Vitamin B-12 is a water-soluble vitamin in the B complex that not only is necessary for the breakdown and utilization of proteins, fats and carbohydrate; it is also essential for nerve tissue. Vitamin B12 aids in the production of the myelin sheath on nerves that allow split second transmission of nerve impulses throughout the body.
What is unique about Vitamin B-12 is that it is the only vitamin that contains an essential mineral, cobalt. The cobalt molecule is essential for longevity in the body.
Another fact about Vitamin B-12 is that it is closely interrelated to several other key nutrients: pantothenic acid, vitamin C, iron, choline, vitamin A, and four amino acids. Without vitamin B12, vitamin A is not carried to the tissues. Without vitamin B12, folic acid cannot synthesize choline and more importantly, cannot aid in regeneration of cells. When this happens, folic acid becomes trapped in pools of 5-methyl-folate. A deficiency of folic acid can occur simultaneously with low levels of vitamin B-12.
Vitamin B12 also aids in the production of DNA and RNA, the genetic material found in each and every cell in the body. Research in the last decade has tied vitamin B-12 to fatty acid synthesis and also energy production in the body.
How Well You Absorb Vitamin B12 is The Key
Vitamin B12 needs the presence of an enzyme in the intestinal tract called "intrinsic factor" to be absorbed as hydrochloric acid, pepsin, vitamin B6 and calcium. Vitamin B-12 absorption also depends on a properly functioning thyroid gland. Autoimmune reactions prevent the absorption of vitamin B12 as well.
One form of vitamin B12 is cyanocobalamin, which is generally found in supplements and is used as a food additive. This form is easily converted to other forms of the vitamin. Other forms include transcobalamin, hydroxycobalamin, 5-deoxyadenosylcobalamin, methylcobalamin, and adenosylcobalamin.
Vitamin B12 Found in Non-Vegan Foods
Although vegetarians often say that all nutrients can be obtained on a non-meat diet, getting enough vitamin B-12 is difficult without meat and other high quality protein sources. The problem is that the general public believes that if they switch to a vegetarian diet and feel better, then the vegetarian diet must be working. A vitamin B12 deficiency takes about 5 years to appear because the body's natural stores of the vitamin will be used up first. According to the U.K. Vegan Society, the only reliable vegan sources of vitamin B12 are foods fortified with B12 and B12 supplements.
Although small amounts of vitamin B12 may be found in spirulina, blue green algae and barley grass, substantial amounts can be found in animal proteins such as liver, shellfish, kidney, muscle meats, fish and dairy products. Also, laboratory tests find that these substances do not have biological activity in humans.
How Much Vitamin B12 Do You Need Daily?
Vitamin B-12 is known as a micronutrient, meaning that one only needs very small amounts each day. The Dietary Reference Intake recommends 2 to 3 micrograms daily for adults and 2.3 and 2.6 micrograms, respectively for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
What Happens if You Don't Have Enough Vitamin B12?
After Vitamin B-12 is bound to protein and transported to liver, bone marrow, blood, and other organs, it is essential for the production of red blood cells. It helps the red blood cells mature up to a point, then protein, vitamin C, and folic acid take over the maturation process. Vitamin B12 deficiency shows up as pernicious anemia.
Weakness of the arms and legs, jerking limbs, and pins and needle sensations are classical signs of deficiency. Schizophrenia-like symptoms can result from lack of vitamin B12, indicating the vitamin deficiency has affected the sensitive brain tissue. Mood disorders, depression with suicide tendencies, mental slowness, mania, and memory deficits can occur.
Sore mouth, shooting pains, a feeling of deadness and even hot and cold sensations can also appear in the beginning stages. In later phases of vitamin B12 deficiency, unpleasant body odor, menstrual disturbances, nervousness, neuritis (inflammation of the nerves), and difficulty in walking and speaking can occur. The problem is that if not detected in early stages, permanent mental deterioration and even paralysis can occur.
Injections of vitamin B12 may be needed if a person is unable to absorb the vitamin through the intestinal tract. Injections have been exceptionally helpful for stopping pain in those suffering from arthritis and osteoporosis.
Children with cancer of the nervous system given vitamin B12 survived longer with the vitamin B12 than without it.
Vitamin B12 Toxicity Does Not Occur
A toxic build-up of vitamin B-12 in the body does not occur because the vitamin is water soluble.
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What Happens if you don't have enough vitamin b12?
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1 Dunne, Lavon. Nutrition Almanac, McGraw-Hill Publishing, 2002.
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