Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is an essential vitamin that your body needs but cannot produce.
It’s found naturally in animal products, but also added to certain foods and available as an oral supplement or injection.
Vitamin B12 has many roles in your body. It supports the normal function of your nerve cells and is needed for red blood cell formation and DNA synthesis.
Vitamin B12 may benefit your body in impressive ways, such as by boosting your energy, improving your memory and helping prevent heart disease.
Here are 5 health benefits of vitamin B12, all based on science.
- Helps With Red Blood Cell Formation and Anemia Prevention
Vitamin B12 plays a vital role in helping your body produce red blood cells.
Low vitamin B12 levels cause a reduction in red blood cell formation and prevent them from developing properly.
Healthy red blood cells are small and round, whereas they become larger and typically oval in cases of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Due to this larger and irregular shape, the red blood cells are unable to move from the bone marrow into the bloodstream at an appropriate rate, causing megaloblastic anemia.
When you’re anemic, your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells to transport oxygen to your vital organs. This can cause symptoms like fatigue and weakness.
- May Prevent Major Birth Defects
Adequate vitamin B12 levels are crucial to a healthy pregnancy.
Studies show that a fetus’s brain and nervous system require sufficient B12 levels from the mother to develop properly.
Vitamin B12 deficiency in the beginning stages of pregnancy may increase the risk of birth defects, such as neural tube defects. Furthermore, maternal vitamin B12 deficiency may contribute to premature birth or miscarriage.
For women with a vitamin B12 deficiency and levels below 150 mg/dL the risk was five times higher, compared to women with levels above 400 mg/dL (4Trusted Source).
Vitamin B12 deficiency has been associated with memory loss, especially in older adults.
The vitamin may play a role in preventing brain atrophy, which is the loss of neurons in the brain and often associated with memory loss or dementia.
One study in people with early-stage dementia showed that a combination of vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acid supplements slowed mental decline.
Another study found that even vitamin B12 levels on the low side of normal can contribute to poor memory performance. As a result, supplementing with this vitamin may improve memory, even in the absence of a clinically diagnosed deficiency.
Vitamin B12 supplements have long been touted as the go-to product for a surge of energy.
All B vitamins play an important role in your body’s energy production, though they don’t necessarily provide energy themselves.
Currently, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that vitamin B12 supplements can boost energy in those with sufficient levels of this vitamin.
Since vitamin B12 is water-soluble, your body cannot store extra amounts. Any excess passes through your body and is eliminated when you urinate.
On the other hand, if you’re significantly deficient in vitamin B12, taking a supplement or increasing your intake will likely improve your energy level.
In fact, one of the most common early signs of vitamin B12 deficiency is fatigue or lack of energy.
- May Improve Heart Health by Decreasing Homocysteine
High blood levels of the common amino acid homocysteine have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
If you’re significantly deficient in vitamin B12, your homocysteine levels become elevated.
Studies have shown that vitamin B12 helps decrease homocysteine levels, which may reduce your risk of heart disease.
However, there is currently no scientific evidence to confirm that vitamin B12 supplements are effective in this regard.
Therefore, further research is needed to understand the relationship between vitamin B12 and heart health.
Given vitamin B12’s role in cell production, adequate levels of this vitamin are needed to promote healthy hair, skin and nails.
In fact, low vitamin B12 levels can cause various dermatologic symptoms, including hyperpigmentation, nail discoloration, hair changes, vitiligo (the loss of skin color in patches) and angular stomatitis (inflamed and cracked mouth corners).
Supplementing with vitamin B12 has been shown to improve dermatologic symptoms in people with B12 deficiency.
However, if you’re well-nourished and not deficient in this vitamin, taking a supplement is unlikely to improve your skin, nail strength or hair health.
The Bottom Line
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that you must obtain through diet or supplements.
It’s responsible for many bodily functions and may benefit your health in various ways, such as by preventing major birth defects, supporting bone health, improving mood and maintaining healthy skin and hair.
Getting enough vitamin B12 through your diet is crucial. However, if you struggle to obtain enough or have a condition that affects absorption, supplements are a simple way to increase your B12 intake.