What is Cobalamin, Better Known as
(Vitamin B12) and What Does it Do?
Cobalamin is the fancy, scientific name for vitamin B12. Its main ingredient is actually the chemical element, cobalt. It’s a hard, silvery white element that is used not only in creating super alloys for parts in gas turbine aircraft engines, but also for coloring glass a deep, rich blue to make the highly prized cobalt blue collectibles.
Oddly enough, the word cobalt comes from the German word kobalt or kobold, meaning evil spirit. Apparently miners in the 1800’s have thought the name appropriate because cobalt was not only poisonous, but it also had a tendency to pollute and degrade the other elements they were trying to mine, elements like nickel.
Miners’ disgruntlement aside, cobalt, in small amounts, is actually essential to many living organisms, especially humans. And when we’re talking about cobalt in terms of its biological role, we call it cobalamin or vitamin B-12.
This vital nutrient was first isolated from a liver extract in 1948. Up until that point, eating large amounts of raw liver on a daily basis was the only treatment available for a deadly type of anemia known as pernicious anemia. The two Harvard doctors who discovered this less than appetizing cure in 1926 later received the Nobel Prize in medicine for their momentous discovery.
But you can imagine the pressure these patients were putting on their doctors to find an alternative treatment. In 1948, two different groups of researchers working with liver concentrate isolated a crystalline red pigment, which they called vitamin B-12. Finally, in 1955, the chemical structure of vitamin B-12 was determined at Oxford University; and in that same year, a group at Harvard succeeded in making vitamin B-12 synthetically.
B-12’s Travel Adventure
(How Does it Get into Your Body?)
So you know that cobalamin starts out in the ground, but how does it get from the ground into your body? Well, like many vitamins and minerals, it travels through the food chain. It’s a relatively rare element, but small amounts of cobalamin exist in the soil.
The B-12 in the soil nourishes the plants as they grow; they, in turn, store it in trace amounts in their leaves. Then the animals come along and eat the plants. The B-12 gets transferred to the animals, and they consequently store it in their liver and other body tissues.
In this manner, B-12 makes its way to the top of the food chain to the humans who get their B-12 by eating either animals themselves or the products of the animals, like eggs, milk, butter and cheese. That’s how you get B-12 naturally - vitamin B-12 can also be found in fortified foods, like fortified breakfast cereals.
Different foods contain different amounts of B-12 of course. The following table from the 'Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health' indicates how much vitamin B-12 you can get from the foods you eat.
|Food ||Micrograms Dietary B-12 ||% Daily Value |
|Liver, 3 oz. ||60.0 ||1000 |
|Trout, 3 oz. ||5.3 ||90 |
|Salmon, 3 oz. ||4.9 ||80 |
|Beef, 3 oz. ||2.1 ||35 |
|Haddock, 3 oz. ||1.2 ||20 |
|Clams, ½ c. ||1.1 ||20 |
|Oysters, 6 pieces ||1.0 ||15 |
|Canned Tuna, 3 oz. ||0.9 ||15 |
|Milk, 1 c. ||0.9 ||15 |
|Yogurt, 8 oz. ||0.9 ||15 |
|Pork, 3 oz. ||0.6 ||10 |
|Egg, 1 large ||0.5 ||08 |
|American cheese, 1 oz. ||0.4 ||06 |
|Chicken, 3 oz. ||0.3 ||06 |
|Cheddar cheese, 1 oz ||0.2 ||04 |
|Mozzarella cheese, 1 oz ||0.2 ||04 |
The recommended daily value for cobalamin or vitamin B-12 is 6.0 micrograms. And while this chart shows you how much B-12 the food you eat should have in it, it is not able to tell you how much of the B-12 you will actually absorb. Click here to
see how B-12 is absorbed by your body
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Some information on this page used with permission from ‘The Secret to Feeling Your Best – Sublingual B12’ by Dr. Brazos Minshew, M.Sc., N.D., L.Ac. © 2004 by TriVita Inc.