The daily functions of vitamin B12 in the body are ubiquitous. Vitamin B12 is used especially within the brain and nervous system, as well as, energy and blood formation, DNA and fatty acid synthesis and cell metabolism. It is a water soluble vitamin containing the mineral cobalt and exists in several forms. Some foods are naturally rich in vitamin B12, other foods have the vitamin added. Naturally occuring vitamin B12 is bound to the proteins within foods and has to be separated to be utilized. This is performed by the acids found in the mouth and stomach. When one ingests vitamin B12 from a supplement or from vitamin fortified foods, it is already in a free form and the separation application is not necessary for it to be utilized by the body.
The importance of vitamin B12 became more apparent through the study of an autoimmune disease called pernicious anemia. In this disease, the body attacks itself and the gastric mucosa. The eventual outcome of the disease is malabsorption of vitamin B12 and subsequent neurological disorders. George Whipple, an American physician, had been studying anemia in dogs and through a series of experiments, found that feeding large amounts of liver to them rapidly cured the anemia. Later, additional clinical studies by physiologists and chemists led to the discovery of vitamin B12, from the liver juice. Two chemists, Karl Folkers (US) and Alexander Todd (Great Britain) are credited for isolating the cobalamin (B12) and applying it through injection to treat pernicious anemia.
Vitamin B12 is manufactured by bacteria. Today, in addition to foods high in the vitamin, we are able to produce supplements to help reduce symptoms of deficiency, such as, depression, anemia and fatigue. Foods that are naturally rich in cobalamin (vitamin B12) are clams/oysters/mussels, liver, fish, crab/lobster and beef/lamb, just to name a few. Eggs are also a good source of vitamin B12; however, they also contain avidin, which blocks absorption. Fortified cereals are a good source of vitamin B12 for vegetarians, as most sources are from animals and animal products. Because of the necessity and ubiquitous nature of vitamin B12 within cells and cellular function, strict vegetarians might want to consider supplementing this vitamin.
There are eight B vitamins. All are water soluble and all play integral roles in cell metabolism. Without them, we couldn’t survive. Since most of these vitamins are derived from whole, unprocessed foods, many who eat the Standard American Diet (SAD) should consider their sources for obtaining these vitamins and make adjustments when necessary. .