Home > Healthy Living > Vitamin B12
  • We are sorry, but NCBI web applications do not support your browser and may not function properly. More information

PubMed Health. A service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Vitamin B12

Cobalamin; Cyanocobalamin

Last reviewed: February 18, 2013.

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin. Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water. After the body uses these vitamins, leftover amounts leave the body through the urine.

The body can store vitamin B12 for years in the liver.

Function

Vitamin B12, like the other B vitamins, is important for metabolism. It helps in the formation of red blood cells and in the maintenance of the central nervous system.

Food Sources

Vitamin B12 is found naturally in a wide variety of animal foods. Plant foods have no vitamin B12 unless they are fortified.

You can get the recommended amounts of vitamin B12 by eating a variety of the foods including: 

  • Organ meats (beef liver)
  • Shellfish (clams)
  • Meat, poultry, eggs,milk and other dairy foods
  • Some breakfast cereals and nutritional yeasts

To find out if vitamin B12 has been added to a food product, check the nutrition fact panel on the food label. 

The body absorbs animal sources of vitamin B12 much better than plant sources. Nonanimal sources of vitamin B12 vary in their amount of B12. They are not thought to be reliable sources of the vitamin.

Side Effects

A lack of vitamin B12 (B12 deficiency) occurs when the body does not get or is unable to absorb the amount of vitamin that the body needs.

Low levels of B12 can cause:

  • Loss of balance
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms and legs
  • Weakness

Recommendations

The best way to meet your body's vitamin B12 needs is to eat a wide variety of animal products.

Supplemental vitamin B12 can be found in the following:

  • Almost all multivitamins. Vitamin B12 is better absorbed by the body when it is taken along with other B vitamins, such as niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, and magnesium.
  • A prescription form of vitamin B12 can be given by injection or as a nasal gel.
  • Vitamin B12 is also available in a form that dissolves under the tongue (sublingual).

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamins reflects how much of each vitamin most people should receive on a daily basis. The RDA for vitamins may be used as goals for each person.

How much of each vitamin you need depends on your age and gender. Other factors, such as pregnancy and illnesses, are also important. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding need higher amounts. Ask your health care provider which amount is best for you.

Dietary Reference Intakes for vitamin B12:

Infants (adequate intake)

  • 0 - 6 months: 0.4 micrograms per day (mcg/day)
  • 7 - 12 months: 0.5 mcg/day

Children

  • 1 - 3 years: 0.9 mcg/day
  • 4 - 8 years: 1.2 mcg/day
  • 9 - 13 years: 1.8 mcg/day

Adolescents and Adults

  • Males and females age 14 and older: 2.4 mcg/day
  • Pregnant teens and women: 2.6 mcg/day
  • Breastfeeding teens and women: 2.8 mcg/day

References

  1. Escott-Stump S, ed. Nutrition and Diagnosis-Related Care. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2008.
  2. Sarubin Fragaakis A, Thomson C. The Health Professional's Guide to Popular Dietary Supplements. 3rd ed. Chicago, Il: American Dietetic Association; 2007.
  3. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes: Thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, biotin, and choline. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1998. [PubMed: 23193625]

Review Date: 2/18/2013.

Reviewed by: Alison Evert, MS, RD, CDE, Nutritionist, University of Washington Medical Center Diabetes Care Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Oral vitamin B12 versus intramuscular vitamin B12 for vitamin B12 deficiencyOral vitamin B12 versus intramuscular vitamin B12 for vitamin B12 deficiency
    Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause anaemia and neurological complications. Vitamin B12 is rarely prescribed in the oral form in most countries. Two randomised controlled studies were included in this review. The trials recruited a total of 108 participants and followed up 93 of these from 90 days to four months. The evidence derived from these limited studies suggests that high oral doses of B12 (1000 mcg and 2000 mcg) could be as effective as intramuscular administration in achieving haematological and neurological responses.
See all (19) ...

Figures

  • Vitamin B12 benefits.
    Vitamin B12 source.

PubMed Health Blog...

read all...

MedlinePlus.gov links to free, reliable, up-to-date health information from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other trusted health organizations.

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...