Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin. Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water. After the body uses these vitamins, leftover amounts leave the body through the urine.
The body can store vitamin B12 for years in the liver.
Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal foods such as fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products. Vitamin B12 is generally not present in plant foods. Fortified breakfast cereals are a readily available source of vitamin B12. The vitamin is more available to the body from these cereals for vegetarians. Some nutritional yeast products also contain vitamin B12.
You can get the recommended amounts of vitamin B12 by eating a variety of the foods including:
To find out if vitamin B12 has been added to a food product, check the nutrition fact panel on the food label.
The body absorbs vitamin B12 from animal sources much better than plant sources. Non-animal sources of vitamin B12 have different amounts of B12. They are not thought to be good sources of the vitamin.
Vitamin B12 deficiency occurs when the body does not get or is not able to absorb the amount of vitamin that the body needs.
Deficiency is most common in people who:
Talk to your health care provider about taking Vitamin B12 supplements.
Low levels of B12 can cause:
Recommendations for vitamin B12, as well as other nutrients, are provided in the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) developed by the Food and Nutrition Board at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. DRI is a term for a set of reference intakes that are used to plan and assess the nutrient intakes of healthy people. These values, which vary by age and sex, include:
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA): The average daily level of intake that is enough to meet the nutrient needs of nearly all (97% to 98%) healthy people. An RDA is an intake level based on scientific research evidence.
Adequate Intake (AI): This level is established when there is not enough scientific research evidence to develop an RDA. It is set at a level that is thought to ensure enough nutrition.
Dietary reference intakes for vitamin B12:
Adolescents and Adults (RDA)
The best way to meet your body's vitamin B12 needs is to eat a wide variety of animal products.
Supplemental vitamin B12 can be found in the following:
Litwack G. Vitamins and nutrition. In: Litwack G, ed. Human Biochemistry. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 20.
Mason JB, Booth SL. Vitamins, trace minerals, and other micronutrients. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 205.
Markell M, Siddiqi HA. Vitamins and trace elements. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 27.
Reviewed By: Meagan Bridges, RD, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 09/29/2021.