These B vitamins are part of a team of eight called vitamin B complex. Folic acid and Vitamin B6 and B12 work closely together and are essential for good health.
Why take them?
Folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 are necessary for the production of red blood cells. Vitamin B12 also helps keep nerve cells healthy.
Folic acid is critical for the production and maintenance of new cells, especially during infancy and pregnancy. Studies have shown that the risk of neural tube defects in newborns is reduced by 60 to 100 percent when supplemental folic acid is taken in addition to a varied diet in the month before and month after conception. There’s also evidence that links low blood levels of folate to an increased risk of cancer of the cervix, colon, rectum, lung, esophagus, brain, pancreas and breast.
Vitamin B6 is important for the efficient functioning of the nervous and immune systems. Since it facilitates normal nerve-cell communication, researchers are studying its possible relationship with a host of neurological conditions, such as seizures; Parkinson’s disease; chronic pain; and depression. A few recent studies have linked Alzheimer’s disease with vitamin B6 deficiency. One observational study found that higher blood levels of B6 were associated with better performance on two measures of memory but were unrelated to performance on 18 other cognitive tests. It has yet to be determined whether a mild deficiency contributes to age-associated declines in mental function.
If you decide to boost your intake of these vitamins, your best bet is to take a high-potency multivitamin (usually labeled “ultra” or “high-potency’) or vitamin B complex supplement. “Balance is the key.”
Vitamin B12 is found mostly in animal products, so strict vegetarians are higher risk for deficiency. Adults over 50 are also prone to B12 deficiency because absorption depends on the normal functioning of the stomach, pancreas and small intestine, which can decrease as people age. Studies suggest that low level of vitamin B12 may increase the risks of some cancers. A recent observational study found that postmenopausal women with high blood levels of the vitamin. What isn’t clear is whether decreased blood levels of vitamin B12 are cause or result of breast cancer.
Vitamin B12 and Red Blood Cells
What are some of the specific functions that a Vitamin B12 supplement can help our body perform? As was previously stated, Vitamin B12 is essential in helping the body form red blood cells properly. Inadequate Vitamin B12 can thus result in a form of anemia called megaloblastic anemia.
When your body starts to form red blood cells, it starts off as a large red blood cell. However, as it becomes more and more mature, the large red blood cell will eventually start to shrink. The mature red blood cell needs to be small so that it can traverse the blood vessels and sinusoids properly, delivering much needed oxygen to the tissue.
With a deficiency of Vitamin B12, the red blood cell will fail to mature and will remain large, resulting in megaloblastic anemia, like what is shown in the picture on the right. This can cause a person to become excessively fatigued and feel a constant lack of energy to work and do things.
Vitamin B12 and The Brain
Another important function that is specific to Vitamin B12 alone is the formation of fatty sheaths around peripheral nerves. When a person fails to ingest enough Vitamin B12 food, synthesis of this fatty sheath (called myelin) will be interrupted and nerve signaling will be faulty, causing the person to have abnormal tingling sensations and sometimes even to move abnormally.
The last of important Vitamin B12 benefits is its role in acetylcholine formation. Remember that acetylcholine is important in memory and cognition; in fact, deficiency of this neurotransmitter may cause a person to have Alzheimer’s disease. Recent research has in fact shown that intake of a Vitamin B supplement can help not just prevent, but reverse neurodegenerative diseases! All these attest clearly to the importance of a good Vitamin B12 diet.
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
What happens when we don’t get enough Vitamin B12? This can be a tricky problem to diagnose, even for physicians and health professionals, because the symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency can be myriad. Some of the most common symptoms include abnormal gait, chronic fatigue, and depression. All these can be explained by megaloblastic anemia and a malfunctioning nervous system.
What food are they in?
Green vegetables, beans, whole grains and orange juice all have folic acid. Animal foods, such as fish and meats, contain high amounts of vitamin B6 and B12. Vitamin B6 is also present in chickpeas, potatoes, avocados and bananas. Additional sources of vitamin B12 include eggs, cheeses and fortified breakfast cereals.