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Efficacy and safety of fortification and supplementation with vitamin B12: Biochemical and physiological effects

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Long known as an uncommon but serious medical disorder requiring medical management, vitamin B12 deficiency is now seen to be common worldwide, but it is in a quite different form than traditionally envisioned. Most of the newly recognized deficiency is subclinical in nature, its health impact and natural history are uncertain, and its prevalence has been greatly inflated by also including persons with "low-normal" vitamin B12 levels, few of whom are deficient. The spread of folic acid fortification has also introduced concerns about folate's potentially adverse neurologic consequences in persons with undetected vitamin B12 deficiency. Fortification with vitamin B12 may prove more complicated than fortification with folic acid, however, because the bioavailability of vitamin B12 is limited. Bioavailability for those who need the vitamin B12 the most is especially poor, because they often have malabsorption affecting either classical intrinsic factor-mediated absorption or food-vitamin B12 absorption. Moreover, new evidence shows that many elderly persons respond poorly to daily oral doses under 500 g (1 g = 0.74 nmol), even if they do not have classical malabsorption, which suggests that proposed fortification with 1 to 10 g may be ineffective. Those least in need of vitamin B12 usually have normal absorption and are thus at greatest risk for whatever unknown adverse effects of high-dose fortification might emerge, such as the effects of excess accumulation of cyanocobalamin. Studies are needed to define the still unproven health benefits of vitamin B12 fortification, the optimal levels of fortification, the stability of such fortification, interactions with other nutrients, and any possible adverse effects on healthy persons. The answers will permit formulation of appropriately informed decisions about mandatory fortification or (because fortification may prove a poor choice) about targeted supplementation in subpopulations with special needs for additional vitamin B12, such as vegetarians, nursing mothers, and the elderly.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2008

More about this publication?
  • Established in 1978, the Food and Nutrition Bulletin (FNB) is a peer-reviewed journal published quarterly by the Nevin Scrimshaw International Nutrition Foundation.

    The focus of the journal is to highlight original scientific articles on nutrition research, policy analyses, and state-of-the-art summaries relating to multidisciplinary efforts to alleviate the problems of hunger and malnutrition in the developing world.

    Food and Nutrition Bulletin's 2012 Impact Factor: 2.106

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