Two key nutrients, vitamin B12 and magnesium, are essential players in carrying out bodily functions. These nutrients benefit numerous processes within the body and might be a welcome addition to your daily regimen.
Take a look at what these nutrients bring to the table and find out if they may be a good fit for you.
What is vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, belongs to the B vitamin family. This nutrient helps produce red blood cells, supports healthy nerve function, and helps synthesize DNA (the genetic material in all your cells).
You know that you can get this essential nutrient from your diet or a supplement, but you probably haven’t thought too much about how vitamin B12 becomes a part of your food.
Vitamin B12 is produced by certain bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract of some animals. Plants have no biological use for vitamin B12, so it’s found almost exclusively in animal products.
Can your gut produce vitamin B12? Yes, but not for use in your entire body. Some bacteria in the human colon can produce vitamin B12 to benefit other members of your gut bacteria family, but your body can’t absorb vitamin B12 from this location. Instead, vitamin B12 absorption occurs in the small intestine, which comes before the colon.
What is magnesium?
Magnesium is a mineral that helps produce energy, supports nerve and muscle function, and helps regulate blood sugar, blood pressure, and heart rhythm ⎼ to name a few. Magnesium acts as a sidekick in hundreds of essential biochemical reactions in the body, so your body can continue to function efficiently.
How can I get enough vitamin B12 and magnesium?
Despite its crucial role, the body doesn’t require large amounts of vitamin B12 – the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is only 2.4 micrograms for adults. The body stores vitamin B12 in the liver. Although it can take several years to deplete vitamin B12 stores, it’s best to make sure you get an adequate amount each day.
Vitamin B12 is found mostly in animal products like fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Some plant-based products are fortified with vitamin B12, such as nutritional yeast, some plant-based milks, and ready-to-eat cereals. Although most foods do not list vitamin B12 content, foods that have been fortified with vitamin B12 must list vitamin B12 on the food label. Vitamin B12 supplements are also available in various doses.
Some plant foods like tempeh or certain types of nori (seaweed) are thought to contain vitamin B12. However, it is unclear how well the body can use vitamin B12 from these sources, so it’s best not to rely on these foods alone for your vitamin B12 needs.
Magnesium-rich foods include beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and greens. Magnesium needs vary based on age and gender – if you’re interested in finding out how much you need, check out this chart from the National Institutes of Health.
Who might benefit from vitamin B12 and magnesium supplements?
Some populations may have difficulty meeting their vitamin B12 and magnesium needs through food alone and may require supplementation to help them maintain healthy levels of these nutrients.
Vegans and vegetarians
While those who follow a healthful vegan or vegetarian diet likely meet their magnesium needs without any issue, vitamin B12 may be a nutrient of concern since it comes primarily from animal-based foods.
Some vitamin B12 food sources are vegetarian-friendly, like eggs and dairy products. However, vegans or others who do not consume them regularly may be lacking in vitamin B12.
Plant-based foods fortified with vitamin B12, such as nutritional yeast or cereal, may help bridge the gap for some. However, vegans and vegetarians should consider discussing their diet and vitamin B12 needs with their healthcare team to determine if they would benefit from a vitamin B12 supplement.
Keep in mind that vegetarian and vegan diets are typically high in folate. Like vitamin B12, folate also plays a role in DNA synthesis and red blood cell formation. However, a high folate intake can mask symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, which makes it even more important to keep tabs on vitamin B12.
Adults 60 Plus
Absorption of vitamin B12 from food is a complex process and occurs in two main steps:
- Vitamin B12 is bound to protein in food. Hydrochloric acid (found in stomach acid) separates the vitamin from the protein.
- The free form of vitamin B12 combines with a protein made in the stomach called intrinsic factor, which allows the small intestine to absorb vitamin B12.
Adults who are 60 years or older are more likely to have less stomach acid or intrinsic factor for various reasons, so they often become less efficient at absorbing vitamin B12.
It’s a good idea for older adults to check in with their healthcare team to find out whether they need a vitamin B12 or magnesium supplement.
Those taking certain medications
Certain drugs like acid-reducing medications for heartburn (PPIs) or metformin, when taken over time, can deplete magnesium and vitamin B12 levels. Those who take these medications should consult with their healthcare provider to determine whether they need a vitamin B12 and magnesium supplement.
Vitamin B12 and magnesium both have incredibly important jobs to do – consider them essential. Keep them running smoothly by choosing vitamin B12 – and magnesium-rich foods and discuss any concerns you may have about maintaining healthy levels of these nutrients with your healthcare provider.