What Is Vitamin B12?

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1. Vitamin B12 is essential to the brain and the entire nervous system. Deficiencies can be extremely harmful and are more common than people imagine.

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2. Vitamin B12 is needed by the body to produce new red blood cells

3. Vitamin B12 is the only vitamin that contains an ion of metal – cobalt. This gives it its scientific name cobalamin.

4. B12 has the most complex molecular structure of all vitamins and is the most biologically active.

5. B12 is stored in the liver. A healthy liver can store enough to last up to five years.


Watch the video, then read on to learn more about the vitamin.


1. Foods of animal origin such as red meat, chicken, fish, shellfish, eggs and dairy are good sources. Steamed or braised meat and fish contains more B12 than broiled or barbecued. Brewer’s yeast is high in B12.

2. Food products which are enriched with B12, such as cereals and some soya products.


The FDA’s recommended dietary allowance (RDA) or vitamin B12 is 2.4 micrograms per day. This is an extremely small amount – in fact, the smallest RDA of any vitamin. However, certain classes of people, such as the elderly, may need significantly higher doses.


1. Vegan Diets

Vegans, who do not consume foods of animal origin, or others who consume only small amounts of such foods, will develop deficiencies unless they eat B12-enriched foods or take supplements. Alternatively, the could have injections of the vitamin.

2. Intrinsic Factor

Vitamin B12 needs a substance called intrinsic factor to be digested and used by the body. This is made in the stomach. However, some people develop an autoimmune condition which attacks the cells which produce the intrinsic factor. Injections of B12 must be given.

3. Celiac Disease

Celiacs (who cannot digest gluten) can also have problems digesting vitamin B12, although in their case it is owing to damage to the small intestine rather than a lack of intrinsic factor. Conditions such as Crohns disease and colitis can also cause problems digesting this vitamin.

4. Food-bound B12 malabsorption.

This condition is usually caused by chronic inflammation of the stomach lining called atrophic gastritis. This can be caused by the bacterium helicobacter pylori. It is more common in the elderly. It reduces the acidity of the stomach, enabling anaerobic bacteria to flourish and also affecting the ability of the stomach to extract B12 from proteins in food. However, as people with this condition do have the instrinsic factor, they are able to digest B12 in supplements or in food which is supplemented with B12, such as cereals. They do not need to be given B12 via injections.

5. Unlike other species, we cannot produce our own B12.

Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria in the digestive systems mainly of herbivorous animals. Sheep and cows produce B12 when there is 1) the presence of the correct bacteria in the soil and water 2) the correct amount of the trace element cobalt in the soil. We then obtain it when we eat these animals or products obtained from them, such as dairy foods. B12 is also produced in human intestines but in quantities too small to answer our needs for the nutrient. We cannot produce our own supply of B12.

However, there are some vegans who disagree with this. They claim it is simply a lack of cobalt in our diets that prevents us from creating sufficient B12 in our intestines just as grazing animals do.


1. Fatigue and Depression

Minor deficiencies of B12 can cause fatigue and depression; serious deficiencies can result in mental confusion, memory problems and even permanent brain damage. In severe cases, extreme psychological symptoms such as dementia, mania and psychosis can develop.

2. Pernicious Anemia

Pernicious Anemia is an illness which creates a B12 deficiency. It is an auto-immune disorder which destroys the cells that produce the intrinsic factor. Symptoms can include tiredness, pale skin and gums and heart palpitations. Injections of B12 are necessary to compensate for the problem.

3. Elevated homocysteine Levels

Homocysteine is an amino acid which is used by the body in the process of digesting protein, but it must be disposed of once it has done its job. B12 is required by this process. A deficiency of B12 can lead to a build up of homocysteine, which causes inflammation in the heart and blood vessels.

4. Neural Tube Defects

Spina bifida and other birth defects can be the result of deficiencies of vitamin B12 and folic acid in expectant mothers. Doctors recommend that pregnant women ensure they have sufficient intake of these two vitamins.

5. Geographic Tongue

An unusual condition believed to be caused by vitamin B12 deficiency is geographic tongue (see picture). This causes the patterns on the tongue to change, often frequently. They can resemble the contours of a map. The small projections on the tongue called papillae become flattened. Red patches can also appear on the tongue, which can feel sore and inflamed.

What Is Vitamin B12?, Seekyt

(photo by Koslovsk via GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)


Recent US Government research has concluded that many people have a deficiency of Vitamin B12 but are unaware of it. Less serious deficiencies are easily mistaken for mild depression or signs of aging. In the elderly, symptoms of B12 deficiency such as memory loss are sometimes misdiagnosed as the onset of senile dementia, when those symptoms could be rectified by vitamin B12 injections.

Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that is so important to our well-being that we should always make sure we have sufficient, whether through our food or through supplements. The price of failing to do so is simply too high.

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What Is Vitamin B12?, Seekyt
General Contributor
Janice is a writer from Chicago, IL. She created the "simple living as told by me" newsletter with more than 12,000 subscribers about Living Better and is a founder of Seekyt.