10 Surprising Ways Vitamin B12 Benefits Your Entire Body
Vitamin B12 benefits your entire body from your head down to your toes. Vegan or vegetarian? You may not be getting enough.
Increased energy and vitality
One of the most notable vitamin B12 benefits is a boost in energy. So if you’re feeling sluggish and you’re not sure why, a lack of vitamin B12 (cobalamin) may be to blame. This water-soluble vitamin aids in red blood cell formation, which prevents against a type of anemia that can often make people feel weak and tired, explains Joy Bauer, MS, RDN, the host of NBC’s new show Health + Happiness, the nutrition expert for NBC’s TODAY show and author of From Junk Food to Joy Food.
Get your mojo back by asking your doctor to check your B12 levels. If they are on the low side, it’s time to up your intake, she says. “Vitamin B12 is found naturally in a wide variety of animal foods like fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and other dairy products, plus fortified foods like breakfast cereals, nutritional yeast, and some plant-based milk (like almond milk and soy milk).”
(Related: Is This Vitamin The Secret To Aging Well?)
Improved heart health
Vitamin B12’s role in promoting heart health may get overlooked, but it’s essential, says Liz Weinandy, RD, a dietician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. “Vitamin B12, B6, and folic acid work together help to reduce homocysteine, which is a protein that can build up in blood and damage arterial walls, thus playing a role in heart disease,” she explains. When B12 is low, it can’t do its job effectively, which means your heart is at risk.
Healthy nervous system
Vitamin B12 benefits your nervous system directly and keeps it in tip-top shape; when this nutrient is in short supply, you may develop that annoying “pins and needles” sensation in your extremities and/or numbness or tingling in the hands, legs, or feet, says Boston-based nutritionist Dana Greene, RD. This usually occurs with anemia, but that’s not always the case, she says. “Vitamin B12 helps produce the fatty sheath (myelin) that surrounds and protects your nerves.” When you are deficient in B12, your nerve cells can’t function properly.
Your ability to walk and move
Tingling and numbness may be among the first signs of B12-related nerve damage, but if it continues unaddressed, it can alter the way you move. “This can sometimes affect balance and make you more likely to fall,” says Greene. “This is one of the easier things to correct, and by doing so we can prevent any declines in quality of life that occur with mobility issues and falls.”
(Related: 14 Benefits of Walking for Just 15 Minutes)
Your oral health
There are many signs your tongue can reveal about your health, and a B12 deficiency is one of them. A mild deficiency can trigger tongue inflammation (glossitis). Greene says this painful condition can affect how you eat and speak. Your tongue may be red and swollen or look smooth since the tiny bumps along your tongue that contain your taste buds stretch out and disappear.
Another important function vitamin B12 benefits is our vision, and vitamin B12 deficiency is typically related to nervous system damage that affects the optic nerve leading up to the eye. The best defense is always a good offense. “B12 is found mostly in animal foods such as meat, poultry, fish and dairy products. If you don’t eat animal foods, be sure to get B12 from fortified foods or a supplement,” says Weinandy.
(Related: 5 Reasons You Always Have Watery Eyes)
Some research suggests that a vitamin B12 deficiency is linked to dementia and memory problems, but it’s not clear whether supplements might help. The potential link may be a result of high levels of homocysteine in the blood, but it’s too early to draw any firm conclusions, according to the US Office of Dietary Supplements.
(Related: 17 Memory Strategies You’ll Never Forget)
People with a B12 deficiency often look pale or have a slight yellow tinge to their skin (jaundice). Glitches in your body’s red blood cell production affect the size and strength of these cells. They may be too big to travel in your body, resulting in pale skin, Greene says. If they are too fragile, they may break down and cause an excess of bilirubin, which results in an orange-yellow skin tone. But a healthy, non-orange glow is one of the surprising vitamin B12 benefits.
Your gut health
We all know that eating enough fibre and drinking enough water are keys to healthy bowel movements, but a vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite and weight loss, says Will Bulsiewicz, MD, a gastroenterologist in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. A vitamin B12 benefit can be a healthy gut. Sometimes these GI symptoms are a result of B12 deficiency, but other times B12 is a marker of an underlying digestive disease. “Vitamin B12 relies on the production of intrinsic factor by the stomach and is absorbed in the last part of the small intestine,” he says. “Therefore, stomach or small bowel disturbances can create a B12 deficiency.”
Crohn’s disease is a classic condition that can present with B12 deficiency, weight loss, and diarrhea. “In this case, it is inflammation of the small bowel from the Crohn’s disease that causes the symptoms, not the B12 deficiency itself,” he says. The exact mechanism by which B12 deficiency causes GI symptoms is still unknown.
Your newborn’s personality
Could vitamin B12 be the key to a calmer baby? It’s true: Mothers-to-be who increase their levels of B12 in early pregnancy are about eight times more likely to have babies who don’t cry excessively, according to Dutch researchers.
Are you at risk?
Most of us get enough B12 from foods, but certain populations may be at risk for deficiency. These include the elderly individuals who had surgery that removes the part of the bowel that absorbs B12; people on a strict vegan diet; and those taking antacids for heartburn over the long term. “Vitamin B12 in supplement form may be necessary if a person has a moderate to severe deficiency. It is preferable though, that for most people, they get it from food since it is the safest way (without the worry of overdosing),” Weinandy says. “If you take a supplement, look for methylcobalamin since the methylated version will likely be more effective in our bodies.”