Vitamin B12 is quite fascinating.
Firstly, it’s colour — ruby red — is catchy and makes you think that this vitamin is magnificent.
And second, if you are lacking in B12 and you take its supplement, you will get so much energy that may want to go and run a marathon. It’s that life changing. Thus B12 is often nicknamed as ‘the energy vitamin’ – for obvious reason that it helps your body to use and create energy from the things that you eat.
And B12 is hair changing as well. By taking it you may start regrowing your hair. And also get back your original hair colour.
So What The Heck Is B12?
You probably know B complex. B12 is one of the eight B vitamins. It’s role is to keep our bodies healthy, youthful and in tip top condition.
B12 is the only vitamin that contains a metal element – cobalt. This is why it goes by the chemical name cobalamin. (The cobalt gives this water-soluble vitamin its distinctive red color.)
Interestingly, vitamin B12 has the lowest daily requirement of all the B vitamins. It is needed in about 1/1000th the amount of some other B vitamins. Despite the smallest requirement, B12 is used by every cell in the body – from your DNA to how happy you feel. And of course, it also helps maintains the hair colour and promotes hair growth.
Why Is Vitamin B12 Important
The oxygen we breathe in is circulated throughout the body with the help of red blood cells. And our body needs vitamin B12 to make red blood cell. So when there’s a lack of B12, the red blood cells won’t form properly, plus their numbers will dwindle. As a result, the oxygen transport will suffer. And therefore, the common symptom of B12 deficiency is tiredness, fatigue and breathlessness.
Along with creating red blood cells, vitamin B12 has many roles in our body:
- It is required for healthy brain and nervous system function
- It helps improves memory and cognitive function
- It helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells
- It supports bone health and may prevent osteoporosis
- It also supports healthy skin, hair and nails
- Due to its role in producing serotonin, it helps improve mood and overall feeling of well being
- By reducing homocysteine levels, it can reduce the risk of heart disease
- It is involved in energy production in our body, hence you get that energy boost on taking B12
What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough B12
The trouble with B12 deficiency is that it can go unnoticed for several years. The symptoms can appear gradually and intensify over time. And since the symptoms of B12 deficiency are vague, the condition can be overlooked or confused with something else.
Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms may include:
- a lack of energy
- extreme tiredness
- tingling in the hands and feet
- muscles weakness and balance problems
- a decline in mental abilities, such as memory, understanding and judgement
- mood changes, irritability and depression
- vision disturbances
- pale skin
- mouth ulcers
Given vitamin B12’s role in cells division and growth, adequate levels are needed to promote healthy hair growth. Let’s delve more into the hair topic…
Why Lack Of B12 Causes Hair loss And Greying
Our hair grows each day as the hair cells divide and multiply, pushing the hair out and above the skin surface. You can imagine hair cells stacking up like Lego blocks, the only thing is that it’s building from upside down.
Compared to other cells of the body, hair follicle cells are one of the fastest growing cells. And they are dependent on a regular supply of nutrients. One of them is B12, as it is required for DNA synthesis. Without it, the instructions for building the cells are incomplete, and cells are unable to divide and grow.
Therefore, when the levels of B12 go down, the hair cells can’t multiply properly. This may cause the hair growth to slow down, or in a few cases, even to stop completely. Also, a lack of B12 affects overall health, and if you are unwell, your hair will not thrive. It will suffer too.
The good news is that when Vitamin B 12 levels are restored, hair cells may be able to grow and replicate properly. And your lost hair could grow back in a few months.
How B12 Deficiency Turns Hair Grey
Our body is all interlinked — one compound goes down, the other goes up. So a balance is imperative. When the B12 levels go down, the levels of homocysteine** go up.
Elevated homocysteine is not good for our body as well as our hair. This is because a high level of homocysteine is known to generate hydrogen peroxide – which literally bleaches and the hair from the inside out, turning your hair grey.
Studies have shown that vitamin B12 can lower homocysteine levels, which may thereby help reverse greying and bring back the original colour.
**Homocysteine is a byproduct of protein metabolism that the body clears with the help of vitamin B12. An elevated homocysteine level is a risk factor for heart disease, Alzheimer, and stroke.
Plants don’t make vitamin B12.
It’s made by tiny organisms and bacteria that live in the soil. So when grass-eating animals (such as goat and sheep) eat grass, they become a source of B12. If animals washed grass before eating, they wouldn’t get their supply of B12. Thankfully they don’t. Moreover, grass-eating or herbivorous animals also produce vitamin B12 in their gut.
For this reason, vitamin B12 is naturally found in foods of animal origin. Good sources of B12 include:
Red meat, chicken, eggs and fish.
Also, dairy products — milk, cheese, yoghurt, paneer — are another way of getting vitamin B12.
Plant Food Sources of B12:
I already told you that plants don’t make vitamin B12. Although fermented plant products may contain vitamin B12 as the fermentation process involves the use of microorganism — yeast or bacteria.
So eating foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, idli, dosa may provide you with some amounts of B12. But you need to make sure that these foods are not pasteurized, as pasteurisation can kill good bacteria.
Certain seaweeds and algae such as Chlorella are also considered as a source of B12.
Note: From all the research articles I read, plant foods are considered a non-reliable source of B12. It is a highly debated topic and needs more studies to prove the point.
What Causes Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Obviously, you can develop a vitamin B12 deficiency if you don’t eat enough B12 rich foods. Since B12 is mostly found in animal foods (meat, eggs, dairy and fish), vegans are at high risk for B12 deficiency.
But it’s not that simple…
B12 deficiency can even occur in people who eat dairy and meat products. B12 molecule is very big in size and its absorption is complex and involves a few steps – and if any of the steps go wrong, this vitamin won’t be absorbed
Here’s how B12 is absorbed…
Step 1: Normally, when you eat foods with vitamin B12, the stomach acids release vitamin B12 from the food
Step 2: B12 then combines with a special protein called intrinsic factor (made by cells in the stomach).
Step 3: The combined vitamin B12/intrinsic factor is then absorbed into the body further down the gut at the end of the small intestine.
You may also develop vitamin B12 deficiency if you have:
- Absent or low stomach acids (this will affect the release of B12 from food)
- Atrophic gastritis, in which your stomach lining has thinned
- Surgery that removed part of your stomach or small intestine, including weight loss surgery
- Long term use of medicines that reduce stomach acid (lansoprazole, omeprazole)
- Pernicious anaemia (your body destroys cells that make intrinsic factor)
- Intestinal disorders such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease or other problems that make it difficult for your body to digest foods
- Tapeworm infection
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Exposure to nitrous oxide (laughing gas)
How do you know you have a B12 Deficiency?
B12 deficiency is much more common than previously believed. Figures from this Framingham study suggest that nearly 40 percent of the United States population may be lacking in vitamin B12. Rates may be much higher in Africa, India, and Central and South America.
The signs and symptoms of B12 deficiency are vague, so if you think you may be deficient in this vitamin, you can find out via a blood test.
Especially, if you have turned vegan/vegetarian, it’s likely that you may not be getting enough B12.
Unlike other water-soluble vitamins** (C and B vitamins), B12 doesn’t exit our body quickly in urine. It is stored in your liver, kidneys and other body tissues. So, people who completely give up animal products may go for years before showing any signs and symptoms of a B12 deficiency.
**Water soluble vitamin dissolve in water. Water-soluble vitamins (such as vitamin C and B complex) are carried to the body’s tissues but are not stored in the body. So they must be taken in daily. But vitamin B12 is an exception, and it gets stored for several years.
What is a low B12 level?
B12 is measured with different units in different countries. And it might confuse people and some may think their levels are low. Plus, the normal range may also vary from country to country. So it’s best to consult your doctor, who will determine whether your levels are low or not.
As a general guide, B12 levels should be 191 ng/L or more. (191ng/L is equal to 550 pg/mL or 430 pmol/L approximately) If your vitamin B12 levels are less than this, you clearly lack in B12.
You may also like: Why Zinc Deficiency Causes Hair Loss
B12 Supplements: What is Good?
With all the problems that low B12 can bring, the treatment is simple.
You just take B12 supplement and you will feel immediate improvement in your moods and overall energy. Hair loss or graying will take a few months to reverse.
Some of the ways you can take B12:
- sublingual lozenges
- eating fortified foods
Your doctor will decide the treatment option depending on things like your age, the diet you follow, and your medical condition.
When taking a B12 supplements, here are some suggestions:
- Make sure methylcobalamin and not cyanocobalamin is the active ingredient. Methylcobalamin is more readily absorbed and superior to other forms of B12.
- You can also get B12 in spray form. You spray on your mouth where it directly enters the blood stream.
To sum up:
- B12 is important for many life process such as making of red blood cells, DNA replication, mood regulation, brain health and hair health too.
- It’s mainly found in animal foods, so if you are a vegan or vegetarian consider getting yourself checked.
- B12 deficiency can be easily treated.
- The good news is once the B12 levels are corrected you will see an immediate improvement in your energy and moods.
- Your hair too will take few months to recover.
- Many people taking B12 supplements have found reversal of greying and hair loss.
Do you take vitamin B12? Has it made any difference in your hair/health? Please share your experiences below!
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