Vitamin B12 is required for the formation of DNA (the substance that makes up our genes) and the production of red blood cells (which carry oxygen throughout the body). Vitamin B12 also supports brain function and the normal function of the nervous system. 

Vegetarians and vegans are at higher risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency since this vitamin is mainly found in animal products. To be absorbed, vitamin B12 needs to bind with a protein, called intrinsic factor, produced in the stomach. Certain medical conditions (e.g. incapacity of producing intrinsic factor or producing sufficient gastric acid and pepsin, surgical removal of the ileum, etc.) can lead to vitamin B12 deficiency. Since the capacity of vitamin B12 absorption decreases with age, elderly people are also at risk of deficiency. Notice that healthy levels are crucial during pregnancy.

A lack of vitamin B12 can throw the body off balance and have some significant side effects. A common side effect of low B12 is anemia, which happens when the body does not have enough red blood cells to do its daily job. This can lead to intense weakness and fatigue. Vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause nerve damage and affect our cognitive capacities. Additionally, low levels of active B12 can cause sore and red tongue (glossitis), mouth ulcers, pins and needles (paresthesia), disturbed vision, irritability and depression.

Foods that are rich in vitamin B12 include meat, organ meat*, seafood*, fish*, poultry, eggs, milk and other dairy products (e.g. cheese), fortified breakfast cereal and fermented foods. 

Vitamin B12 can have an impact on sports performance too. It is considered to be an important nutrient for athletes as it helps support energy metabolism and is important for blood health. It also assists in the utilization of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Research proposes that poor levels of vitamin B12 are correlated with a decreased ability to perform high intensity exercises. 

In conclusion, vitamin b12 takes part in many of our body’s essential biological reactions and its levels impact several aspects of our mental and physical health. Therefore, by measuring the levels of the active form of vitamin B12, also called holotranscobalamin, rather than the total vitamin B12 levels, we gain one of the most sensitive ways to find out whether our vitamin B12 levels are within the healthy range.

*Note for pregnant women: the consumption of certain types of organ meat, seafood and fish should be limited/avoided during pregnancy. Please talk to your healthcare provider for more details.

 

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