By Dr. Mercola
Practically everybody knows getting the right amount of vitamins is important. Occasionally, new information arises that shows some vitamins to be of greater consequence than previously thought, often because they deal with crucial functions throughout your body.
That’s true with vitamin B12, not only because it directly influences metabolism in every one of your cells throughout your brain and nervous system, as it regulates and synthesizes DNA and how your blood is formed, but because of new findings that suggest vitamin B12 may be far more important to microbial life than previously thought.
The evidence, revealed by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington, shows that vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, may in fact play a “pivotal” role in cell growth and coordination of cells in complex multicellular systems.
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), reported two “unexpected discoveries” as a result of their research.1 One publication noted that while B12 is produced by a mere few organisms, it’s required by nearly all of them and, as such, holds a lot of clout.
Chemist Aaron Wright and his team studied a microbial “mat” taken from Hot Lake in Washington state. EurekAlert described it as a “community” of microbe layers with lots of members “living together and trading nutrients like carbon and oxygen in hot, salty water, thick with growth of algae and other micro-organisms.”2
Probing Vitamin B12’s Influence on Crucial Functions
Wright noted the enormous amount of energy required for a microbe to synthesize the 30 biochemical steps in the process of making B12, “signifying that the substance is highly valuable and carries out important functions.”3
According to EurekAlert,4 Wright’s team made a chemical mock-up B12 to work just like the original, but which offers greater options for scientists to track living cells.
They used affinity-based protein profiling to tag molecules that are most active, and a technique called mass spectrometry to determine which proteins held the most interest. New Hope Network noted:
“Wright’s team found that B12 interacts with 41 different proteins in the bacterium, and … is central to the regulation of folate, ubiquinone, and methionine — substances crucial to the ability of microbial cells to create energy, build proteins, repair DNA and grow.
The findings about methionine show an expanded influence of B12 compared to what has been known. The vitamin also changes the instructions it sends to genes depending on whether it's day or night — not a surprise in a community of organisms for which light is a central driver.”5
Scientists have probed the role of B12 in genes, and enzymatic microbes involved in DNA and protein development, for years, but two more scientists, Andrew Goodman at Yale and Michiko Taga at University of California at Berkeley, also previously disclosed even more functions of this vitamin.
The Importance of Vitamin B12 in Your Diet
Vitamin B12 is connected to the proteins in food. Once it’s consumed, the hydrochloric acid in your stomach separates out the B12, which then combines with a compound known as intrinsic factor so it can be absorbed by your intestines.
New cell production and maintenance, as well as DNA synthesis, makes vitamin B12 vital for health.
Left unattended, low vitamin B12 levels could result in neurological problems or inefficient blood cell production. One indication is a “pins and needles” sensation resembling electric shock waves due to low oxygen levels. Other symptoms include:6
✓ Unexplained fatigue
✓ Pale complexion
✓ Muscle weakness
✓ Poor vision
✓ Nervous system damage
✓ Menstrual difficulties
✓ Mouth sores
✓ Weight loss
One study noted that vitamin B12 deficiency also may be linked to fractures, as men over age 75 in the lowest quadrant of B12 blood concentrations had 70 percent more fractures, and 120 percent of the time they were in the lumbar region.7
To get the proper amounts, it must be consumed and absorbed for optimal metabolism. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), required amounts of vitamin B12 in supplement form are:8
- 0.5 micrograms for children age 7 to 12 months
- 0.9 micrograms for children age 1 to 3 years
- 1.2 micrograms for children age 4 to 8 years
- 1.8 micrograms for children age 9 to 13
- 2.4 micrograms for people from age 14 and above
Pregnant women are advised to take 2.6 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day, while breastfeeding women should take 2.8 micrograms.
Vitamin B12 Helps Protect Against Birth Risks and Other Problems
According to a study conducted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, women with a B12 deficiency had a 21 percent greater likelihood of having a preterm birth.9
The 11-country study assessed 11,216 pregnancies and births, which showed this to be the case. (Mayo Clinic defines preterm births as those which take place before 37 weeks of pregnancy have transpired, or three weeks before the baby’s due date.)10
Birth weight in the Norwegian study did not appear to be affected by low B12, but around the world, low birth weight and preterm births are the cause of 50 percent of infant deaths that occur during the first 28 days of life.11
Further, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that complications with preterm births are the leading cause of death for children under age 5.12 Tormod Rogne, Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Public Health and General Practice and lead study author at Norway’s Akershus University Hospital, noted:
“Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient found only in products of animal origin such as meat, milk and eggs. Pregnant women who consume too few animal-derived foods increase their risk of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency.”13
As important as it is to get adequate amounts of vitamin B12, it’s important to choose high-quality foods to maintain optimal levels.
Vegetarians and Vegans at Higher Risk of B12 Deficiency Also Have Options
Socioeconomic status, such as poverty, malnutrition or social upheaval in some areas of the world, can play into a higher risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency among women in such populations, affecting length of pregnancies, possibly babies’ birth weight and subsequent health.
So can vegetarianism — and especially veganism. The difference is that while the former group will often eat eggs, fish and dairy, the latter group generally doesn’t, necessitating that these individuals be more conscious of their nutrient intake.
Nutritional yeast and other foods fortified with B12 present one way vegetarians (or anyone else, for that matter) can augment their B12 intake through their diet.
Raw, organic grass-fed milk, yogurt and cheese — meaning it must be derived from pastured cows that ate mostly grass and hay — are additional options with naturally high B12 content.
Fortified coconut milk (i.e., it must be enriched with B12) is another source for both vegetarians and vegans, but a vegan diet isn’t one I would recommend, as a vitamin B12 deficiency — not to mention all the other vital nutrients vegans may miss in their diets — can cause serious problems such as brain abnormalities and an inability to fight disease.