Vitamin B-12

What is vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 helps maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells [1-4]. It is also needed to help make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Vitamin B12 is also called cobalamin because it contains the metal cobalt [1-4].

Vitamin B12 is bound to the protein in food. Hydrochloric acid in the stomach releases vitamin B12 from proteins in foods during digestion. Once released, vitamin B12 combines with a substance called intrinsic factor (IF). This complex can then be absorbed by the intestinal tract.

How can I get vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 is naturally found in foods that come from animals, including fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products. Fortified breakfast cereals are a particularly valuable source of vitamin B12 for vegetarians.

Recommendations for vitamin B12 are provided in the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) developed by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies [5]. Dietary Reference Intakes is the general term for a set of reference values used for planning and assessing nutrient intake for healthy people.

A deficiency may occur as a result of an inability to absorb vitamin B12 from food and in strict vegetarians who do not consume any foods that come from animals [6]. As a general rule, most individuals who develop a vitamin B12 deficiency have an underlying stomach or intestinal disorder that limits the absorption of vitamin B12 [7]. Sometimes the only symptom of these intestinal disorders is subtly reduced cognitive function resulting from early vitamin B12 deficiency.

We need Vitamin B-12 in a form that is readily usable by the body. Vitamin B-12 deficiency is the most common vitamin deficiency in people over 50. Vitamin B-12 deficiency may cause everything from fatigue and grumpiness, to mental confusion and mental exhaustion. Anemia and dementia may follow later.

Caution: Folic Acid and vitamin B12 deficiency

Folic acid can correct the anemia that is caused by vitamin B12 deficiency. Unfortunately, folic acid will not correct the nerve damage also caused by vitamin B12 deficiency [1,9]. Permanent nerve damage can occur if vitamin B12 deficiency is not treated. Folic acid intake from food and supplements should not exceed 1,000 ?g daily in healthy individuals because large amounts of folic acid can trigger the damaging effects of vitamin B12 deficiency [5]. Adults older than 50 years who take a folic acid supplement should ask their physician or qualified health care provider about their need for additional vitamin B12.

Before taking any dietary supplement, you should talk to a health care professional or doctor. The information in this article is just to inform people of the health risks related to vitamin B12 deficiency. Although my information comes from reliable sources, it’s up to the reader to verify this information.

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Why are B vitamins so essential to brain function? That’s because our brains must have them to function properly. Our B reserves become depleted when we age, resulting in premature aging and greater susceptibility to sickness.

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Vitamin B12


  1. Herbert V. Vitamin B12 in Present Knowledge in Nutrition. 17th ed. Washington, D.C.: International Life Sciences Institute Press, 1996.
  2. Herbert V and Das K. Vitamin B12 in Modern Nutrition in health and disease. 8th ed. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1994.
  3. Combs G. Vitamin B12 in The Vitamins. New York: Academic Press, Inc, 1992.
  4. Zittoun J and Zittoun R. Modern clinical testing strategies in cobalamin and folate deficiency. Sem Hematol 1999;36:35-46.
  5. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes: Thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, biotin, and choline. National Academy Press. Washington, DC, 1998.
  6. Markle HV. Cobalamin. Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci 1996;33:247-356.
  7. Carmel R. Cobalamin, the stomach, and aging. Am J Clin Nutr 1997;66:750-9.
  9. Chanarin I. Adverse effects of increased dietary folate. Relation to measures to reduce the incidence of neural tube defects. Clin Invest Med 1994;17:244-52.
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