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Vitamin B12 is a water soluble nutrient used for DNA production, the function of blood cells and multiple nervous system processes. B12 is most commonly found in animal products and is not present in fruits or vegetables. Vegans or vegetarians are often at higher risk of B12 deficiency. Older adults are also at risk of deficiency, as the ability to absorb B12 decreases with age. While the recommended daily amount of vitamin B12 for adults is 2.4mcg, higher doses have been found to be safe. Your body absorbs only as much as it needs, and any excess passes through your urine.
Maintaining optimal levels of vitamin B12 provides positive health benefits. Research suggests that optimal B12 levels can positively influence cognitive function. In a study on men and women aged 45 to 69, high vitamin B12 levels were associated with better word recall and higher verbal fluency scores (1). A large cross-sectional study performed on adults aged 72 to 83 found that deficiency in B12 was associated with greater insensitivity to light and touch, along with worse nerve conduction amplitude and velocity (2).
Serum folate, vitamin B-12 and cognitive function in middle and older age: The HAPIEE study.
Horvat P, Gardiner J, Kubinova R, Pajak A, Tamosiunas A, Schöttker B, Pikhart H, Peasey A, Jansen E, Bobak M., Experimental gerontology, 2016
Relationship between vitamin B12 and sensory and motor peripheral nerve function in older adults.
Leishear K, Boudreau RM, Studenski SA, Ferrucci L, Rosano C, de Rekeneire N, Houston DK, Kritchevsky SB, Schwartz AV, Vinik AI, Hogervorst E, Yaffe K, Harris TB, Newman AB, Strotmeyer ES; Health, Aging and Body Composition Study., Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 2012
Avoidance of animal based food products limits the amount of B12 available through diet. Supplementing with vitamin B12 is an effective way for vegans and vegetarians to maintain optimal B12 levels. The recommended daily dose to maintain healthy B12 levels is 2.4mcg, supplementing with higher doses may help correct a deficiency due to diet (1, 2, 3).
Health effects of vegan diets
Winston J Craig, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009
Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets
Tuso PJ, Ismail MH, Ha BP, Bartolotto C., The Permanente Journal, 2013
Vitamin B12 - Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet
Office of dietary supplements, National Institutes of Health, 2016