Young, healthy women who regularly eat meat, dairy, fish or poultry generally have no problem getting the 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B-12 that the Institution of Medicine recommends each day. However, because it is only in animal products, vegetarians and vegans may need to take supplements. Vitamin B-12 helps your body produce red blood cells and keeps your nerve cells healthy. It also supports metabolism and may lower your risk of developing vision problems, skin conditions and breast cancer.
Lower Risk of Breast Cancer
Vitamin B-12 works closely with another B vitamin, folate. When one of them is present, the other is better able to do its job. Women with higher intakes of folate have a lower risk of breast cancer, according to researchers who published a study in the journal "Hereditary Cancer in Clinical Practice" in 2012. Another study, published in "Cancer Causes and Control" in 2006, concluded that vitamin B-12 may play a role in folate's ability to lower a woman's risk of breast cancer.
Vitamin B-12 helps your body convert carbohydrates from food into glucose. Because it plays an important role in your body's metabolism of energy, a lack of vitamin B-12 can cause sluggishness. If you're low in B-12 and you're feeling tired, increasing your intake may act as an energy enhancer, according to the National Institutes of Health. However, taking extra vitamin B-12 does not have this effect on people who already get enough of this nutrient.
Treatment for Skin Conditions
Vitamin B-12 may be good for your skin, according to New York University's Langone Medical Center. In one study, researchers found that a cream containing vitamin B-12 improved eczema flare-ups. This may be because vitamin B-12 reduces local levels of nitric oxide in the skin. Higher concentrations of nitric oxide are associated with eczema flare-ups, according to authors of a 2010 "Pediatric Allergy and Immunology" article. Vitamin B-12 may also benefit people with vitiligo, a condition in which people develop splotches and lose skin pigmentation. Vitiligo may be a result of a vitamin B-12 deficiency, in which case, B-12 supplementation could be a remedy. Evidence on this has been inconclusive, however.
The most positive, albeit obvious, benefit of taking vitamin B-12 may be that it prevents B-12 deficiencies, which can cause fatigue, weakness, gastrointestinal problems, loss of appetite or megaloblastic anemia. A severe vitamin B-12 deficiency can lead to nervous system disturbances ranging from numbness and tingling in the extremities to serious nerve damage. Depression, dementia, loss of balance and poor memory are also associated with an insufficient vitamin B-12 intake. Simply taking in an adequate amount of this nutrient may prevent a host of problems.
- Hereditary Cancer in Clinical Practice: Folic Acid and Breast Cancer Risk
- Cancer Causes and Control: Folate, Vitamin B12 and Postmenopausal Breast Cancer in a Prospective Study of French Women
- National Institutes of Health: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet -- Vitamin B12
- New York University Langone Medical Center: Vitamin B12
- Pediatric Allergy and Immunology: Urinary Nitric Oxide Excretion in Infants with Eczema
Maia Appleby is a NASM-certified personal trainer with more than 15 years of experience in the fitness industry. Her articles have been published in a wide variety of print magazines and online publications, including the Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health, New Moon Network and Bodybuilding.com.