Benefits of Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Vitamin B12 is a vital nutrient that serves numerous important functions in the body. Like other B vitamins, vitamin B12 is water-soluble and is integral for converting macronutrients into usable energy for the body. Some of vitamin B12’s most important health benefits include:
- Vitamin B12 is critical for healthy and proper growth and development. It is integral for producing substances required for proper cell function.
- It helps the body to produce genetic material (DNA and RNA).
- Vitamin B12 helps to maintain a healthy central nervous system by regulating nerve cell function, promoting the health of nerve cells, and protecting nerves from damage. Nerves are surrounded by a fatty sheath made of a protein called myelin, which protects the cells. People who have a vitamin B12 deficiency display damage to myelin sheaths, which could eventually cause paralysis, nerve and neurological damage, and death.
- Vitamin B12 is required for the body to absorb, store and convert folic acid into its coenzyme form. It works with folate to regulate the reproduction cells. Vitamin B12 is a critical component in the production of blood cells, including platelets, red blood cells, and white blood cells.
- It plays an important role in various processes involving numerous body chemicals and helps the body use both amino acids and fatty acids.
- Vitamins B12, in conjunction with vitamin B6 and vitamin B9 (folic acid), helps regulate homocysteine levels. Elevated blood homocysteine levels are associated with an increased risk of vascular disease and some birth defects.
Vitamin B12, along with vitamin B6 and folic acid, are critical nutrients for helping to prevent birth defects.
The function of Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Vitamin B12 is a broad label for a group of compounds known as corrinoids. Corrinoid compounds contain cobalt. The main forms of cobalamin are cyanocobalamin, hydroxocobalamin, and the two coenzyme types of cobalamin: methylcobalamin and 5-deoxyadenosine cobalamin. Cyanocobalamin is the form of vitamin B12 that is primarily used in enriched and vitamin B12 supplements.
Vitamin B12 is joined with proteins in food sources. Within the stomach, pepsin and hydrochloric acid act to separate the vitamin from proteins in foods. It is bound by an R-protein and is then transported to the small intestine. R-proteins are hydrolyzed, releasing free vitamin B12 inside the duodenum. The free form of the vitamin is then joined with another protein called the gastric intrinsic factor. The gastric intrinsic factor is required for vitamin B12 to be absorbed by the intestines.
Ingested at low dosages (0.1 micrograms), over 50% of vitamin B12 is absorbed by a properly functioning digestive tract. However, as the dosage is increased, the absorption rate reduces.
Vitamin B12 is different from other water-soluble vitamins in that it can be stored by the body. Around 6-12 milligrams of vitamin B12 can be stored within the body, primarily within the kidneys and liver. Excess quantities of the nutrient are eliminated from the body through the kidneys or in bile.
Vitamin B12’s main functions are in producing red blood cells and maintaining the health of the central nervous system. It also serves an important role in the production of DNA and RNA.
Vitamin B12 can only be found in foods that come from animal sources or from certain fermented foods in which the vitamin is produced by bacteria. Many vegans and vegetarians may need B12 supplementation because of this. The best dietary sources of vitamin B12 are organ meats, including liver, kidney, and heart. Other good animal sources of the vitamin include shellfish (clams and oysters), lean beef, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy. Vitamin B12 can also be found in miso, a fermented soy product.
A vitamin B12 deficiency can result in various health issues and disorders. Long periods of having a deficiency can result in nerve damage and irreversible neurological damage. Vitamin B12 is not thought to be toxic. Even very large dosages of the vitamin have not been found to result in any negative effects.