There seems to be a never-ending list of nutrients needed to support a healthy body and mind, but of the long list, B12 is often one that’s forgotten.

Although widely available in several animal-based food sources, vegetarians and vegans are hung out to dry because they aren’t consuming foods high in B12.

Involved in everything from red blood cell production to hair, skin, and nail health, B12 is a vitamin that you don’t want to forget.

So, with that said, we’re covering the basics of this water-soluble vitamin, why you should supplement it, and the best B12 supplements that need to be in your supplement cabinet.

What Is Vitamin B12?

If you’re looking to maintain optimal health and performance, getting your daily share of vitamins and minerals is non-negotiable. Vitamins and minerals are required for every single biological process in the body, and a deficiency can spell major trouble.

While there are certain nutrients your body can synthesize endogenously—amino acids, fatty acids, vitamin K2, vitamin D, and some B vitamins—others must be obtained through diet.

Of those that can’t be synthesized in the body, B12 is one. Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin native to animal products that plays a significant role in several essential processes that regulate blood cell production, DNA synthesis, brain development, and nerve cell function and health. It also serves as a co-factor for enzymes involved in synthesizing fatty acids and myelin 1.

Getting sufficient B12 isn’t a big deal for most people, but for vegans and vegetarians, maintaining levels can be a challenge because of dietary restrictions limiting intake.

But here’s the thing. Absorption of vitamin B12 isn’t as straightforward as you may think it is. For B12 to be absorbed from the gut, it requires the presence of a protein called intrinsic factor (IF), which is secreted by parietal cells of the stomach 2.

The small intestine contains receptors for intrinsic factors that bind the complex of B12 and intrinsic factor, thus allowing it to be absorbed.

Vitamin B12 levels remain relatively high even if intake has slowed, taking roughly 2 to 3 years to deplete stores fully. As such, vegans and vegetarians may not be at risk of deficiency initially, but should supplement to avoid long-term depletion.

6 Benefits Of Vitamin B12

1. Helps With Red Blood Cell Formation

Of all the functions B12 possesses, RBC formation is probably the most well-recognized. Erythroblasts—immature red blood cells—require both folate and vitamin B12 for proliferation during their differentiation phase, and a deficiency of other vitamins can result in inhibition of purine and thymidylate syntheses, impaired DNA synthesis, and erythroblast apoptosis (death), ultimately leading to anemia 3.

Normally, healthy red blood cells are small and plum, whereas, with a vitamin B12 deficiency, they become larger and more oval-shaped. Because of this irregularity, the red blood cells cannot move from bone marrow into the bloodstream, which eventually results in megaloblastic anemia 4.

Anemia causes insufficient transport of oxygen to tissues due to low levels of red blood cells, which leads to symptoms like fatigue and weakness.

2. May Improve Bone Health

Vitamin D and calcium may be your go-to for bone health, but B12 is no less important. Research suggests that through their links to homocysteine metabolism, vitamin B12 may protect against bone health and lower the risk of osteoporosis or hip fractures 5.

While the mechanistic pathways between B12 and bone physiology are still not understood, several studies show that B12 has a direct effect on osteoblast proliferation and formation, and a deficiency of vitamin B12 can increase osteoclast activity, potentially through its effect on increasing methylmalonic acid (MMA) and homocysteine levels 6.

A 2005 study of 2576 adults found that people deficient in vitamin B12 had lower than normal bone mineral density 7.

3. May Improve Mood

The effects of vitamin B12 on mood aren’t fully elucidated, but research does suggest a strong connection between B12 deficiency and an increased risk of depression. This may be because vitamin B12 is heavily involved in synthesizing and metabolizing serotonin and dopamine, two brain chemicals involved in regulating mood, emotions, and sleep 8.

Vitamins B1, B3, B6, B9, and B12 are all essential for the functions of neurons, and deficiencies have been linked to depression. In fact, studies show that people with a vitamin B12 deficiency were more than twice as likely to develop depression than people with levels in the normal range 9.

4. Increases Energy

If you’re looking for a surge of energy, a B12 supplement may do it. The B vitamins are a group of vitamins that play a massive role in energy metabolism but don’t provide energy themselves 10.

There’s little scientific evidence showing that B12 supplementation can enhance energy, but one of the telltale signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency is fatigue or lack of energy—both characteristic symptoms of anemia.

5. Improves Heart Health

High blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine have been implicated as a major risk factor for the development of cardiovascular diseases because it has adverse effects on vascular endothelium and smooth muscle cells, which can result in changes to arterial structure and function 11.

Due to vitamin B12’s involvement in homocysteine metabolism, research shows that sufficient levels of B12 can reduce homocysteine, decreasing your risk of heart disease and stroke 12.

6. Supports Healthy Hair, Skin, And Nails

Tired of dry, flaky skin? Broken or brittle nails have you cringing? Want to get rid of your dull hair? B12 may be your answer! Because vitamin B12 plays a big role in cell proliferation, sufficient levels are needed to promote healthy hair, skin, and nails.

Research shows that a vitamin B12 deficiency can result in dermatologic symptoms like hyperpigmentation, discolored nails, hair changes, vitiligo (the loss of skin pigmentation in patches), and glossitis 13, 14. Lucky for you, B12 supplementation has been shown to improve dermatologic symptoms.

Keep in mind that dermatologic symptoms can also arise with omega-3 deficiency—another common deficiency for vegans—so supplementing both omega-3s and B12 may help to improve the appearance of hair, skin, and nails.

Signs And Symptoms Of B12 Deficiency

Despite being found in various food sources, a vitamin B12 deficiency may be more common than you think, especially for vegetarians and vegans who aren’t consuming B12-rich foods.

Generally speaking, low levels result from inadequate absorption, genetic defects that alter transport through the body, or from insufficient intake due to dietary restrictions. This deficiency manifests in the blood and nervous system, where B12 plays a major role in cellular replication and in fatty acid metabolism 15.

If animal food consumption is limited or non-existent, cobalamin’s scarce presence in plant foods means supplementation for vegans and vegetarians becomes essential.

Low B12 blood concentrations can promote hematological shortages, which can result in elevated mean corpuscular red cell volume (MCV) and anemia by altering erythropoiesis 16.

Vitamin B12 also plays an important role in neuronal health. A severe deficiency has massive impacts on nerve transmission and overall function of the nervous system by impairing the formation of the myelin sheath.

However, people who have recently switched to a plant-based diet may not be at as much of a risk as vitamin B12 is stored in excess in the liver. When absorption is impaired, or intake is insufficient, B12 is pulled from hepatic stores until they are depleted, and only then does deficiency occur 17.

Some of the most common symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include:

  • Lack of energy
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Reduced sensitivity to pain or pressure
  • Blurred vision
  • Abnormal gait
  • Sore tongue
  • Impaired memory
  • Confusion
  • Poor balance and coordination

While younger populations aren’t generally a risk for inadequate absorption due to insufficient intrinsic factor, they can become at risk if animal products aren’t part of the diet, especially red meat that contains high levels of B12.

How To Get Enough Vitamin B12

Getting sufficient B12 through diet can be a big ask for vegans and vegetarians since it’s found in animal-based products, but it’s not a dead-end street for you guys. If you’re concerned about running low on B12, we have some good news for you.

In healthy people, the body can store B12 for anywhere from two to four years without being replenished, so a deficiency may not arise for several years after you’ve removed B12 food sources from the diet 4.

However, if you want to stay on top of your levels and avoid future issues, there are a few options you can choose from:

  1. Sublingual vitamin B12 supplements
  2. Vitamin B12 injections
  3. Multivitamin with 100% RDI vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin)

While a B12 supplement or injections may be an easy and sure-fire way to keep levels high, why not kill two birds with one stone and keep your other nutrient stores topped off, too? NutriGenesis Multi for Men and Multi for Women are your goldmine.

They’re a 100% vegan-friendly, nature-identical multivitamin that’s packed with 17+ essential vitamins and minerals for optimal human performance.

Complexed with co-factors to boost absorption and bioactivity, you don’t have to worry about how much intrinsic factor you have or if you’re consuming enough through diet. It’s all laid out for you in the most convenient and effective supplement possible.

Conclusion

Take it from us when we tell you that worrying about meeting your RDI of all the essential vitamins and minerals can be a huge pain. Why spend hours reading nutrition labels and tracking food when you can add a good multi on top of a clean diet?

NutriGenesis Multi takes work out of the equation. It ensures that you’re getting what you need to perform regardless of dietary restrictions.

References

  1. A Ankar, A Kumar. Vitamin B12 Deficiency. (Updated 2021 Jun 7). In: StatPearls (Internet). Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441923/
  2. GY Lip, DA Lane, TA Millane, MH Tayebjee. Psychological interventions for depression in adolescent and adult congenital heart disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;2003(3):CD004394.
  3. MJ Koury, P Ponka. New insights into erythropoiesis: the roles of folate, vitamin B12, and iron.Annu Rev Nutr. 2004;24:105-131.
  4. A Hariz, PT Bhattacharya. Megaloblastic Anemia. (Updated 2021 Oct 11). In: StatPearls (Internet). Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537254/
  5. Z Dai, WP Koh. B-vitamins and bone health--a review of the current evidence.  2015;7(5):3322-3346.
  6. BL Vaes, C Lute, HJ Blom, et al. Vitamin B(12) deficiency stimulates osteoclastogenesis via increased homocysteine and methylmalonic acid.Calcif Tissue Int. 2009;84(5):413-422.
  7. KL Tucker, MT Hannan, N Qiao, et al. Low plasma vitamin B12 is associated with lower BMD: the Framingham Osteoporosis Study. J Bone Miner Res. 2005;20(1):152-158.
  8. M Valizadeh, N Obsessive compulsive disorder as early manifestation of B12 deficiency.Indian J Psychol Med. 2011;33(2):203-204.
  9. BW Penninx, JM Guralnik, L Ferrucci, LP Fried, RH Allen, SP Stabler. Vitamin B(12) deficiency and depression in physically disabled older women: epidemiologic evidence from the Women’s Health and Aging Study.Am J Psychiatry. 2000;157(5):715-721.
  10. F O’Leary, S Vitamin B12 in health and disease.Nutrients. 2010;2(3):299-316.
  11. P Ganguly, SF Alam. Role of homocysteine in the development of cardiovascular disease.Nutr J. 2015;14:6.
  12. M Markišić, AM Pavlović, DM Pavlović. The Impact of Homocysteine, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin D Levels on Functional Outcome after First-Ever Ischaemic Stroke. Biomed Res Int. 2017;2017:5489057.
  13. J Brescoll, S Daveluy. A review of vitamin B12 in dermatology.Am J Clin Dermatol. 2015;16(1):27-33.
  14. KH Basavaraj, C Seemanthini, R Rashmi. Diet in dermatology: present perspectives.Indian J Dermatol. 2010;55(3):205-210.
  15. G Rizzo, AS Laganà, AM Rapisarda, et al. Vitamin B12 among Vegetarians: Status, Assessment and Supplementation. 2016;8(12):767.
  16. F O’Leary, S Vitamin B12 in health and disease.Nutrients. 2010;2(3):299-316.
  17. A Ankar, A Kumar. Vitamin B12 Deficiency. (Updated 2021 Jun 7). In: StatPearls (Internet). Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441923/