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Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2010 Oct;80(4-5):330-5. doi: 10.1024/0300-9831/a000041.

Bioavailability of vitamin B12.

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  • 1USDA, ARS Western Human Nutrition Research Center, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


Vitamin B12 deficiency is common in people of all ages who consume a low intake of animal-source foods, including populations in developing countries. It is also prevalent among the elderly, even in wealthier countries, due to their malabsorption of B12 from food. Several methods have been applied to diagnose vitamin B12 malabsorption, including Schilling’s test, which is now used rarely, but these do not quantify percent bioavailability. Most of the information on B12 bioavailability from foods was collected 40 to 50 years ago, using radioactive isotopes of cobalt to label the corrinoid ring. The data are sparse, and the level of radioactivity required for in vivo labeling of animal tissues can be prohibitive. A newer method under development uses a low dose of radioactivity as (14)C-labeled B12, with measurement of the isotope excreted in urine and feces by accelerator mass spectrometry. This test has revealed that the unabsorbed vitamin is degraded in the intestine. The percent bioavailability is inversely proportional to the dose consumed due to saturation of the active absorption process, even within the range of usual intake from foods. This has important implications for the assessment and interpretation of bioavailability values, setting dietary requirements, and interpreting relationships between intake and status of the vitamin.

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