Vitamin B12 - The Importance of Children's Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Posted on June 04 2021,
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin that is involved in the metabolism of every cell in the body. It promotes DNA formation by metabolizing fatty acids and amino acids. Vitamin B12 benefits adults and children alike by helping improve blood circulation, contributing to heart health, brain function, mental health, hair growth, nail discoloration, and skin pigmentation loss. It is also important for those who are pregnant because it contributes to healthy fetal development.
In order to keep a balanced diet, it is worth knowing a good vitamin B12 foods list, which primarily includes animal-based food sources. People who follow vegetarian and vegan diets are prone to vitamin B12 deficiency and can benefit from taking supplements in the form of vitamins. Foods that are fortified with vitamin B12 may also be an option for those with restricted diets, and they are more commonly found in developed countries. A vitamin B12 deficiency can be caused by either a lack of the vitamin in one’s diet or an absorption problem. Signs you should test for vitamin B12 deficiency include child fatigue, weakness, pale skin, mood alterations, and difficulty with concentration, among other symptoms.
Parents who have trouble tracking their children’s vitamin intake and who notice their children exhibiting such symptoms might consider having a physician test for vitamin deficiency. Vitamin B12 is absorbed better by the body in small amounts than it is in large supplemental doses; therefore, if a child or a person with dietary restrictions chooses to use a vitamin supplement, it is important to follow guidelines for the appropriate amount without taking it in excess. (1)(2)(3)
How Does Vitamin B12 Function in Your Child’s Body?
One of the primary roles of all B vitamins is to metabolize energy efficiently for normal body functioning. A child who does not have enough vitamin B12 might be fatigued and move slowly. Vitamin B12 is also essential because it is involved in keeping the nerve and blood cells healthy, making the DNA for genetic material and preventing a kind of anemia known as megaloblastic anemia. If vitamin B12 levels are consistently low throughout the growing years, it is very likely that a child will develop osteoporosis, a condition where bones become so weak that they break with minor stress. Additionally, vitamin B12 can affect mood because it helps the body’s serotonin production, so it’s important to attend to a child’s nutrition if they’re noticeably grumpy or down more frequently than normal.
The body absorbs vitamin B12 from food in two stages. First, hydrochloric acid in the stomach isolates nutrient B12 from the protein that it is connected to in food. After, B12 joins with a protein made by the stomach called ‘intrinsic factor’ and is absorbed by the body. A condition called pernicious anemia occurs when a person cannot make intrinsic factor, making it difficult to absorb B12 from both food and supplements. (4)(5)(6)
Why Do Children Need Vitamin B12?Some of the vital benefits of vitamin B12 are listed below:
- Heart health
- Prevents anemia
- Optimizes brain function and fights depression
- Supports growth of healthy hair, skin and nails
- Prevents neural damage
- Prevents eye damage
Heart health: A primary vitamin B12 benefit is to help maintain and even improve blood circulation by balancing the chemical processes that can negatively impact heart functioning if unbalanced. It is important that habits for maintaining a healthy heart begin in childhood to prevent the many negative effects of long-term nutrient deficiency in adult years.
Vitamin B12 is used in the breakdown of a protein called homocysteine, and a deficiency of vitamin B12 can increase levels of this protein. High levels of homocysteine have been connected with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. This is explained by its possible role in the formation of blood clots and an overabundance of free radical cells, as well as impairment of normal blood vessel function. (7)
Prevents anemia: Megaloblastic anemia is a type of anemia in which red blood cells become enlarged and lose their capacity to function properly due to vitamin B12 deficiency. This leads to fatigue and body weakness, and it can severely impact the well-being of children. Vitamin B12 can prevent child anemia, and ensuring healthy eating and supplementation habits from a young age can prevent anemia in adolescent and adult ages due to long-term vitamin deficiency.
Red blood cells are normally small and round, but a vitamin B12 deficiency can cause them to become enlarged and oval, which is a sign of megaloblastic anemia. The irregular shape of cells keeps them from moving from the bone marrow into the bloodstream at a fast enough rate. This type of anemia leads to decreased red blood cell formation and poor development in adolescents. (8)
Optimizes brain function and fights depression: Maintaining adequate levels of vitamin B12 positively affects mood and even aids in the prevention of child depression. When children are down or exhibiting poor behaviors, it is helpful to consult with a doctor to determine whether there is a nutrient deficiency or if there are signs of childhood depression. Child depression symptoms include significant impairment in social, educational or other realms, and can be indicative of chemical, environmental and nutritional imbalances. Supplementation of vitamin B12 might be prescribed by a doctor for child depression treatment if an individual is not getting enough through their regular diet and experiencing a low mood. When your child has depression, it can also be extremely helpful for them to speak to a mental health professional. (9)(12)
Vitamin B12 is a cofactor in the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, both of which affect mood, emotion and sleep. These neurotransmitters also play a part in various psychological disorders. Several studies support the use of vitamin B12 supplements for improving symptoms of depression in those who are deficient. One study in people with depression and low vitamin B12 levels found that those who received both antidepressants and vitamin B12 were more likely to show improved depressive symptoms compared to those treated with antidepressants alone. (10)
Cell production is important for many body functions, including the healthy growth of hair, skin and nails. Supplementing one’s diet with vitamin B12 has been shown to improve dermatologic symptoms in people with B12 deficiency, like hyperpigmentation and nail discoloration. (11)
One study in people with early-stage dementia showed that vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acid supplements slowed processes related to memory loss. Another study found that even minimal amounts of vitamin B12 can affect memory performance. (13)(14)
What Are the Symptoms of B12 Deficiency?
Vitamin B12 deficiency tends to present itself gradually, and the symptoms are commonly mistaken for other ailments. It is important to consult with a doctor if one is experiencing any of the below symptoms for long periods of time because if a vitamin B12 deficiency is left untreated, severe symptoms can occur.
Signs and symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include:
- Pale skin
- Fatigue/muscle weakness
- Numbness or tingling in the hands, legs, or feet
- Difficulty walking (staggering, balance problems)
- A swollen, inflamed tongue or mouth sores
- Vision disturbance
- Changes in mood
- Cognitive difficulties (i.e. thinking and reasoning)
- Memory loss
Pale skin: Pale skin is one of the earliest signs of vitamin B12 deficiency. It indicates abnormally low levels of red blood cells, causing the skin to become yellowish and dull looking. A severe form of this may be diagnosed as a medical condition called jaundice. Vitamin B12 improves the production of red blood cells and diminishes this dullness. (16)
Fatigue: Fatigue is a term used to describe overall lack of energy and inability to complete normal tasks. It is often the result of low red blood cell production, which limits oxygen transport throughout the body. Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin for children and can help them with sustained energy and focus in school and other activities. (17)
Numbness or tingling in the hands, legs, or feet: It is common to experience strange sensations, like tingling or numbness, in the body’s extremities when one does not move for long periods of time. Under normal conditions, this sensation usually fades quickly with movement. Those who experience ongoing tingling or numbness in their body, even to the point of immobility, might be suffering from paraesthesia, a condition in which the nervous system malfunctions due to nerve damage from severe vitamin B12 deficiency. This is, in part, because vitamin B12 is an important contributor to the metabolic pathway that produces the fatty substance myelin. Myelin surrounds the nerves as a form of protection and insulation. (18)
Difficulty Walking: When a child appears more clumsy than normal or even has difficulty with balance and walking, it is possible that they are experiencing a nutrient deficiency. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to damage to the nervous system, which in turn affects one’s balance and coordination in mobility. (19)
Mouth ulcers and sores: An early sign of vitamin B12 deficiency is an inflamed and swollen tongue, with lesions. The presence of mouth ulcers and sores, sometimes leading to a loss of taste and a burning/itching sensation in the mouth can be an indication of vitamin B12 deficiency. When a child has a loss of appetite or difficulty eating, it is important to check their mouths for signs of ulcers/sores that are struggling to heal over time and can be a sign of nutrient deficiency. This can look like a smooth tongue without visible taste buds as they stretch out and disappear on a swollen tongue. A child complaining of not being able to taste is another red flag indicating that a visit to the doctor is necessary. (20)
Disturbance in vision: Children who have difficulty reading or making sense of a clear image in front of them might be suffering from vitamin B12 deficiency. Optic neuropathy has been connected to vitamin B12 deficiency and is a condition in which there is damage to the optic nerve of the eye that transmits nerve signals from the eye to the brain. The good news is that it is reversible by supplementation as prescribed by a medical professional. (21)
Changes in mood: Many factors contribute to one’s mood, and checking on a child’s nutrition is often a good place to start when they are experiencing abnormal mood changes. A physician can test a child’s blood for the presence of various vitamins, determining whether there may be a deficiency and supplementation needed.
Research has shown that depression and dementia (gradual loss of memory) are associated with low levels of vitamin B12, and this phenomenon is often referred to as the “homocysteine hypothesis of depression.” This theory suggests that high levels of homocysteine caused by low levels of B12 can cause damage to the brain tissue, thus interfering with signals to and from the brain and leading to mood changes. (22)
How Much Vitamin B12 Does Your Child Need?
Dosing recommendations for vitamin B12 vary by age, lifestyle and individualized dietary needs. Older folks as well as people who are pregnant and nursing may require higher than average recommended doses for their age groups. The recommended daily amounts for vitamin B12 are listed in micrograms (mcg) below, and they are recommended amounts for both males and females.
|Age||Recommended Daily Amount in micrograms (mcg)|
|Birth to 6 months||0.4 mcg|
|7 to12 months||0.5 mcg|
|1 to 3 years||0.9 mcg|
|4 to 8 years||1.2 mcg|
|9 to 13 years||1.8 mcg|
|14 to 18 years||2.4 mcg|
Should Your Child Take a Vitamin B12 Supplement?
Vitamin B12 is found in various supplemental forms, including children’s vitamin B12 gummies and chewables. Vitamin B12 is also sold in products as a combination supplement with other B vitamins, such as in B-complex form. Tablets for under the tongue, nasal sprays and even injections as prescribed by a doctor can be used in the case of extreme deficiency. (4)
Common supplemental forms of Vitamin B12, such as those listed above, have been found to boost energy levels and mood, especially for those who have suffered from side effects of deficiency, including anemia. People who follow a vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based diet are often deficient in vitamin B12 and can likely benefit from supplementing their diet with vitamins. Likewise, children who do not eat many animal by-products or are picky eaters might be missing vital nutrients in their diet, and parents might consider making a multivitamin a daily part of their health routine. (7)
Which Foods Are High in Vitamin B12?
According to the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, people should get most of their nutrients from food and beverages because natural sources contain vitamins, minerals, dietary fibers and other components that benefit your health. In some cases, such as those with restricted diets or conditions that interfere with nutrient absorption, fortified foods and dietary supplements are useful in meeting dietary needs. Below are several natural sources of vitamin B12 that you might consider adding to your diet. (23)
|Food Name||Serving Size||Amount Per Serving in Micrograms (mcg)|
|Tuna, canned||3 oz||2.5|
|Nonfat, plain Greek yogurt||6 oz||1.3|
|Low-fat milk||1 cup||1.2|
|Chicken breast||3 oz||0.3|
|Fortified cereal*||1 cup||6|
|Nutritional yeast*||1 tbsp||5|
|Fortified non-dairy milks*||1 cup||3|
*Foods that do not contain animal by-products
Risks and Side Effects of Vitamin B12
Can you take too much vitamin B12? Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble nutrient, so excess amounts will leave the body through urine. Nutrition experts suggest that up to 1000 mcg daily of an oral supplement can safely be used to treat insufficient uptake or deficiency of vitamin B12. The Institute of Medicine indicates that there are no adverse effects that have been associated with excess vitamin B12 intake from food and supplements in healthy individuals. However, it is always recommended that you consult with your child’s physician before administering abnormally high amounts of any supplement. Another helpful question to ask your physician is, "what medications should not be taken with B12?" in order to ensure that it is not interfering with other treatments or that other medications are not affecting proper absorption of B12. (7)
We learned above that vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, plays a significant role in the metabolism of cells, particularly in DNA synthesis. It helps in blood cell production and nerve protection, which in turn contributes to healthy growth and development for children and adolescents as well as the prevention of diseases that occur in older age, such as those related to memory and vision loss. Additionally, vitamin B12 contributes to a healthy heart and prevents anemia, depression and abnormal mood changes. A deficiency of this vitamin typically occurs with insufficient intake through one’s diet, poor bioavailability or insufficient absorption processes. Vitamin B12 is found in many animal by-products, like fish and dairy, which makes deficiency of this vitamin common in those who follow vegetarian and vegan or plant-based diets. It is unlikely that a person will experience side effects with excess intake of vitamin B12; however, it is important that you consult with a physician to determine appropriate vitamin B12 dosage for your child’s specific anatomy and needs.
Disclaimer: The content of this blog post is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not use this information for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplement and with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.