A grey metal mined from the Earth’s crust, cobalt is a vital trace mineral required by the human body, predominantly as a part of cobalamin i.e. vitamin B12.
Even though only trivial amounts of cobalt are needed by the system and a safe RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for daily intake has not yet been established, this valuable element is involved in numerous key bodily operations. Some of these crucial functions comprise the proper synthesis of red blood cells, ensuring elevated nervous system activity, breakdown of sugars and energy metabolism, preserving thyroid hormone regulation, as well as guaranteeing optimal iron absorption by cells.
Cobalt cannot be synthesized by the body and hence must be derived from food. Umpteen dietary resources contain ample volumes of cobalt, namely cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, lettuce, whole grain cereals such as barley, oats, besides dairy produce, animal meat, fish, oysters and eggs. Read on, to know more about the biochemical systemic functions, natural food sources, deficiency disorders and toxicity symptoms of cobalt.
Cobalt is an integral part of vitamin B12 and therefore essential for the function of cells. It is also involved in the production of red blood cells and the production of antibacterial and antiviral compounds that prevent infections.
Cobalt also plays a key role in the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates as well as the synthesis of proteins and conversion of folate in their active form.
In the nervous system, cobalt is responsible for preventing demyelination leading to multiple sclerosis, which is a condition that results in damage to the membrane that covers the nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. Such prevention ensures the efficient transmission of nerve impulses.
Since cobalt is primarily present in the body in combination with nitrogen groups, as cobalamin i.e. vitamin B12, the precise daily requirement or RDA for this valuable mineral has not yet been determined. However, on average, a normal healthy adult consuming a nutrient-rich diet ingests 5 to 8 micrograms of cobalt per day, through numerous foods.
Being an element derived naturally from the earth, the amount of cobalt in plant and animal dietary sources depends on the concentration of mineral deposits in the soil and water bodies from where the foods are procured. Myriad foods are rich in cobalt, including:
Green leafy vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce, spinach, turnips, kale
Dried fruits like figs, raisins, apricots, prunes, dates
Seafood consisting of fish, oysters, mussel
Animal meat produce of liver, beef, kidneys
Staple dairy product of milk
A deficiency condition involving solely the trace mineral cobalt usually does not occur in human beings. As the maximum bodily concentration of the element is as an integral part of vitamin B12 or cobalamin, insufficient intake of cobalt in diet presents illnesses similar to vitamin B12 deficiency disorders, namely pernicious anaemia and macrocytic anemia.
Pernicious anemia, also called Addison’s anemia, is characterised by a steep reduction in the number of red blood cells owing to a decline in capability to assimilate vitamin B12, which contains cobalt ions. When the red blood cells become enlarged to an unusually large size, due to insufficient vitamin B12 reserves in the body, then the ailment is termed as macrocytic anemia.
Noticeable indications of cobalt deficiency, in the form of different kinds of anemic disorders, comprise fatigue, tingling sensations in extremities of hands and feet, besides the nervous system operations being hampered.
The incidence of cobalt toxicity is rare. Yet, when it happens, cobalt is very toxic to the heart muscle. It can cause heart muscle disease (toxic cardiomyopathy) after too much exposure. An increase in red blood cells (polycythemia) may be a symptom of too much cobalt. Not treating this issue can cause congestive heart failure.
Too much intake of cobalt may cause enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter). It can also reduce the activity of the thyroid. Cobalt may also increase blood sugar levels.
Since cobalt is a key part of vitamin B-12, people with Lieber’s syndrome, a rare eye condition, should not take it without talking to their healthcare providers. Some forms of vitamin B-12 may lead to vision loss in people with this issue.