4 important things vitamin B12 does to your brain and body
Allana Akhtar – November 25, 2022
- Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient for forming red blood cells and DNA.
- Without enough B12, a person can have trouble walking, experience memory loss, or TKTK
- The body does not make vitamin B12, and it only occurs naturally in animal products.
The 8 “B” vitamins help the body convert food into energy, and all of them play an essential role maintaining healthy hair, nails, eyes, liver, and nervous system, according to Mount Sinai.
Vitamin B12 is a particularly important nutrient because it helps form red blood cells and DNA. Though vitamin B12 deficiencies are rare in the US, vegetarians and vegans are more susceptible to the condition, Dr. Eduardo Villamor, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, previously told Insider.
Villamor said symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency vary with how long a person has been without the nutrient.
Mild vitamin B12 deficiencies result in fatigue, which can sometimes be debilitating; doctors recently diagnosed a woman in the UK who experienced extreme tiredness and trouble walking for years with “dangerously low” vitamin B12 levels.
If someone is concerned about a vitamin deficiency, dietitians and doctors told Insider they recommend talking to their healthcare provider before starting supplement use on their own.
Here are 4 essential roles vitamin B12 plays in the body:
1. Vitamin B12 is essential for creating red blood cells
Vitamin B12 plays a particularly important role in creating red blood cells, which transport oxygen throughout the body.
Vitamin B12 contributes to the complicated process of making hemoglobin, the protein within red blood cells that carries oxygen. B12 activates the chemical “succinyl CoA” that the body eventually turns into hemoglobin.
Without B12, the body cannot make enough hemoglobin to produce fully functioning red blood cells, according to Cleveland Clinic. The lack of healthy red blood cells due to a vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to anemia, which causes pain, trouble walking, memory loss, mood changes, and vision problems.
2. The nutrient plays an important role in DNA formation
Vitamin B12 helps catalyze biological processes that create DNA and RNA, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Per the NIH, people deficient in B12 synthesize DNA slowly. Because DNA is the building block for all cells, people without enough vitamin B12 can develop megaloblastic anemia, when the body produces large, abnormal red blood cells.
The National Organization for Rare Disorders states people with megaloblastic anemia can develop neurological symptoms including:
- Tingling or numbness in the hands and feet
- Balance problems
- Vision loss
- Panic attacks
3. B12 maintains the health and safety of nerves
According to the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, B12, B1, and B6 are known as the “neurotropic” B vitamins because they play a part in maintaining a healthy central and peripheral nervous system.
Vitamin B12 helps form myelin, which is a protective sheath wrapped around the nerves. Myelin sheaths allows nerves to send electrical impulses to other nerves quickly and efficiently, per Cleveland Clinic.
The nutrient also plays an important role in creating new nerves and repairing nerves after injury, CNS said. A deficiency in B12 can create a “tremendous health problem,” manifesting in a breakdown of the brain’s spinal cord, damage to the nerves outside the brain, and impaired cognitive function.
4. Too little vitamin B12 could weaken bones
Low levels of vitamin B12 has been linked to osteoporosis, or the weakening of bones. A 2015 review found a lack of B12 might trigger the body to make “osteoclasts,” or cells that breakdown bone.
However, too much B12 could also harm your bones. A study of 75,000 post-menopausal woman found those taking supplements that far exceeded the recommended daily amount of B12 had an increased risk for hip fracture.