Ideal ingredient calling card: Vitamin B12 (cobalamins)

Ideal ingredient calling card: Vitamin B12 (cobalamins)

  The full breakdown on vitamin B12—what it is, what it does and how to formulate with it.

What it is

  • Vitamin B12 refers to a group of water-soluble cobalt-containing vitamer compounds called cobalamins
  • Also known as “Red Vitamin,” it is the largest and structurally most complicated vitamin
  • Cobalamins include: Cyanocobalamin (with trace cyanide from processing), Hydroxocobalamin (medicinal form produced by bacteria), Methylcobalamin and Adenosylcobalamin—two naturally occurring forms of B12 in the human body
  • Vitamin B12 is a cofactor essential in DNA and methylation cycles; it is involved in the metabolism of every cell in the human body and has a key role in brain and nervous system functioning and the formation of blood

Where it's found

  • Found in virtually all types of meat, fish and dairy products; neither plants nor animals can make B12
  • The pseudo B12 forms found in Spirulina and algae test as B12 but do not have B12 biological activity in humans
  • Only bacteria can synthesize B12; industrial production is through fermentation
  • Leading suppliers: Sanofi-Aventis, BASF, and three Chinese companies manufacture most of the world’s B12

Food or medicine?

  • Essential as part of the diet for healthy nervous system and blood
  • B12 deficiency generally presents in infants, the elderly, and vegans/vegetarians
  • Adults require 2-3 mcg/day; Recommended Daily Allowance for pregnant women = 2.6 mcg/day (2.8 mcg during lactation)
  • Majority of the world’s Vitamin B12 production goes into animal feed

Manufacturing pluses (+) and minuses (-)

+ Cyanocobalamin—synthetic form—is cheap and stable and hence, used in pharmaceuticals, supplements, and foods

+ Only traces needed for fortification so does not impact taste of food or beverage negatively

+ Fortified breakfast cereals are the most widely bioavailable processed food source of vitamin B12 for vegetarians

- Vitamin B12 injection clinics—a recent trend in the commercial weight loss scene—despite lack of solid evidence that vitamin B12 in any form, including vitamin B12 injections, improves weight loss

+ Popularly used in energy products and diet supplements

Market drivers

  • Marginal cobalamin status of infants, the elderly and vegetarians/vegans
  • Growing popularity of foods, beverages, and supplements to boost energy
  • HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) Diets and Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD) use Vitamin B12 and growing market belief that Vitamin B12 can help with weight loss
  • Meat, poultry, and seafood production—all use Vitamin B12 as feed additive

Physiological effects

  • Strong evidence: May protect against brain atrophy or shrinkage, associated with Alzheimer’s disease and impaired cognitive function
  • Decreases homocysteine levels to help people with vascular disease or diabetes
  • Insufficient evidence: effect on cognitive function or dementia
  • Can boost energy and endurance but mostly in cases of nutritional deficit
  • Water soluble vitamin—little risk of overdose

Surprising fact

Microwave heating depletes vitamin B12 in meats and dairy products. (Fumio Watanabe, Katsuo Abe, Tomoyuki Fujita, Mashahiro Goto, Miki Hiemori, and Yoshihisa Nakano. Effects of Microwave Heating on the Loss of Vitamin B12 in Foods, J. Agric. Food Chem., 1998, 46 (1):206–210)

Resource: 26.Markle HV. Cobalamin. Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci 1996; 33:247-356 | Malouf R, Areosa SA. Vitamin B12 for cognition. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2003; (3):CD004326.

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