You need to maintain normal levels of vitamin B12 in your blood in order to keep your body healthy, so how do you know if you are getting enough vitamin B12? You can only get vitamin B12 through dietary intake (food or supplement) because your body doesn’t produce vitamin B12 naturally.
Vitamin B12, also known as Cobalamin, is part of B-complex vitamins. It helps your body in numerous ways such as producing red blood cells and tissues, and maintaining a healthy brain function.
How Vitamin B12 is linked to haemoglobin production and anaemia
Vitamin B12 is essential in the production of haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is the primary protein present in the red blood cells, and it carries oxygen that is picked up in the lungs to all our tissue cells for oxygenation. Haemoglobin also carries the carbon dioxide (a waste product) from our tissue cells and releases these in our lungs to be exhaled out. When haemoglobin levels in your blood drop below a certain point, you develop anaemia. Vitamin B12 deficiency affects the production of red blood cells, reducing the amount of red blood cells circulating throughout the body, and as a result reducing our oxygen (and carbon dioxide) carrying capacity and all of its health implications (heavier workload on the heart, damage to our tissue cells, nerve damage, etc.).
The importance of tracking it
Vitamin B12 not only is essential in haemoglobin production, it is also vital in regulating health of our nerve cells, and synthesis or our cell’s DNA. In a deficient state, we risk the consequences of anaemia, and irreversible nerve damage in brain and peripheral nerve cells.
The elderly are more susceptible to vitamin B12 deficiency because their body finds it more difficult to absorb this vitamin. Also at higher risk of vitamin B12 deficiency are vegetarians, diabetics, and those with chronic disorders such as HIV.
Through a simple blood test, you can precisely know your vitamin B12’s status and manage your diet and supplement accordingly to avoid the consequences of its deficiency.
Potential problems of Vitamin B12 deficiency and toxicity
Besides anemia, vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to other complications such as:
- Constipation or diarrhoea, and loss of bowel or bladder control
- Neurological symptoms, like absence of reflexes, decreased sensation of vibration or soft touch
- Dementia and memory loss
- Mania, psychosis
- Personality changes
How to increase your levels of Vitamin B12
The best way to manage vitamin B12 levels is through diet. Food sources of vitamin B-12 include poultry, meat, fish and dairy products. Vitamin B-12 is also added to some foods and is available as an oral supplement. Vitamin B-12 injections or nasal spray might be prescribed to treat vitamin B-12 deficiency. These 5 foods will help you manage a healthy level of vitamin B12:
- Beef liver. Beef liver is loaded with vitamin B12. Eating just 1 ounce of beef liver will give you well over your daily requirements of this vitamin. Beef liver is not only rich in vitamin B12, but also loaded with iron and folate – 3 ingredients that can help you recover from anaemia naturally.
- Lamb. Lamb stays on top of the list of vitamin B12 foods. It is also rich in protein, iron, zinc and selenium. Zinc and selenium are 2 major nutrients that can boost your immune system.
- Sardines. Sardines are rich in vitamin B12, as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are vital to your health. So, try to eat more sardines; it will not only boost your vitamin B12 level, but also improve your heart health, reduce inflammation and help ward off asthma.
- Wild-Caught Salmon and Atlantic mackerel. Salmons are one of the most nutritious protein sources. But, you should make sure these salmons are wild-caught and not from the farm. Wild-caught salmons are loaded with vitamin B12, and also with vitamin D. Similarly, atlantic mackerel is also high in vitamin B12, and low in mercury, which keeps your body healthy.
- Vitamin B12 supplements. Older adults, vegetarians and people who have conditions that affect their ability to absorb vitamin B-12 from foods might benefit from the use of oral supplements. Vitamin B-12 supplements also are recommended for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding exclusively and follow vegetarian or vegan diets. Even if you are not in these categories but have had low vitamin B12 in your blood, it is safe to take vitamin B12 as your body only absorbs what it needs, with any excess passing into your urine.
All in all, do not underestimate the importance of this vitamin, because it is seriously an essential for your health and well-being!
If you’re interested in learning more about Vitamin B12 and how it affects your body, read on more about it in our biomarker post here!
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