The B12 vitamin is one of the B vitamins essential to maintaining a healthy body. Otherwise known as Cobalamin, vitamin B12 is needed to convert carbohydrates, fats and proteins from food into energy.
B12 also helps keep red blood cells, in particular, healthy which helps prevent heart disease and keep the immune system functioning at its maximum level. In fact, all cells in the body need B12 to one degree or another to keep them healthy. As well as the red blood cells, white blood cells also need B12 to help ensure that the immune system functions normally.
B12 is also used to create and maintain the protective covering of all nerve cells in the body.
All of the nerve cells in the body also need B12 to help form their protective fatty layer. This is essential to the nerves function, especially so for those in the brain. If there is not sufficient B12 to create this protective layer then the brain will not function properly which can, in turn, lead to neurological problems.
The amount of B12 that the body needs is relatively small but it is needed on a regular basis. However, B12 on its own is not enough as the body cannot absorb it in isolation easily. To help the body absorb B12 the stomach produces the ‘intrinsic factor’ which enables more of the B12 to be more easily assimilated.
B12 is mostly found in animal foods such as liver, eggs, fish and meat although some vegetarian sources such as
can be a viable alternative for those that do not eat animal products. Meat eaters consume far more than their recommended daily amount of B12 but this is not a problem as the body can only absorb about half of the B12 that is ingested at any one time.
It is also worth noting that the body can recycle unused B12 which cuts down on the impact of a B12 deficiency. Strict vegetarians or vegans are likely to require B12 supplements if they do not eat any animal products , however, as mentioned above, one of the few vegetarian sources of B12 is Spirulina, however, topping up with additional supplements would ensure an adequate supply.
If the body does not have enough B12 then anaemia is the most obvious deficiency symptom due to the fact that there is not enough B12 to make healthy red blood cells. Anaemia can also be caused by the body not creating enough intrinsic factor to help absorb the B12. The body tends to makes less intrinsic factor once a person reaches 50 and so meat eaters, as well as vegetarians, may want to consider taking a B12 supplement at this time of life to compensate for reduced absorption.
At the other end of the age spectrum, fussy kids with a restricted diet are also at risk from anaemia because they may not be eating enough of the right foods that contain B12.