More about Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is one of the most intriguing vitamins and also one of the most complex. Its role in the operations of our bodies is diverse — from maintaining the nervous system, red blood cells, and energy metabolism to the proper functioning of our brains, hearts, livers, and kidneys to being a building block of DNA. Clearly, it is essential for optimal health, performance, and well-being.
Supporting optimal health
A necessity for our nervous systems to function properly, Vitamin B12 nourishes the outer covering of our nerves called the myelin sheathe, promoting healthy conduction of energy throughout the entire nervous system. By protecting our nerve cells, B12 indirectly influences our ability to see, hear, think, and move — for life. Speaking of life, B12 aids in the normal formation of the substance that keeps life flowing within: the red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout our bodies.
B12, a red crystalline compound (hence the name "the red vitamin"), also helps metabolize iron, carbohydrates, and fats and is needed for proper digestion and absorption of other nutrients from food. By aiding the formation of the powerful chemical signal in our brains acetylcholine, Vitamin B12 supports memory and learning capabilities as well.
Vitamin B12, in its injectable form, was at one time commonly prescribed for people with chronic fatigue syndrome and showed remarkably positive results when it came to boosting energy levels. No evidence, though, has shown injections to be more effective than oral supplementation, and they're certainly less pleasant, so they're rarely used today.
Serious deficiencies of Vitamin B12 are rare in healthy individuals who consume a balanced diet — balanced meaning that it includes meats as a source of protein. Vegetarians clearly do not fall into this range and thus have a much higher occurrence of deficiency, as Vitamin B12 is not found in plants.
There are a few specific conditions that greatly increase the potential of a Vitamin B12 deficiency, such as pernicious anemia, a condition where the body fails to produce a sufficient amount of a protein enzyme that is required to absorb B12.
More common (and treatable) cases of Vitamin B12 deficiency are the result of absorption rates of B12 declining with age. Deficiencies are often seen with the elderly, who may not be eating enough nutritious foods to meet their needs. Thus, the importance of supplementing a healthy diet is increased.
Symptoms of deficiency
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency may include (among others) a lowered red blood cell count that results in decreased energy levels and a tendency to be easily fatigued, a paleness to the skin, and shortness of breath.
Neurological impairment can include tingling and numbness in the hands and feet in addition to cognitive impairment, including irritability, moodiness, depression, inability to concentrate, and memory lapses.
Just a glimpse at the many vitally important roles Vitamin B12 plays in our bodies' optimal operation brings a heightened respect for the word "essential." While I have no plans of running my body low on any essential nutrients, Vitamin B12 is definitely not one I would care to run at or below the deficiency level. And while I have yet to find a direct, scientific connection to B12's status as the "energy vitamin," it clearly plays many critical roles in the process of energy and our overall health.