You can’t survive without vitamin B12 aka cobalamin. The human body uses this vitamin for a number of important roles, and not getting enough B12 will lead to a variety of unpleasant problems. Some of these are serious, and vitamin B12 deficiency can even be fatal. So not getting enough B12 is obviously bad, but what does your body actually need it for?
Energy, Blood and DNA
First off, cobalamin plays a key role in the synthesis of DNA, and as such is heavily involved in the metabolism of every single cell that makes up your body. Creating chemical energy and synthesizing fatty acids are also important processes that require plenty of B12.
But B12 isn’t only essential at the cellular level, but on a larger scale as well. The vitamin is needed for the formation of red blood cells, and it’s necessary for the nervous system and the brain to function properly too.
B12 And Your Brain
There’s a growing amount of evidence to suggest that higher levels of vitamin B12 in the blood might help to protect elderly people from various types of age-related mental degeneration. This includes impaired memory, brain shrinkage and Alzheimer’s.
The medical applications of B12 are pretty significant. As you might expect, the most common is treating B12 deficiency. This can be done in a number of ways, but simple supplements (preferably containing methylcobalamin rather than other forms of B12) are normally the simplest way to alleviate the condition.
Unfortunately, there are a few medications that have negative interactions with vitamin B12 – you can find out more by reading our article Interactions Of B12 With Medication.
B12 As A Poison Antidote
A more surprising use for cobalamin is in the treatment of acute cyanide poisoning. This is normally done by administering a large dose of B12 intravenously. What makes this extra surprising is the fact that cyanocobalamin (the form of B12 found in most supplements) will actually release small amounts of cyanide into the body.
Using B12 To Treat Canker Sores
Another popular use for cobalamin is in the treatment and prevention of canker sores. Low B12 levels are a known risk factor for these small and painful oral lesions, so supplementing your intake can reduce your chances of suffering from canker sores in future.
Rarer Uses for B12
A less frequent application is the treatment of a hereditary condition related to deficiency of a chemical known as transcobalamin II.
The Connection With Pernicious Anemia
B12 is also used as part of the ‘Schilling test‘, a useful method for diagnosing pernicious anemia. This is an extremely serious illness forever linked to vitamin B12 deficiency – it was through this illness that B12 was first discovered.
For the simplest possible conclusion, I’ll just say that B12 is unbelievably important for your health. So if there’s any chance at all that you might not be getting enough, it’s probably worth taking some B12 supplements to make sure your body is getting what it needs!
From top to bottom, images are courtesy of dream designs, digitalart and jscreationzs, all at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.