Are you getting enough vitamin B12?

When it comes to good health and vitality, vitamin B12 is proving to be one of the key nutrients.

There’s a real buzz around the B group vitamins – and it’s small wonder. They’re often credited for giving us the spring in our step as they’re chiefly responsible for helping the body to use its energy-generating fuels, such as carbohydrate, fat and protein.

You can also thank the B vitamins – there are eight of them – for giving you a healthy glow, as they aid healthy skin, hair, eyes, liver, red blood cell production, help iron work effectively in the body and produce compounds involved in immune function and mood.

While each of the B vitamins have an important role, B12 – essential for brain function, metabolism, cardiovascular health and general wellbeing – has garnered a reputation for its multitude of health benefits, according to Integrative GP Dr Joe Kosterich.

Why we need vitamin B12 in our diet

Vitamin B12 is vital for the formation of red blood cells as well as the proper functioning and health of nerve tissue.

The benefits of vitamin B12 include:

  • Increased energy levels
  • Reduced risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and stroke
  • Improved sleeping habits
  • Healthy skin, hair and nails
  • Help with the elimination of bodily toxins
  • It’s a natural anti-inflammatory agent
  • It helps the digestive system

If left untreated, vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to anaemia, as well as nerve and brain damage.

Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include cognitive difficulties, tiredness, light-headedness, rapid heart rate, easy bruising and bleeding, bowel upset and a sore tongue.

While everyone can benefit from additional B12 in their diet, there are a few groups at an increased risk of B12 deficiency, Dr Kosterich says.

“Those on a vegetarian or vegan diet are at risk of B12 deficiency as it is mainly found in animal-based foods,” he says, as are those with a family history of pernicious anaemia, sufferers of inflammatory bowel disease, gastric surgery recipients and those prone to stress.

Essential for brain function, fast metabolism, cardiovascular health and clear skin, vitamin B12 has garnered a reputation for its multitude of health benefits.

People aged over 50 should also be vigilant about ensuring they’re getting enough B12 because levels stored in our brains may reduce as we age, which can contribute to a decrease in brain function.

“While reduced levels are a result of normal ageing, unrecognised reduction of vitamin B12 across the life span may impact learning and memory,” naturopath and nutritionist Teresa Mitchell-Paterson says.

“Dietary changes or supplementation may need to start in mid-life, before the onset of age-related decline in vitamin B12 levels,” Teresa says.

“Supplements can boost levels fairly quickly and injections are an option for some and a necessity for others,” Dr Kosterich says.

“Talk to your health practitioner to get advice on the best supplement for your circumstances.” 

Note: It is important not to self-diagnose vitamin deficiency – if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, consult your healthcare practitioner. 

Dietary sources of Vitamin B12

Dietary sources of vitamin B12

Good sources of B12 include meat, liver, dairy, and eggs – almost anything of animal origin. Vegan options include almonds, oats, rice milk, fortified meatless products, fortified soy and fortified cereals.

The important role each of the B vitamins plays in the body

B1 Thiamin

Helps convert glucose into energy and has a role in nerve function.

B2 Riboflavin

Primarily involved in energy production and helps vision and skin health.

B3 Niacin

Essential for the body to convert carbohydrates, fat and alcohol into energy. Helps maintain skin health and supports the nervous and digestive systems. Unlike other B-group vitamins, little is lost in cooking.

B5 Pantothenic acid

Needed to metabolise carbohydrates, proteins, fats and alcohol, as well as produce red blood cells and steroid hormones.

B6 Pyridoxine

Aids protein and carbohydrate metabolism, the formation of red blood cells and certain brain chemicals. It influences brain processes and development, immune function and steroid hormone activity.

B7 Biotin

Required for energy metabolism, fat synthesis, amino acid metabolism and glycogen synthesis.

B9 Folate

Needed to form red blood cells. Helps development of the foetal nervous system, as well as DNA synthesis and cell growth.

Source: Better Health Channel

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Written by Charlotte Brundrett