Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is needed to form red blood cells and DNA, and plays important roles in the function and development of brain and nerve cells. B12 is mostly found in animal products like fish, meat, chicken, eggs, and dairy, as it binds to protein. When it reaches your stomach, hydrochloric acid and enzymes unbid the B12 into its “free form,” or the purest version available to your body without any other competing nutrients. From here, it combines with a protein called “intrinsic factor,” which allows for it to be absorbed later on in your small intestine.
So what benefits do you get from supplementing with B12, or adding it to your diet? Keeping your B12 levels in a healthy range is essential for a plethora of bodily functions.
Fatigue doesn’t just mean you didn’t get enough sleep. Consistently low energy levels are actually a symptom of a Vitamin B12 deficiency, so if you’re following a vegan or vegetarian diet and are feeling a little sluggish, this could be the cause.
RED BLOOD CELLS + CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH
B12 is essential for cardiovascular health and in the generation of red blood cells, as Dr. Tiffany Lester, The Nue Co.'s medical advisor, points out, “B12 plays an important role in red blood cells by allowing them to be produced.” Because red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen throughout our body, “a deficiency can cause fatigue and shortness of breath,” explains Dr. Lester.
A lack of Vitamin B12 can also increase levels of homocysteine, a protein that is linked to increased risk of heart disease and stroke when levels are too high. Maintaining a healthy amount of B12 helps keep the risk level from elevating.
In recent years, high homocysteine levels have also been linked to Alzheimer’s, dementia, and cognitive decline, so keeping up Vitamin B12 levels may also have long term effects on cognitive health.
WHO SHOULD SUPPLEMENT WITH IT
The best way to get B12 is through diet as the vitamin is already in its free form and able to be absorbed more easily. That being said, because B12 is naturally found in animal products, it can be tricky for vegans and vegetarians to get the right amount. “If you are vegan you should take it long-term,” says Dr. Lester, however noting that if you are deficient and “if you eat animal products and supplement for a month, then levels will typically return to normal.”
If you are looking for a vegan option for supplementing Vitamin B12, a great way to do so is with our ENERGY FOOD + PREBIOTIC, a caffeine-free daily powder that delivers over 100% of your daily B12. It also contains ingredients like adaptogens ashwagandha, maca, and astragalus, which help reduce cortisol (stress) levels and sustain energy over time.
B12 FAQs with Dr. Tiffany Lester
To make sure that absolutely every B12 question was answered, however, we consulted with Dr. Lester. Here are some important questions and their answers:
How can I tell if I am deficient in Vitamin B12? What are the symptoms?
You need to be tested. A simple blood test from your doctor can tell what your numbers are. Ideally your levels should be 500-700. Symptoms of low B12 may include shortness of breath, fatigue, weakness, numbness/tingling, brain fog, and constipation.
Are there any serious medical conditions that could be caused by a B12 deficiency?
B12 stores last for years so it can take awhile to become truly deficient. If that does occur, you can have long term nerve damage, anemia, and chronic fatigue.
I’m vegan. Are there any foods that I can consume regularly that have B12?
Yes! Nutritional yeast is a favorite of mine to recommend and can be sprinkled on veggies, popcorn, or even added to soups. Other plant based foods include tempeh, seaweed, and mushrooms.
Can I take B12 if I’m pregnant or breastfeeding?
Yes it is safe to take while pregnant or breastfeeding. The dosage you need depends on your current levels.
Can I take B12 regularly even if I'm not deficient? What benefits does a B12 supplement provide?
Absolutely. Many people take a multivitamin or B complex to supplement the cracks in their diet. While we all do our best, taking about 500 mcg a day may help to support your overall health.