Vitamin B12 is considered to be one of the most chemically complex of all the vitamins. It exists in several different forms, has different levels of effectiveness, and is useful for a wide variety of critically important functions in the human body.
It also has several qualities which set it apart from other vitamins:
- It is the only vitamin which contains a mineral. Cyanocobalamin is actually a cobalt compound, and B12's other names cobalamin and cobamide are used to refer to the mineral.
- B12 is also the only true vitamin not found in fruits, vegetables or other plants. Instead, it's made in the human system by a beneficial type of bacteria in the small intestine.
B12 is found in two basic forms. Cyanocobalamin is the easiest to manufacture, the most common, and the least expensive.
The other form of B12 is known as methylcobalamin. A small amount of methylcobalamin can be made from cyanocobalamin by the liver, but older people may have a more difficult time converting the cyanocobalamin, and thus may be at greater risk of a deficiency. Vegetarians must also be conscious of the dangers of deficiency since plants cannot provide adequate B12.
Low B12 levels can come from other factors as well, including an incomplete diet, gastrointestinal concerns, certain medications, excessive alcohol, laxatives, and more.
The price of deficiency is high. One classic symptom is pernicious anemia characterized by large immature red blood cells. Prolonged B12 deficiency can lead to nerve degeneration and irreversible neurological damage.
- Vitamin B12 aids in the normal development and regeneration of red blood cells.
- Vitamin B12 helps maintain proper metabolic functioning.
- Vitamin B12 supports energy metabolism by working with enzymes involved in the breakdown of nutrients such as amino acids.
- Vitamin B12 is part of a triad of vitamins along with folic acid and Vitamin B6 which supports heart health.
- Vitamin B12 maintains circulatory health.
- Vitamin B12 helps keep your gums and mouth healthy.
- Vitamin B12 contributes to the health of the nervous system.
- Vitamin B12 may not be as readily absorbable (from the digestive system) as we age.
- The liver takes up about 50 percent of Vitamin B12, and the remainder is transported to other tissues in the body.
Red blood cells: Vitamin B12 works closely with folic acid (B9) to regulate the formation of red blood cells and help iron function better in the body. B12 helps with the proper production of blood platelets and red and white blood cells, the manufacture of various substances needed for cell function, and the metabolism of nutrients necessary for cell growth. Vitamin B12 is essential for red blood cell formation and the prevention of pernicious anemia.
Energy metabolism: Vitamin B12 is also needed for the metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates and for the synthesis of amino acids and fatty acids. B12 helps control enzymes which speed up certain metabolic reactions in the body, and it participates in cellular reactions which release energy from carbohydrates, fats and protein.
Heart health: Vitamin B12, in conjunction with B6 and folic acid, is important for healthy levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine is believed to affect heart health.
Nervous system: Vitamin B12 is especially important for maintaining healthy nerve cells. Nerves are surrounded by an insulating fatty sheath made of a complex protein called myelin, and B12 plays an important role in maintaining myelin. It enables nerve cells to develop properly which helps us move, think, see, and live. Both Vitamin B12 and folic acid are essential for the production of DNA and RNA the genetic material in the body.
Vitamin B-12 is obtained primarily from animal sources it is not found in vegetables in any significant amount. The best sources are:
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