What vitamin B12 does to your brain, body, DNA and red blood cells

  • Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient for the formation of red blood cells and DNA.
  • Without enough B12, a person may have difficulty walking, experience memory loss, or TKTK
  • Vitamin B12 is not produced by the body itself and occurs naturally only in animal products.

The 8 “B” vitamins help the body convert food into energy, and they all play an essential role in maintaining healthy hair, nails, eyes, liver and nervous system, according to Mount Sinai.

Vitamin B12 is an especially important nutrient because it helps in the formation of red blood cells and DNA. While vitamin B12 deficiencies are rare in the U.S., vegetarians and vegans are more susceptible to the condition, Dr. Eduardo Villamor, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, previously told Insider.

Villamor said the symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency vary with how long a person has gone without the nutrient.

Mild deficiencies in vitamin B12 lead to fatigue, which can be debilitating at times; doctors recently diagnosed a woman in the UK who experienced extreme fatigue and difficulty walking for years with “dangerously low” vitamin B12 levels.

If anyone is concerned about a vitamin deficiency, dieticians and doctors insider recommend talking to their healthcare provider before taking supplements on their own.

Here are 4 essential roles that vitamin B12 plays in the body:

1. Vitamin B12 is essential for the production of red blood cells

Vitamin B12 plays a particularly important role in the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body.

Vitamin B12 contributes to the complicated process of making hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. B12 activates the chemical “succinyl CoA” which the body eventually turns into hemoglobin.

Without B12, the body cannot make enough hemoglobin to produce fully functioning red blood cells, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The lack of healthy red blood cells due to a vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to anemia, which causes pain, difficulty walking, memory loss, mood swings and vision problems.

2. The nutrient plays an important role in the formation of DNA

Vitamin B12 helps catalyze biological processes that create DNA and RNA, according to the National Institutes of Health.

According to the NIH, people who are deficient in B12 synthesize DNA slowly. Because DNA is the building block of all cells, people without enough vitamin B12 can develop megaloblastic anemia, when the body produces large, abnormal red blood cells.

The National Organization for Rare Disorders states that people with megaloblastic anemia may develop neurological symptoms, including:

  • Tingling or numbness in the hands and feet
  • Balance problems
  • Vision loss
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks

3. B12 maintains nerve health and safety

According to the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, B12, B1 and B6 are known as the “neurotropic” B vitamins because they play a role in maintaining a healthy central and peripheral nervous system.

Vitamin B12 helps form myelin, a protective sheath that wraps around nerves. Myelin sheaths allow nerves to quickly and efficiently send electrical impulses to other nerves, according to Cleveland Clinic.

The nutrient also plays an important role in creating new nerves and repairing nerves after injury, according to CNS. A deficiency in B12 can cause a “massive health problem,” manifesting itself in a breakdown of the brain’s spinal cord, damage to nerves outside the brain, and impaired cognitive function.

4. Too little vitamin B12 can weaken bones

Low levels of vitamin B12 have been linked to osteoporosis, or the weakening of bones. A 2015 review found that a deficiency in B12 can prompt the body to make “osteoclasts,” or cells that break down bone.

However, too much B12 can also be harmful to your bones. A study of 75,000 postmenopausal women found that those who took supplements far exceeding the recommended daily intake of B12 had an increased risk of hip fractures.

What vitamin B12 does to your brain, body, DNA and red blood cells

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