What is B12- and why is it important?July 19, 2022
What is B12?
B12 is an essential nutrient, which means that your body can’t manufacture its own. It also belongs to the category of vitamins known as ‘water-soluble vitamins’ - water is required for the breakdown of this type of vitamin. Water-soluble vitamins are also not stored in the body tissue. This is part of the reason why it can be so easy to develop a deficiency - B12 needs to be consumed regularly in the diet or supplementation to keep levels optimal.
Why is B12 so important?
The main function of this B vitamin is to help with the formation of red blood cells, but it is also vital to energy production inside the body’s cells. 1
The nervous system also needs B12 as it is essential for maintaining all aspects of a healthy central nervous system, including the brain, peripheral nerves and the spinal cord. 2
Vitamin B12 supplements can come from a range of different sources. We’ve chosen to use cyanocobalamin which has been produced by the process of fermentation.
Cyanocobalamin is a variation of B12 that is absorbed 44% better than one of the other common types of B12 called methylcobalamin, or activated B12.
Why do you need to supplement B12?
Vitamin B12 is only found in animal foods, which is why it can be challenging to maintain optimal levels on a plant-based diet. However, those on a plant-based diet are not the only ones who need to supplement B12. In fact, a large study of 3,000 American adults found that 39% were B12 deficient. 3,4
Let’s talk about the optimal dosage for B12 - which is not the same as the recommended daily intake (RDI). Vitamin B12 from all sources is not particularly well absorbed - and the higher the levels consumed, the less absorption there is. 5
This is why we ‘aim high’ with dosage to ensure that the actual amount being absorbed is optimised. For example, a daily dose of cyanocobalamin at between 50-250mcg or even a weekly dose of 2000-2500mcg means that the absorption rate drops, however you will still be absorbing a higher amount of around 1.3%.
Compare those numbers with the current RDI for vitamin B12 below and you’ll see that it’s not possible to get your B12 to optimal levels at those dosages:
RDI for B126
Adults 19-70 2.4mcg/day
70+ years 2.4mcg/day
Pregnancy 16-50 years 2.6mcg/day
Lactation 19-50 years 2.8mcg/day
Interesting facts about vitamin B12
B12 is made from microbes that cover animals and the earth, rather than being produced from the animal itself. In the days before sanitisation, B12 would have been abundant! 7
- As we age, our ability to absorb and break down B12 from the diet declines. This is due to physical changes in the digestive tract, as well as a reduction in hydrochloric (stomach) acid required to break nutrients down. 8
- Karipiperi, K., Gousis, C. & Papaioannidou, P. (2010). The role of vitamin B12 in DNA modulation and mechanisms. Front. Pharmacol. Conference Abstract: 8th Southeast European Congress on Xenobiotic Metabolism and Toxicity - XEMET. DOI: 10.3389/conf.fphar.2010.60.00140.
- Serin, M.H. & Arslan, E.A. (2019). Neurological symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency: analysis of pediatric patients*. Acta Clin Croat., 58(2):295-302.
- Schupbach, R., Wegmuller, R., Berguerand, C., Bui, M. & Herter-Aerberli, I. (2017). Micronutrient status and intake in omnivores, vegetarians and vegans in Switzerland. European Journal of Nutrition, 56(1):283-93.
- Tucker, K.L., Rich, S., Rosenberg, I., Jacques, P., Dallal, G., et al. (2000). Plasma vitamin B-12 concentrations relate to intake source in the Framingham Offspring study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 71(2):514-22.
- Carmel, R. How I treat cobalamin (vitamin B12) deficiency. Blood 2008, 112(6):2214-21.
- National Health and Medical Research Council. Vitamin B12. Updated January 2018, accessed July 2022 from https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/vitamin-b12
- Nutrition Facts. Vitamin B12. Accessed July 2022 from https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/vitamin-b12/
- Stover, P.J. (2010). Vitamin B12 and older adults. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care,13(1):24-27.