One Crucial Vitamin You Need
by Dr. Jade Teta
"Eat a balanced diet and there's little need for supplements."
It's a refrain we hear a lot, whether from doctors, dieticians, or even our mothers. And in many cases, it's true. Why waste your money on pricey vitamins when you can easily get them from food?
Well, when it comes to vitamin B12, supplements not only aren't a waste of money – they're a crucial part of optimal health for many people.
See, not everyone can get enough B12 from diet alone. If you don't eat animal products – the richest source of this vitamin – you could be missing out.
And if you're over age 60, you might not even be able to absorb B12 from food.
The result: anemia or other potentially fatal deficiencies.
That's reason enough to seek out supplements.
An added bonus?
Vitamin B12 may have big benefits for your heart, too.
A Healthy Diet Isn't Always Enough…
There's no doubt that vitamin B12 is essential for good health. Our bodies need the largest and most complex of the eight B vitamins to form blood cells, nerve sheaths, and certain proteins.
Researchers discovered the benefits of vitamin B12 in the 1930s, when they found that consuming large amounts of raw liver – which is high in B12 – could save the lives of patients diagnosed with pernicious anemia, a previously untreatable condition.
It was a finding so impressive that the researchers won the Nobel Prize.
But raw liver? Yuck!
Fortunately, other scientists later isolated B12 from liver, making it easier – and more palatable – to get enough of this crucial vitamin.
That's even more important, since some groups of people just can't get B12 from their diet.
See, no plants naturally contain B12 – it's only found in meat and other animal-based foods, as well as fortified products like cereal.
And that's a problem for vegetarians and vegans.
Even if you do eat meat, you still might be dangerously low in vitamin B12. That's because an estimated 15 percent of people over age 60 lack enough intrinsic factor, a compound that helps the body absorb B12 from food. The result?
These groups are at higher risk for developing pernicious anemia and other potentially life-threatening deficiencies.
A Natural Blood Booster…
Pernicious anemia occurs mostly in older people who lack the ability to absorb vitamin B12 properly. When B12 is low, the red blood cells don't function as well as they should, which reduces their ability to ferry oxygen throughout the body.
Other deficiencies of B12 can lead to neurological and psychiatric problems, including muscle weakness, incontinence, dementia, and mood changes.
Research has looked at the effects of vitamin B12 supplementation on the risk of anemia and deficiency.
For example, one study of elderly people who had lower-than-normal levels of B12 found that supplementing with 50 micrograms (mcg) of the vitamin daily led to significant increases in their blood levels of B12.1
This and other evidence suggests that vitamin B12 is a necessary supplement for keeping our blood healthy.
This Vitamin's Got Heart…
But B12 may have other benefits, too.
In fact, a newer area of research suggests that vitamin B12's effects on the cardiovascular system may be even more impressive.
There's good evidence that supplementing with B12 can lower blood levels of homocysteine, a compound that's been linked to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
One study of 300 people found that taking 2 to 10 mcg of B12 a day was associated with decreased levels of homocysteine.2
Another study followed 299 older men for two years. The researchers found that those who supplemented with 400 mcg of B12 a day had significantly lower homocysteine levels, especially if they were previously deficient in the vitamin.3
And a study of 209 people showed that B12 supplementation (0.5 mg) lowered homocysteine after just 4 months.4
Now that's worth taking a daily supplement!
When Supplements are a Must…
Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products such as beef, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products, as well as in some fortified foods (like cereal). But if you don't normally consume these foods – or if you're over age 60 – supplementation is a must.
B12 is typically combined with other B vitamins, such as B6 and folic acid, and sold as B-complex supplements. You may also be able to find individual B12 products.
The recommended daily allowance of B12 to prevent deficiency is just 2.4 mcg daily. But higher doses may be necessary if you have already been diagnosed with pernicious anemia: Sources recommend up to 1,000 mcg a day. To lower homocysteine, take 500 mcg of B12 daily, along with folic acid and vitamin B6.
Vitamin B12 appears safe even in very high doses. That said, it may rarely cause side effects in some people, including itching, diarrhea, and even blood clots. And you should avoid taking B12 if you have an allergy to cobalt, cobalamin, or other ingredients found in these supplements.
Otherwise, vitamin B12 can't hurt – and may very well help – your health.
Remember, keep an open mind to new ideas, but ALWAYS do your own homework… and combine that with common sense to figure out what's best for YOU.
Dr. Jade Teta