Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that’s difficult to get in large amounts in many food sources, especially if you are a vegetarian or a vegan.
It functions almost like a hormone, and plays a role in a huge number of bodily functions essential for health. If you are not sure how much vitamin B12 you need and where you should get it from, we’ve got you covered.
Our researchers dug out the best vitamin B12 supplements and ranked them for you.
1. Twinlab B12 Dots
TwinLabs B12 dots are great if you can’t stand swallowing pills, or if you just want a rapid delivery of your B12 dosage. Each 500 mcg dot rapidly dissolves when placed underneath your tongue, and the B12 is delivered right to your bloodstream via the mucous tissue in the bottom of your mouth.
Given that these dots scored very highly on independent analytical testing for purity and dosage, you can be sure that you are getting the advertised amount of vitamin B12.
2. Nature Made B12 Timed Release
With 1000 mcg of vitamin B12 per serving and a specially-formulated slow release capsule, Nature Made delivers a straightforward and effective supplement.
It’s been verified for purity and dosage by independent laboratory testing, and it passed with flying colors. It’s very hard to go wrong with this B12 supplement.
3. VeganSafe B12
If you want a super-high dose B12 supplement that’s been independently tested for purity and concentration, VeganSafe B12 should be your choice.
It has no extraneous ingredients and every serving from the dropper bottle has 2500 mcg of vitamin B12.
The main drawbacks are intrinsic to the packaging style–it’s hard to consistently measure volumes from a dropper, so that will substantially affect the dosage you actually get.
4. Garden of Life Vitamin Code B12
If you suspect there might be more to health than vitamins operating independently, on their own, you are of the same mind as Garden of Life.
Their supplement design philosophy is based around providing nutrients in the form that they are found in nature, and that’s exactly what they do with their B12 supplement. The vitamin B12 in Garden of Life Vitamin Code B12 is provided alongside extracts from a wide range of fruits and vegetables.
The drawback is that, because B12 is mostly found in dairy and animal products, providing fruit and vegetable extracts may not reflect the “natural environment” in which vitamin B12 is found.
5. Bronson Vitamin Sustained Release B12
As one of the few companies to offer a slow release form of vitamin B12, Bronson Vitamin already has some advantage.
When dealing with high doses of B12 , like the 1000 mcg in this supplement, it’s advantageous to formulate the tablet so that the body has a longer period of time to absorb it.
Still, Bronson gets beat out by other supplements that have independent lab testing of their purity and dosages.
6. Zenwise Health Vitamin B12
Zenwise Health’s Vitamin B12 supplement provides a strong but not outrageously high dosage.
It’s got 1000 mcg of Vitamin B12 per serving, but it doesn’t exactly distinguish itself from the crowd. It doesn’t have the independent lab testing that other supplements have, and its delivery mechanism (a standard swallowable tablet) is nothing special either).
7. Natrol Vitamin B12
Natrol’s Vitamin B12 supplement is the epitome of a high dosage, fast-delivery option. Its 5000 mcg of vitamin B12 are contained in fast-dissolve tablets that will rapidly raise your body’s circulating levels of vitamin B12.
The question with a supplement like this is whether the dosage and delivery mechanism are too fast and too strong–In the case of a high dose supplement, it might be better to provide a slow release formulation to ensure that your body can actually absorb a greater proportion of the dose.
8. Jarrow Formulas Methylcobalamin
Jarrow Formulas offers its vitamin B12 in an artificially-sweetened lozenge form, which you hold in your mouth like hard candy while it dissolves.
The dosage is extremely high, at 5000 mcg per lozenge, so only use this product if you are sure that you need an extremely high dosage of vitamin B12.
9. SBR Nutrition Vitamin B12 Drops
SBR makes a pretty solid liquid form vitamin B12, but it doesn’t compare quite as well as VeganSafe, the other dropper-based B12 supplement.
SBR’s version does not have the same independent lab testing to verify dosage and purity, and it shares the same drawbacks: with a dropper, there is a lot more variation in a serving size than compared to a tablet or a capsule, so your ability to get precise amounts is significantly hampered.
Still, if you are looking for a liquid form B12 supplement, it is a decent option.
10. Vitafusion Extra Strength B12
Vitafusion’s claim to fame is that it makes chewable versions of most popular vitamins, minerals, and supplements.
These can be great if you hate swallowing pills, but in the case of vitamin B12 supplements, there are so many other options already out there, like liquid drops, lozenges, and sublingual tabs.
The chewable formulation of Vitafusion Extra Strength B12 means that it needs a lot of extra ingredients to give the gummies their texture.
More problematically, the gummies contain gelatin, which is an animal product. Given that vegetarians and vegans make up a huge proportion of the people who are interested in a vitamin B12 supplement, you can’t help but see this as anything but a major design oversight.
Vitamin B12 benefits and side effects
Vitamin B12 is a necessary vitamin for a huge number of bodily functions. It’s of particular interest to vegans and vegetarians, because it’s extraordinarily difficult to get enough vitamin B12 without eating animal products.
According to the Vegan Society, there are no vegan sources of vitamin B12, other than foods that are fortified with added B12 (1).
Lower levels of vitamin B12 can cause anemia and fatigue, so it’s very important to keep high levels of this vitamin. B12 is also often used as an energy supplement, which is why it’s included in many different energy drinks.
A lack of vitamin B12 can be associated with vague problems like weakness, dizziness, pale skin, and constipation (2). It’s one of the leading causes of anemia, which is a lack of red blood cells to supply oxygen to your muscles. This will manifest as weakness, fatigue, and poor performance during exercise.
The prevalence of vitamin B12 deficiency is estimated at close to six percent of the older population, and an additional 20% of people have “marginal” B12 levels, meaning they are right on the edge of low vitamin B12 (3).
Combined this means that up to a quarter of the population of older adults could be at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency.
So, if you are deficient in vitamin B12, how quickly do you recover once you start a supplementation routine? As outlined in a case report by Dr. Sally Stabler in the New England Journal of Medicine, people who are suffering from the effects of vitamin B12 deficiency show a rapid blood response to restoration of proper vitamin B12 levels, but a full recovery of the body’s various systems affected by B12 deficiency can take up to six months (4).
Low levels of vitamin B12 may be implicated in the development of chronic diseases too. One study identified low B12 as a significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
The study, published in 1998 in the Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology, tested the levels of vitamin B12 in the blood of patients with confirmed or suspected Alzheimer’s disease, and compared them to healthy control subjects who were otherwise similar in terms of age (5).
The researchers found that having low levels of vitamin B12 in your blood was associated with a 4.5 times higher risk of being in the Alzheimer’s disease group.
Unfortunately, it does not seem like vitamin B12 supplementation is helpful once cognitive decline has already started. This was the conclusion of a 2008 clinical trial that tried using a B12 supplement to slow the cognitive decline experienced by people who had already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease (6).
After 18 months of follow-up, the study authors found no difference in the group given the vitamin B12 supplement compared to the group given a placebo. This may underscore the importance of keeping your vitamin B12 levels high even when you are healthy.
Vitamin B12 may help prevent cognitive decline from beginning, but it doesn’t seem to help once it is already underway.
Cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s is not the only neurological condition related to vitamin B12. A study done in Rotterdam connected low vitamin B12 levels with clinical depression, too (7).
The experiment was described in the American Journal of Psychiatry: in it, a large sample of patients with clinical depression were matched with healthy controls, and levels of various B vitamins were examined. The researchers found that the people with depression had a tendency to have significantly lower levels of vitamin B12.
Cardiovascular disease is another area where vitamin B12 levels seem to be important. A study published in Circulation, a journal from the American Heart Association, prospectively followed several thousand people over the course of three years after measuring their blood levels of B vitamins (8).
They found that levels of B vitamin metabolites in the blood were related to a protective effect from cardiovascular disease. The specific mechanism behind this relationship remains unclear, but it does appear that B12 is related to heart health as well as cognitive health.
While short-term use of vitamin B12 has no immediate side effects, even at very high doses, taking high doses over a long period of time does seem to be linked to an increased risk of lung cancer, but only in men.
A study performed by researchers at the Ohio State University found that men taking high doses of vitamin B12 had two to four times the incidence of lung cancer compared to men who didn’t take high doses of B12 (9).
This risk needs to be weighed against the benefits of B12 supplementation and the risks of B12 deficiency. Men who smoke should be especially hesitant to take B12 supplements, because smoking itself is a huge risk factor for lung cancer.
Fortunately, in the case of B12 supplementation, there are very firm recommendations on dosage for restoring proper B12 levels. Clinical trials with a variety of doses in elderly subjects who are deficient in Vitamin B12 have identified the minimum effective dose.
A scientific study in the Journal of the American Medical Academy Internal Medicine tested doses of 2.5 to 1000 micrograms per day of vitamin B12 over the course of several weeks to see which doses elicited the most rapid restoration of B12 levels (10).
They found that only 500 and 1000 micrograms had the highest and most rapid response. So, if you are deficient in B12, you should aim for a daily dosage of 500-1000 micrograms for several weeks. Later, you can lower your intake to maintain your levels.
Vitamin B12 is a vital nutrient that plays a protective and preventative role in several chronic diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and depression.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is very common; up to a quarter of older adults have or are at high risk for B12 deficiency. A deficiency in vitamin B12 can be fixed with several weeks of supplementation at 500 to 1000 micrograms per day, and a lower dose later to maintain adequate levels of B12 in the body.
Men, especially men who smoke, should be hesitant to take high doses of B12 for long periods, but the risks of B12 deficiency need to be considered as well.