Vitamin B-12 is an essential vitamin, which means the human body cannot make its own and must obtain it through food, supplementation, or, in some cases, prescription medication. Known primarily as the “energy vitamin,” this vitally important nutrient plays a role in numerous bodily functions and is a cofactor and catalyst “helper” compound in certain enzymatic processes. Aside from those functions, virtually every cell in your body needs vitamin B-12.
What Is Vitamin B-12?
Vitamin B-12 is one of the eight B vitamins collectively referred to as B complex. Because B-12 contains the element cobalt in its molecular structure, it is also called cobalamin. This water-soluble vitamin occurs naturally in certain animal products (i.e., eggs, milk, fish, and shellfish) but, in contrast to most other nutrients, it is not readily available in many plants or fungi.
In fact, vitamin B-12 is exclusively manufactured in nature by bacteria and single-celled microbes, the only living organisms that possess the enzymes needed for its synthesis. Since your body cannot manufacture vitamin B-12 and it’s an essential nutrient,[1, 2] you must get it through a balanced diet, take it in supplement form, or, under certain conditions, as a prescription medication. In fact, vitamin B-12 is the most complex in chemical structure of all vitamins.[3, 4]
The Four Forms of Vitamin B-12
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There are four forms of vitamin B-12.
Hydroxycobalamin (hydroxocobalamin), also called vitamin B-12a, is produced naturally by bacteria, and is the form found in most food sources since they contain the bacterial byproduct. This type is often used in B-12 shots. Hydroxycobalamin…