Vitamin B12: The Most Important Nutrient You Aren’t Thinking About

By David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center Director, Integrative Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital

Posted on | By David L. Katz MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP | Comments ()

If you aren’t getting enough vitamin B12, it is indeed very important – and you may very well not be thinking about it. One reason you aren’t thinking about it is that we tend to fall in (and out!) of love with one nutrient at a time (such as vitamin C, beta carotene, lycopene and so on), and vitamin B12 isn’t the nutrient du jour. But the other reason you may not be thinking about it is … because you can’t. A deficiency of vitamin B12 can limit your ability to think clearly about anything! (More on that momentarily.)

Like all vitamins, B12 is an organic compound, made from carbons (as opposed to minerals, which are inorganic), and essential for our normal metabolic function and health. Also, like most vitamins, B12 plays a wide variety of roles in our metabolism. The short list of important effects B12 has on your health includes these:

  1. Vitamin B12 is essential for the manufacture of red blood cells; a deficiency leads to a characteristic kind of anemia
  2. Vitamin B12 is needed to support the normal function of nerve cells, and to manufacture myelin, the insulating material that surrounds some of our nerve cells and speeds neural transmission
  3. Vitamin B12 is required for the replication of DNA

Each of these effects is obviously quite important, but note the third one in particular. When B12 is deficient, our DNA cannot replicate normally – meaning we can’t generate new, healthy cells. As a result, vitamin B12 deficiency can mimic all of the effects of aging.

David L. Katz MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP

Article written by David L. Katz MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP
Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center Director, Integrative Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital