantageous effect at all, the amount that is not absorbed is excreted out by the body and in case of injections it is carried out through urine since B12 is a water-soluble vitamin. No study has ever shown any kind of adverse effect due to its excess. So there is no upper bound to how much intake will be a hazard. But still, just because something unfavourable hasn’t occurred doesn’t mean it can’t. So it is advised to keep the intake as per your body’s requirement as prevention is better than cure. [21] [22]

What Helps The Absorption Of Vitamin B12?

When it is ingested, the acid present in our stomach releases the vitamin from the protein with which it was bonded. This step is skipped when you inject the nutrient through a supplement. After this, the Intrinsic Factor (IF) comes into play. It is a glycoprotein provided by our body for the absorption of the vitamin. [23] If IF is not present or exists in low quantities, poor absorption takes place which further is capable of doing permanent damage. It has been found that at a time only about 1.5 mcg of the taken dose of Vitamin is absorbed by the IF, rest is waste. It may be noted that per meal IF can absorb only up to 1.5 mcg of B12.

So this means that at a time limited IF is present, which means your doses of Vitamin B12 should not be high, they should be low and frequent as possible. Furthermore, this vitamin is lost daily through excretion so adequate amounts must be consumed every day to replenish it. About 50% of its total amount present in the body is stored in the liver; rest is circulated throughout the body. [24]

There are many reasons that contribute to shortage of IF, it could be genetic or due to some diseases which result in a halt in the production of IF. As old age approaches, acid production by the body’s stomach is decreased which leads to this vitamin deficiency in people over 60. However, its lack is more prominent in children, especially those of vegan mothers. [25]

So, you must learn to keep the terms ’intake’ and ‘absorption’ differentiated as each holds its own importance.

How can I increase My Vitamin B12 Levels?

Now that you know what Vitamin B12 is, what purpose it serves in the body, what foods contain it and how is it absorbed by the digestive system, you must focus on getting the right amount according to your personal needs. Keep your diet rich in foods mentioned above and choose a good dietary supplement. These days, maintaining a good nutrient enriched diet is of utmost importance, especially if you don’t want to welcome unnecessary health problems.

Secondly, that entire intake will be useless if your body does not absorb the vitamin properly. Therefore, you need to make sure that your stomach produces enough gastric juice. Drink enough water and avoid antacids (if you take any) when you consume the vitamin. [26]

Carefully handling these two factors will ensure a rise in your levels of this vitamin. One last thing, if you indulge in smoking, your B12 levels will decline for sure, as instead of bonding with the IF, B12 bonds with the cyanide produced by smoking. Therefore, you must quit smoking or else you might risk its deficiency.

Can You Take Too Much Vitamin B12?

Practically, you can. You can consume as much of this vitamin as you want, per that will not be beneficial because the body will only absorb according to its own limits, the rest will be discarded. Thus, you should not take too much of this in one go, instead take small but multiple amounts so that your stomach processes it completely and no amounts go to waste. Also, you should avoid too much intake as it will just be an unnecessary burden for your kidneys, since they have to deal with getting rid of it. [27]

What Causes Vitamin B12 To Be High? What Happens When There Is Too Much Vitamin B12 In Your Body?

Even though taking high doses of Vitamin B12 is not considered harmful, your body may have high levels of this vitamin in the bloodstream which could be a result of something else. If cobalamin levels are on a rise in, either there is an imbalance it may be an indication of fatal diseases like kidney failure, leukaemia and even blood cancer (polycythaemia vera) which promotes the growth of red blood cells in excess which proves to be life-threatening. In such cases, the disease causes the liver to produce high amounts of cobalamin. Often when this happens, other liver diseases emerge along with it. [28]

You must note that Vitamin B12 is not the causing agent here, but just an indicator of the disease. For this reason, it has medicinal applications as it can be used for detection and diagnosis of such diseases. So, if your blood has high levels of cobalamin, you should get it diagnosed straight away.

What Are The Symptoms Of High Vitamin B12 Levels?

Since high levels of vitamin B12 present in the blood are associated with many serious illnesses, it ultimately happens because the liver does not function properly. Since liver stores up to 50% of the total amount of cobalamin present in the body, when it is damaged, it releases the stored amount of this vitamin. Symptoms that occur when this happens are just loss of appetite accompanied by fatigue. There are no strong indications or chronic symptoms related to high B12 levels, it can only be found by a blood test. So if you want to find out, you have to get the test done, as excessive amounts show no identifiable signs whatsoever.[29]

Can Vitamin B12 Make You Gain Weight?

It has nowhere been reported that Vitamin B12 makes you gain weight; however, Vitamin B12 is often linked with weight loss because its deficiency leads to loss of appetite and anaemia, making a person weaker with some weight loss.

On the other hand, this vitamin works wonders for metabolism and if your metabolism works right, you burn fat faster and hence the weight loss connection. Some weight loss clinics and people turn towards B12 injections to boost up their metabolism and make up for other deficiency symptoms as well. [30]

But as far as weight gain is concerned, no significant accounts of it have been reported. At the most this vitamin will increase your appetite due to which you might eat more, but it has no direct influence on weight gain.

Can Vitamin B12 Make Your Blood Pressure Go Up?

Cobalamin deficiency leads to a number of cardiovascular diseases which suggests how important Vitamin B12 is for the heart. One of such diseases is Atherosclerosis (narrowing of blood vessels) which in turn leads to an increase in the blood pressure. To prevent this, sufficient and necessary supplementation of cobalamin is required. It will not only reduce the risk of such dangerous illnesses but also keep the blood pressure in check. Thus, cobalamin does not make your blood pressure go up, instead it helps in decreasing it, if high. [31]

Can You Take Vitamin B12 At Night?

Usually, the best time considered to consume multivitamins is morning because they are best absorbed when taken with other meals, so if you pop a pill in the morning, it will be absorbed throughout the day with the subsequent meals. Vitamin B12 belongs to family of eight known as Vitamin B Complex, they are water soluble which means they can be easily dissolved in water, so the body does not store them and they must be replenished daily. Vitamin B12 in particular fights stress, depression, fatigue and provides energy to each cell of the body. Hence taking them in the morning makes perfect sense as it will keep you charged as you go on with your day.

Consuming it in night will be convenient if you take it in liquid form, which means drops, sprays or injections. An advantage of drops and sprays is that the absorption begins in the mouth, so if you have gastric troubles, this could be a way out. As far as pills are concerned, they can be taken at night as well since they are synthesised better in acidic conditions. [32]

Another way it can be taken at night is through Cyanocobalamin Nasal Gel, it is applied directly inside the nose with the help of a pump (applicator) followed by a good night’s sleep during which it is absorbed. [33]

What Are The Side Effects Of Vitamin B12?

A study found out that Vitamin B12 injections caused distinct type of acne shortly after they were injected. But over time with discontinued use, the acne disappeared. Since injections are not opted unless the case is severe, there is no need to worry about this minor side effect. [34]

Vitamin B12 also interacts with other nutrients like Calcium, Folic Acid, Biotin, Vitamin B2 and B3 which often lead to undesired result because instead of serving its intended purpose, cobalamin forms other combinations and further helps in other reactions and conversions. [35]

This vitamin is also known to interfere with other medications so be careful if you’re taking any of the following:

1. Antibiotics:

Certain antibiotics interfere with the red blood cell production caused by cobalamin. Not only will it reduce the production but also decrease the effects of B12. Thus, taking them both together is avoided. [36]

2. Antacids:

Since antacids are known to relieve from acidity, they do so by neutralizing excess acid which is not good for cobalamin as it requires an acidic conditions.

3. Antagonists:

H2 receptor antagonists like Pepcid, Zantac etc. reduce the production of gastric juice which consists of pepsin and acid, leaving unfavourable conditions for cobalamin to be absorbed. [37]

4.  Diabetic Prescriptions:

Such medications, metformin for instance, reduce vitamin B12 levels significantly. In this case, there’s good news that this shortfall can be kept in check by increasing the vitamin dosage.

5. Proton Pump Inhibitors:

PPIs take a toll on the stomach by reducing the acid and pepsin production which is not at all good for cobalamin taken via pills. Reduction with PPIs is more than reduction with Antagonists. However, other mediums of consumption of this vitamin remain unaffected.

So, this was all about Vitamin B12, now you know why it is so important for each and every single cell and nerve of our body. To this day, Cobalamin Deficiency remains one of the most common deficiencies in several parts of the world. [38] Don’t be a part of that demographic, whether you are a vegetarian or not, let nothing obstruct you from living your life in a healthy, and having your diet in a nutrient enriched manner.

Even though there are many multivitamins and other substitutes available, try to go for foods naturally enriched in it. It will be a lot more beneficial. Don’t wait for the day when you discover a symptom, start today and now!

Be aware of all the symptoms of this deficiency and make sure you are taking all the possible measures to avoid them, because it is better to be safe than sorry. After all, our body’s demands are subtle but of grave significance. So learn to listen to your body and live a healthy life ahead.