by Andrew Weil, MD
What is vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12, also known as cyanocobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin that is part of the B vitamin family. B vitamins help support adrenal function, help calm and maintain a healthy nervous system, and are necessary for key metabolic processes. Vitamin B12 is important to DNA synthesis and maintaining healthy nerve cells.
Why is vitamin B12 necessary?
Knowing the facts about vitamin B12 is vital: this essential micronutrient affects the development and maintenance of red blood cells, nerve cells, and normal myelination (covering) of nerve cells. It also aids in the production of DNA and RNA, and the production of neurotransmitters.
What are the signs of a deficiency?
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include fatigue, muscle weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, numbness, heart palpitations, bleeding gums and mouth sores, nausea, poor appetite and diarrhea. Symptoms may present themselves slowly and may not be recognized for some time. A deficiency of B12 can produce pernicious anemia, which can lead to memory loss, confusion and even dementia.
Since we obtain vitamin B12 only from animal foods in our diet, deficiencies tend to develop among strict vegetarians, especially vegan children, who eat no animal products. However, the elderly, and those who are unable to absorb vitamin B12 from the intestinal tract are also at risk, as well as those who are pregnant or who suffer hemorrhage or intestinal disorders.