Although most of the nutrients that our body needs to function correctly can be obtained from a healthy diet, there is one vitamin that is not made by any plant or animal but is essential for general health.  Can you guess what it is?

Vitamin B12 is not produced by any plant or animal but is actually manufactured only by certain types of bacteria.  Although foods of animal origin can be contaminated with these bacteria and retain trace amounts of the vitamin, the B12 in these foods is not very absorbable to the human body.  Therefore, beyond being deleterious to human health for a number of reasons, these animal products do not represent a sufficient and reliable source of B12.  There are also certain plant and cyanobacteria-derived foods that contain biologically inactive B12.  These so called B12 analogs found in certain sea vegetables are not usable by the body and therefore cannot be relied upon as a good source of B12 either.  You might be thinking, so what’s the big deal?

Vitamin B12 is necessary for a number of essential biological functions and deficiency can lead to serious health problems including the build-up of a toxin called homocysteine, anemia, blood vessel damage, neuropsychiatric disorders, and permanent nerve and brain damage!  So what can we do to avoid this?

Supplements are inexpensive and widely available; following the guidelines below will minimize the risk of deficiency.

At least 2,500 mcg cyanocobalamin once each week, ideally as a chewable, sublingual, or liquid supplement taken on an empty stomach.

or at least 250 mcg daily of supplemental cyanocobalamin (you don’t need to worry about taking too much)

or servings of B12-fortified foods three times a day, each containing at least 25% U.S. “Daily Value” on its label

Exception: Those over 65 years of age should take at least 1,000 mcg cyanocobalamin every day.

Lastly, some of you may be aware that B12 supplements can come in a few different forms including hydroxocobalamin, methylcobalamin, adenosylcobalamin, and cyanocobalamin. Which one of these should you choose?  To answer this question, we’ll take a look at 4 key considerations which are as follows:

Scientific Evidence: cyanocobalamin is the only well-studied form of B12.

Effectiveness: cyanocobalamin is the only form proven to consistently increase B12 levels and correct deficiency.

Cost: cyanocobalamin is by far the least expensive option.

Safety: Vitamin B12 appears to be very safe in all forms.  Those who smoke or have chronic kidney disease may want to choose a form other than cyanocobalamin.

Bearing all these considerations in mind, cyanocobalamin is clearly the preferred choice for most people.