As we age, it becomes more and more difficult to absorb the vitamins we need to maintain our health. Vitamin B12 is especially hard because our bodies don’t make it naturally. Our bodies can only absorb Vitamin B12 through the foods we eat or through supplements. Yet it is a vital vitamin for good health. The Vitamin B12 benefits people see can make the difference between great health and all sorts of problems.
Most of the Vitamin B12 benefits revolve around three areas of the body:
- The production of hemoglobin
- Improvement of nerve strength and
- The regulation of homocysteine levels
Hemoglobin is the compound in the blood responsible for bringing oxygen all over your body. The Vitamin B12 benefits for nerve strength should be pretty obvious.
Homocysteine is an amino acid produced by your body. If the levels of Homocysteine become too high, your chances of having a heart attack or stroke spike up. Vitamin B12 interacts with Homocysteine to ensure any excess amino acid is expelled from the body.
Problems of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Not having enough B12 in your body can cause a whole host of problems. One of the biggest problems for older people is that it can lead to cognitive decline (loss of memory). Think of how important it is for Oxygen to head up to your brain. Remember (no pun intended) that Vitamin B12 helps produce hemoglobin that transports the oxygen up to the old noggin.
Here are some other problems with Vitamin B12 deficiency and a video explaining some of them:
- Numbness or tingling in the hands, legs, or feet
- Balance problems (increasing fall risks for seniors)
- Megoblastic Anemia
- Jaundice – yellowed skin
The Megoblastic Anemia is just a fancy term for the bodies inability to synthesize DNA during hemoglobin production. Come to think of it, that’s a pretty technical description as well. Just think of it as bad for carrying oxygen around your body. The problems of not receiving enough oxygen include what you would think – shortness of breath, muscle weakness, and possibly nausea and paleness.
Vitamin B12 Benefits
You would think that most of the Vitamin B12 benefits would be to stop the problems with the deficiencies. And you would be right about that. But there are a few other benefits we will mix in with this list:
- Help Prevent Alzheimers and cognitive decline– Just taking Vitamin B12 (or any other B vitamin) supplement will not lower your risk of memory loss. But if you have a Vitamin B12 deficiency, you may be at greater risk for the disease. High Homocysteine levels seem to belinkedto higher risks for Alzheimer’s. Maintaining adequate levels of B12 will regulate the Homocysteine and bring down your risks.
- Reduce chances for Hearing Loss– By helping improve blood flow and oxygen transport all over your body, your ears will resist hearing loss better.
- Improve Macular Degeneration – A study from the National Institute for Health of 5,000 women showed that supplementing with Vitamin B12 benefits of supplementing on macular degeneration. The 7-year study also had the women taking B6 and Folate supplements. The vitamin combination seemed to reduce the chances for this dread eye disease by 34% in women over 40 and 41% for more severe forms of the disease.
- Anemia – We mentioned this above, but it’s worth saying again. It is much easier for the adult population to not have enough hemoglobin and consequently to feel tired and weak. Vitamin B12 helps reduce anemia. Consequently, it will help with feelings of fatigue and weakness that many older adults experience.
- Aids with Depression Symptoms– One of the processes Vitamin B12 helps is Serotonin Serotonin is a chemical in your body that is intimately involved in regulating moods. Low levels of Serotonin are associated with depression. Don’t think that taking a ton of Vitamin B12 will cure your depression. It is one part of a potential treatment program. Please consult a health professional if you have depression.
- Sleep-Wake Rhythm Disorder Improvement – Some people just cannot maintain a regular sleep schedule. Vitamin B12 in one studywas able to help both younger and older people who were having this problem move their sleep schedule to the normal rhythm of the day-night cycle. When they were removed from the B12, they had trouble again. Vitamin B12 benefits also assist in Melatonin production, which is very important for a good night’s sleep.
- Lowers the Chances of Birth Defects – Although most elderly people are not too concerned with giving birth (for a crazy exception see here), they do have children who are making grandchildren. B12 helps in a baby’s development including their:
- Neural tube
- Brain function
- Blood cell formation
- Pain Reduction– We mentioned above that a deficiency in Vitamin B12 can give you feelings of numbness and tingling. Therefore adequate levels of B12 can relieve those feelings. It can also provide relief for other pains:
- Reduce Chance of Stroke and Heart Attack– As we mentioned above, high Homocysteine levels can greatly increase your stroke and heart attack risk. So you get it – proper levels lower your risk!
- Helps your skin – Studies (hereand here) are showing that rubbing B12 ointment on your skin may help people with dermatitis. It helps your skin by scavenging Nitrous Oxide (NO) which contributes to the skin problems.
- Contributes to Better Digestion– Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria in the guts of animals, including humans! We have to eat other animals to put the bacteria in our gut. Once there the Vitamin B12 helps the good bacteria digest other food. They also prevent the growth of bad bacteria that can lead to conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Obtaining Vitamin B12 Benefits Through Diet
The main foods that can provide Vitamin B12 are all animal-based. That’s why it is especially important for Vegans and Vegetarians to add a Vitamin B12 supplement to their diets. We’re not knocking Plant-Based eaters. We heartily endorse them. It’s just that they may need to add a supplement or two.
Most animal food contains some Vitamin B12. Some of the best sources include:
- Fish (Sardines, Salmon, Herring and Mussels)
Of course to really optimize the levels, the fish should be wild caught (not farm-raised) and the eggs, chicken and beef should be free range organic. The milk should be raw if possible.
Some cereals are also fortified with Vitamin B12. Check the labels to see what percentage of the US recommended daily allowance the cereal has. Of course eating Frosted Flakes for Vitamin B12 will also give you a lot of sugar and other unhealthy foods. This doesn’t seem like the best way to obtain Vitamin B12 benefits.
Obtaining Vitamin B12 Benefits through Supplementation
Vegans, Vegetarians, and maybe those who just don’t like fish can still maintain B12 levels through supplementation. It’s a good idea to consult a health professional about the right supplements for you.
There are two types of Vitamin B12 supplements:
- Cyanocobalamin – If you read other articles about B12, they will probably refer to B12 by this name. That’s because it is the most popular form of B12. Why is it so popular? Because it is the synthetic, lab-produced form of B12. It’s not found in nature. It’s also the cheapest form. Your body will take this form of B12 and convert it into Methylcobalamin.
- Methylcobalamin – Although a bit more expensive, this form of Vitamin B12 is the natural form. Because your body does not need to convert it, the Vitamin B12 benefits appear in your body much more quickly and easily. If you have to choose between the two possible forms of B12, Methylcobalamin would probably be better.
Generally it seems like around 2.4 micrograms daily works for most people to maintain adequate levels. Pregnant and nursing women should take a little more, since they are ‘eating for 2’. Your health care provider can determine an optimum level.
Don’t worry about overdosing on Vitamin B12. Your body won’t absorb any more than it needs. Any excess B12 will just go out in your urine. You’re just raising the cost of your pee.
We’d love to help you with any questions you have about diet or elder care. We have contracted with a nurse, personal trainer, nutritionist and several doctors in the area to answer any questions you may have. You can contact us through the main pageof our website, email us at Cam@aparadiseforparents.comor call us at 623-295-9890. We’d love to help in any way we can.