Vitamin B12 is a member of the vitamin B complex. It contains cobalt, and so is also known as cobalamin. It is exclusively synthesised by bacteria and is found primarily in meat, eggs and dairy products. Fermented soya products, seaweeds, and algae such as spirulina have all been suggested as containing significant B12. Vitamin B12 can be stored in small amounts by the body. Total body store is 2-5mg in adults. Around 80% of this is stored in the liver. Vitamin B12 is excreted in the bile and is effectively reabsorbed. This is known as enterohepatic circulation.
- Vitamin B12 is necessary for the synthesis of red blood cells, the maintenance of the nervous system, and growth and development in children. Deficiency can cause anaemia. Vitamin B12 neuropathy, involving the degeneration of nerve fibres and irreversible neurological damage, can also occur.
- B12 is necessary for the rapid synthesis DNA during cell division. This is especially important in tissues where cells are dividing rapiddly, particularly the bone marrow tissues responsible for red blood cell formation. If B12 deficiency occurs, DNA production is disrupted and abnormal cells called megaloblasts occur. This results in anaemia.
- B12 is also important in maintaining the nervous system. Nerves are surrounded by an insulating fatty sheath comprised of a complex protein called myelin. B12 plays a vital role in the metabolism of fatty acids essential for the maintenance of myelin. Prolonged B12 deficiency can lead to nerve degeneration and irreversible neurological damage.