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DSM in Food, Beverages & Dietary Supplements

Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin)

DSM is a leading provider of vitamin B12, especially important as a way to fortify products aimed at people with a low dietary intake, such as vegans. A severe deficiency can lead to neurological damage.
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Vitamin B12 is the largest and most complex of all the vitamins. Vitamin B12 comprises the only cobalt-containing molecules (so-called ‘cobalamins’) associated with biological activity in humans. (The cobalt gives this water-soluble vitamin its distinctive red color.)

Vitamin B12 is produced exclusively by microbial synthesis in the digestive tract of animals. Therefore, animal protein products, in particular organ meats (eg liver, kidney), are the primary source of vitamin B12 in the human diet. Other good sources are fish, eggs and dairy products.

Health functions

A sufficient intake of vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is important as it helps the body to:

  • Convert food into glucose, which is used to produce energy
  • Maintain healthy nerve cells
  • Produce nucleic acids (DNA), the body's genetic material
  • Regulate, together with vitamin B9 (folate), the formation of red blood cells
  • Control, together with vitamin B6 and vitamin B9, blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine, a potential marker for heart disease risk.
Dairy products

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which provides scientific advice to assist policy makers, has confirmed that clear health benefits have been established for the dietary intake of vitamin B12 in contributing to:

  • Normal red blood cell formation
  • Normal cell division
  • Normal energy metabolism
  • A normal function of the immune system
  • Normal homocysteine metabolism (heart health)
  • Normal neurological and psychological functions
  • The reduction of tiredness and fatigue.

A deficiency in vitamin B6 alone is rare because it usually occurs in combination with a deficit in other B-complex vitamins (especially vitamin B2).

Mild deficiencies of vitamin B12 are not uncommon in elderly people (10–15% of individuals over the age of 60), either because of poor diet or because they have less stomach acid, which the body needs to absorb vitamin B12.

Low levels of B12 can cause a range of symptoms including fatigue, shortness of breath, diarrhea, nervousness, numbness, or a tingling sensation in the fingers and toes. Severe deficiency of B12 causes neurological damage.

Supplements and food fortification

The principal form of vitamin B12 used in supplements is cyanocobalamin, available in the form of injections and as a nasal gel for the treatment of pernicious anaemia. Cyanocobalamin is also available in tablet and oral liquid form for vitamin B-complex, multivitamin and vitamin B12 supplements.

Vitamin B12 is widely used as a way to enrich cereal products and certain beverages. ‘Dietetic’ foods such as slimming foods and infant formulas are often fortified with vitamins, including B12. Fortification with vitamin B12 is especially important for products aimed at people with a low dietary intake, such as vegans.