Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) is important in the formation of all cells in the body, especially red blood cells and the covering of nerve cells (myelin). The body needs myelin for nerves to function properly.

Vitamin B12 is found in animal products such as meat, shellfish, milk, cheese, and eggs. Most people who eat meat are not likely to develop a vitamin B12 deficiency. There is normally enough vitamin B12 stored in a person's liver to last a year, even if the person does not eat any foods that contain the vitamin during that time.

Some people have a disease that makes their bodies unable to absorb vitamin B12. These people need either an injection of B12 once a month, to take high-dose B12 pills, or to use a nasal spray containing B12.

Strict vegetarians (vegans) who do not eat meat, milk, cheese, or eggs are at risk for developing vitamin B12 deficiency. They should take a vitamin supplement containing vitamin B12.

Last Updated: December 19, 2008

Author: Caroline Rea, RN, BS, MS

Medical Review: Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Brian Leber, MDCM, FRCPC - Hematology

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