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The discovery of the structure of vitamin B12 was considered so important to human health that it earned the chemist Dorothy Hodgkin a Nobel Prize in 1964.1
A key nutrient that our bodies can’t produce on our own, vitamin B12 is supported through our diet and with supplements.
But what actually is vitamin B12? Why is it important? And what are some of the best vitamin b12 sources?
Find out everything you need to know about this essential nutrient in our guide.
Vitamin B12 is an essential water-soluble vitamin that is stored in our body for between two to four years.2
While our understanding of vitamin B12 may have changed over the years, our bodies’ need for this multi-tasking vitamin hasn’t.
In fact, every cell in the human body uses vitamin B12 to some degree in its function.
Vitamin B12 is needed for:
For more information on why we need B12 and also how to test your levels, read this article: How to test your B12 levels.
We gradually rid our bodies of vitamin B12 throughout each day whenever we visit the toilet, so we have to ensure we’re replacing it consistently.
In the UK and other developed countries, malnutrition is rare.
However, in other parts of the world, vitamin B12 deficiency is common, especially in countries with a high vegetarian population.4
Following a highly restrictive diet, such as one designed for rapid weight loss, may also find themselves lacking the vital vitamin B12 they need to stay healthy.
Older adults are also more likely to experience low levels of vitamin B12, with around 1 in 10 people aged 75 or over and 1 in 20 people aged 65 – 74 affected.5
Older people tend to produce less stomach acid, which is needed to absorb vitamin B12 from food.
For a severe deficiency, vitamin B12 injections might be prescribed by a doctor.
Vegetarians and vegans are at risk of running low on vitamin B12, as dietary sources of vitamin B12 are exclusively from animal products.
Luckily, eating vitamin B12-fortified food and taking a B12 supplement may address this.
So how can you get more vitamin B12? It can be found all together in a vitamin B complex.
Handpicked content: 9 of the best B12 supplements
While you can get vitamin B12 from animal products like meat and dairy, you can also consume whole grains and different kinds of legumes, as these are also sources of vitamin B in all its forms.
If you’re looking to up your intake, we’ve listed some of the best foods high in vitamin B12. These include:6
On the hunt for some vegetarian B12 sources? Don’t worry, there are plenty of ways you can get B12 in your diet without having to eat meat or fish.
Discover ten vegetarian B12 sources below:7
Vegans might struggle to get enough vitamin B12 from dietary sources, as plants and fungi don’t contain it.8
However there are other vegan B12 sources that you can easily add to your diet. Here are some of the best vegan sources of vitamin B12 for you to try:9
We’ve explored all the different sources of vitamin B12 that you could add to your diet, but exactly how much do you need a day?
Adults between the ages of 19 and 64 need about 1.5 micrograms vitamin B12 per day.10
However, for women how are pregnant or breastfeeding, the recommended intake is 2.6-2.8 micrograms.11
The short answer is that we still don’t know, as there’s not enough data to explore how taking too much vitamin B12 could affect you.
So it’s recommended to stick to the recommendation above, or speak directly with your GP for more advice.
Vitamin B12 is produced by the fermentation of microbes found naturally in soil. To do this, the soil must also contain the trace mineral cobalt.12
Hundreds of years ago, before intensive farming, soil was rich in the microbes and cobalt required to produce vitamin B12.
Eating vegetables fresh from the field, for instance, would provide you with it, as would drinking from a mountain stream.
Now, even farm animals take B12 supplements, as due to agricultural conditions they don’t always get the exposure to soil they once did, and if they do, that soil is often deficient in the cobalt needed for the production of vitamin B12.13
It may be possible to increase your B12 absorption if you increase your folate intake alongside your B12.
It is also said that some heartburn medication can reduce your stomach acid levels, which may interfere with absorption.14
So it may be worth mentioning to your GP to see if you can try a different kind of medication instead.
Last updated: 13 August 2021
Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019
Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry
Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.
After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.