Vitamin B-12 is an essential nutrient that assists with several processes in your body. This water-soluble vitamin is found in seafood, meat, dairy products and fortified cereals. Vitamin B-12 helps your body form cells, keep your nervous system healthy and properly metabolize food. Not getting enough vitamin B-12 can affect your nerve function and contribute to some types of anemia.
Vitamin B-12 plays a role in the formation of red blood cells. It works with folate, another B vitamin, to regulate the production of red blood cells. It also helps iron work more efficiently. A deficiency of vitamin B-12 can cause megaloblastic anemia, which is characterized by larger-than-normal red blood cells. Pernicious anemia, a blood abnormality, can cause vitamin B-12 deficiency if not treated. Vitamin B-12 is also instrumental in making your genetic material in DNA and RNA, so it is important that pregnant women get adequate amounts of the vitamin.
Vitamin B-12 helps your body make and maintain healthy nerve cells. While vitamin B-12 deficiency is not common, even slightly low levels can cause abnormal neurological symptoms. A deficiency may result in nerve disturbances, such as muscle weakness, shaky movements or tingling in the hands and feet. You are most at risk for a deficiency if you are a strict vegetarian or vegan, are elderly or if you have had stomach surgery.
Vitamin B-12 plays a role in metabolism, along with the other B vitamins. The vitamin helps your body convert food to energy, breaking carbohydrates down into more simple sugars. B vitamins also help your body digest proteins and fats. This helps your body use the food you eat more efficiently as fuel.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating a balanced diet to meet nutrient needs through real food rather than supplements. Vitamin B-12 is abundant in fish, especially salmon, trout and tuna and clams. Liver and red meats also contain high amounts of this vitamin. Dairy products such as low-fat milk, yogurt and cheeses are also recommended sources. Vegetarians can obtain the vitamin from supplements or fortified ready-to-eat breakfast cereals.
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