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Vitamin B12
(Cobalamin, cyanocobalamin)

Vitamin B12 (commonly known as Cobalamin or cyanocobalamin) is probably the best known of all the vitamins, with recognised deficiency symptoms, most obviously pernicious anaemia (large, immature red blood cells). First discovered in liver cells in 1948, Vitamin B12 is a bright red, crystalline compound, the colour coming from the high cobalt content of the molecule.

Being water-soluble, the body is unable to store extensive amounts of Vitamin B12 and must therefore get a regular supply from the diet. This can be difficult for some people, either because they absorb vitamin B12 poorly or because their diet is deficient (especially for vegetarians and vegans). Absorption is dependent on a chemical known as "intrinsic factor", which is secreted in the digestive juices and facilitates the abosrption of Vitamin B12 by the small intestine.

Functions of Vitamin B12 in the body

Vitamin B12 is involved in a number of key body processes, but is especially key to red blood cell production, nervous system function, sperm production, normal growth and the proper function of the immune system. It has also been shown to improve memory and concentration, help prevent cancer and also protect against allergies and toxins (especially the cyanide found in cigarette smoke and some foods).

Vitamin B12 is also closely involved in the production of melatonin, which controls the release of many hormones in the body and is involved with the sleep/wake cycle.

Functions of Vitamin B12
Production of healthy red blood cells
Healthy growth and development
Protection against toxins and allergens
May alleviate symptoms of PMS / PMT
Required for normal nervous system function
A necessary compound for proper metabolism of macronutrients
Can help prevent cancer

Vitamin B12 deficiency

The most commonly acknowledged sign of Vitamin B12 deficiency is pernicious anaemia, caused by the production of large, immature red blood cells. Many other problems can be associated with Vitamin B12 deficiency though, including heart disease, diarrhoea, mental disturbances and various other nervous system dysfunctions. Chronic Vitamin B12 deficiency results in severe and permanent nerve damage.

Symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency
Fatigue / exhaustion
Heart disease
Menstrual problems
Paraesthesia (pins & needles)
Depression and dementia (especially in the elderly)
Nerve damage

Where folic acid intake is sufficient, Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms can be reduced, although the deficiency is still present. Additionally, a limited amount of Vitamin B12 is stored in body tissues, such as the liver and kidneys, which may cause a delay in the appearance of symptoms.

Association with other minerals and vitamins

Vitamin B12 is absorbed best in the presence of several other vitamins, namely Vitamins A, C, E and the other B-complex vitamins. It is therefore best taken as part of a balanced multimineral and vitamin supplement.

Normal amounts of Vitamin B12 in the diet

Age mcg/day
Children (0-3 years) 0.3 - 0.5
Children (4-14 years) 0.8 - 1.2
15yrs+ (inc adults) 1.5
Lactation 2.0

People who have a high protein diet will have an increased requirement for Vitamin B12.

Sources of dietary Vitamin B12

Dietary sources of Vitamin B12 (mcg / 100g)
Lamb's liver 54 Cheese (Edam) 1.8
Pork liver 23 Haddock 1.4
Oysters 18 Flounder 1.2
Sardines 17 Cheddar cheese 1.0
Trout 5 Cottage cheese 1.0
Salmon 4 Mozzarella cheese 1.0
Tuna 3 Halibut 1.0
Lamb 2.1 Swordfish 1.0
Eggs 2.0 Yeast extract 0.5
Beef 1.8    

Vegetarians may gain extra Vitamin B12 from fermented products, as some bacteria are capable of producing Vitamin B12. Unfortunately, levels vary enormously, and supplements may be necessary.

Vitamin B12 supplements

Most people will benefit from a B12 supplement, of which the most common form is cyanocobalamin in tablet form. Supplementation of 50 to 2000 mcg per day has been shown to be safe, although most commonly, doses are from 10-100 mcg per day, with vegetarians requiring more than nonvegetarians.

Like most other vitamins, Vitamin B12 is best absorbed when taken as a balanced multivitamin and mineral liquid supplement, which virtually guarantees high absorption and bioavailability.

Back from vitamin B12 to nutritional supplements

Further reading

Tranforming your health in 90 days or less

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