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Vitamin B12

Definition

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.

Typically, water-soluble vitamins can not be stored by the body. Vitamin B12 is special, because the body can store it for years in the liver.

Alternative Names

Cobalamin; Deficiency - B12

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 in eggs, meat, poultry, shellfish, milk, and milk products.

Side Effects

Vitamin B12 deficiencies occur when the body is unable to properly use the vitamin. Pernicious anemia can make the body unable to absorb vitamin B12 from the intestinal tract.

Because vitamin B12 comes primarily from animal products, people who follow a strict vegetarian or vegan diet and do not consume eggs or dairy products may require vitamin B12 supplements. (Non-animal sources of vitamin B12 exist but are highly variable in their B12 content. They are considered unreliable sources of the vitamin.)

Those who had surgery on specific parts of the small intestine or stomach are also prone to a deficiency if they do not take B12 supplements.

Low levels of B12 can cause anemia, numbness or tingling in the arms and legs, weakness, and loss of balance.

Recommendations

The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine recommends the following dietary intake for vitamin B 12:

Infants

  • 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

Specific recommendations depend on age, gender, and other factors (such as pregnancy). Women who are pregnant or producing breast milk (lactating) need higher amounts. Ask your health care provider which amount is best for you.

The best way to get the daily requirement of essential vitamins is to eat a balanced diet that contains a variety of foods from the food guide pyramid.

References

Rakel D, ed. Integrative Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007.

Hamrick I, Counts SH. Vitamin and mineral supplements. Wellness and Prevention. December 2008:35(4);729-747.

Mason JB. Vitamins, trace minerals, and other micronutrients. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 237.

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.


Review Date: 3/14/2009
Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Family Physician, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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 endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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