The vitamins that compose the B complex are needed for many of the body's essential functions and make up many of the key vitamins for nerve damage. The B complex vitamins perform many roles, including metabolizing fats and proteins into energy, the production of DNA and the protection of the nervous system.
Among the most important is vitamin B12, and though it is not the only beneficial B vitamin when it comes to the nervous system, it is certainly one of the more important for nerve health.
Role of Vitamin 12
Vitamin B12 is one of the water-soluble vitamins that make up the B complex. B12, in particular, is integral to many functions in the human body, which is why it is included in vitamin supplements.
The Mayo Clinic says vitamin B12 plays an important role in maintaining the health and production of red blood cells, aids neurological function, allows for DNA synthesis and fortifies the nervous system. For this reason, it is often one of the recommended vitamins for nerve damage.
Despite its water-soluble state, which means it's excreted over the course of a few days, vitamin B12 is stored in the liver in substantial amounts until it is directly required by the body. For this reason, vitamin B12 deficiency is rare.
However, vitamin B12 primarily comes from meat and dairy products, so vegetarians and vegans may need to consider B12 supplementation because they may not receive enough through diet alone.
B12 Deficiency Causes and Symptoms
Vitamin B12 is found in high quantities in eggs, poultry, dairy products and meats, but not in plant products — which is why vegetarians and vegans are at a high risk of deficiency. And it is not just vegetarians at vegans at risk. Those recovering from weight loss surgery, or who suffer from celiac disease or Crohn's disease are also at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Harvard Health Publishing lists symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency:
- Strange sensations, numbness or tingling in the hands, legs or feet (also known as peripheral neuropathy)
- Difficulty walking, staggering or balance problems
- Anemia (when the body is not producing enough red blood cells)
- A swollen, inflamed tongue
- Difficulty thinking and reasoning (cognitive difficulties), or memory loss
Anemia is usually the first symptom that arises if you're deficient in vitamin B12. Anemia ordinarily manifests as shortness of breath and dizziness from insufficient red blood cells providing oxygen to the body. As vitamin B12 deficiency reduces the number of red blood cells, oxygen circulation is severely impeded.
Although any of these symptoms can signify a vitamin B12 deficiency, it is still important to receive advice from a healthcare professional. B12 deficiency can only be properly diagnosed through blood tests.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Nerve Damage
Vitamin B12 is instrumental in maintaining the overall health of the nervous system because of its relationship with the myelin sheath that nerves are enclosed in. If the body is deficient in vitamin B12, the myelin sheath becomes damaged and cannot protect the nerves as it should.
Without this protective layer, nerves are vulnerable and become severely damaged — which ultimately results in their inability to function properly. This inability to function can manifest in conditions such as peripheral neuropathy.
Trigeminal neuralgia is another type of nerve damage that's related to a vitamin B12 deficiency. Those with this condition experience sudden, electric shock-like pains in the fifth cranial nerve, which occur repeatedly and unexpectedly. A June 2012 study published in the Journal of Pain and Relief discovered a link between decreased levels of vitamin B12 and trigeminal neuralgia.
A May 2016 study published in the Journal of Neural Regeneration Research found that the vitamins in the B complex are some of the most beneficial nerve regeneration vitamins, as administering of vitamin B12 following damage to the nervous system can accelerate the nerve regeneration. This demonstrates the importance of vitamin B12 dosage for nerve repair.
Read more: The Best Time to Take Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 and Peripheral Neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy is a condition caused by damage to the nerves in the hands, feet and arms. It gains its name from the peripheral nervous system, the system of nerves that sends information from the central nervous system (the spine and the brain) to the rest of the body.
This damage can come from a lack of vitamin B12, because, as mentioned, B12 fortifies the protective myelin sheath that surrounds the nerves. The absence or erosion of the myelin sheath makes the nerves vulnerable to damage, which eventually can lead to conditions such as peripheral neuropathy.
This condition affects the sensory nerves, the motor nerves and the autonomic nerves, which is why the symptoms often relate to sensations and movements of the hands and feet.
Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include:
- Numbness and tingling in the hands and/or feet
- Burning, stabbing or shooting pains in the hands and/or feet
- Loss of balance from damage to the motor nerves
- Muscle weakness
The Mayo Clinic explains that, while vitamin B12 is an important factor in the health and maintenance of nerves, other vitamins that make up the B complex — such as B1, B6 and niacin — all are crucial to overall nerve health.
The National Health Service of the United Kingdom says that vitamin B12 deficiency is an exacerbating factor and predominant cause for the development of peripheral neuropathy, but there are many other potential causes such as certain illnesses and medicines.
Nerve Regeneration Vitamins
The B complex vitamins can be used to reduce the likelihood of nerve damage, but the most significant may be vitamin B12.
An April 2019 study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology said that, when treating traumatic brain injury (TBI), if vitamin B12 was added to a treatment containing hematoxylin and eosin, the recovery of neurological function was significantly increased when compared to a treatment without the additional B12.
In addition, the added vitamin B12 enhanced the reparation of myelin, which increased the protection surrounding the nerves so further damage would not be as likely.
Furthermore, a 2018 study carried out by the Society of Endocrinology illuminated the importance of vitamin B12 by highlighting the importance of type 2 diabetics (who are among the group most likely to suffer from deficiency) receiving screening for B12 deficiencies so any potential nerve damage can be prevented.
Should you have any concerns regarding the amount of vitamin B12 in your diet, or if you recognize any of the listed symptoms, contact your medical professional for further advice and potential treatment.
- MSD Manual: "Vitamin B12"
- Mayo Clinic: "Vitamin B-12"
- National Institute of Health: "Vitamin B-12"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Anemia"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Vitamin B12 Deficiency Can Be Sneaky, Harmful"
- Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy: "Nutritional and Vitamin Deficiency Neuropathy"
- Journal of Pain and Relief: "Low Vitamin B12 Syndrome in Trigeminal Neuralgia"
- National Health Service: "Peripheral Neuropathy"
- Mayo Clinic: "Peripheral Neuropathy"
- Society of Endocrinology: "Routine Vitamin b12 Screening May Prevent Irreversible Nerve Damage in Type-2 Diabetes"
- Frontier Pharmacology: "Vitamin B12 Enhances Nerve Repair and Improves Functional Recovery After Traumatic Brain Injury by Inhibiting ER Stress-Induced Neuron Injury"
- National Library of Medicine: "Vitamin B Complex and Vitamin b12 Levels After Peripheral Nerve Injury"