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 aren’t sure how much vitamin B12 you need and where you should get it from, we’ve got you covered.
Our researchers dug into the scientific research to scout out the best vitamin B12 supplements and ranked them. On top of that, we’ve gone in-depth on the science of B12 supplementation.
1. LiveWell B12
For those who’re serious about taking the most potent B12 supplement on the market, LiveWell B12 does not mess around.
LiveWell B12 provides one of the most potent B12 supplements on the market at 5000 mcg per serving. It’s designed to be used sublingually and contains the most bioavailable form of B12, methylcobalamin. This ensures that more of the B12 gets to go where it needs to. It’s manufactured in the USA, under string GMP guidelines.
It’s also free of soy, gluten, shellfish, dairy, and GMO’s. Livewell goes the extra mile by providing third party testing to ensure the purity and quality of its B12 supplement.
If you’re going to take a B12 supplement for energy, memory, and immune system function, Livewell B12 is your best choice.
Alpha XR‘s overall #1-rated B12 winner of 2020.
2. Transparent Labs Vitamin B-Complex
Vitamin B12 deficiency rarely comes alone. This is why B-Complex by Transparent Labs supplies a full range of B-vitamins in crucial dosages to get your energy and metabolism back on track.
In B-Complex you receive over 1,000 mcg B12 in its highly active methylcobalamin state.
But what makes B-Complex more powerful than a standard B12 pill is that it also contains the entire range of b-vitamins including co-vitamins like choline, inositol and vitamin C.
Simply take once daily, or whenever your energy is running on empty, and feel confident in Transparent Labs’ GMP certified manufacturing.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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 may affect the dosage you actually get.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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).
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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 hampered.
Best vitamin B12 overall: LiveWell B12
LiveWell B12 has a super high dosage and an incredibly pure formulation. The liquid formulation makes it easy to incorporate into protein shakes and green drinks, and the citrus flavor makes it easy to take on its own, too. Easily the best all-around B12 supplement on the market.
Best vitamin B12 for energy: Twinlab B12 Dots
If you need energy fast, Twinlab B12 Dots are the way to go. One dot held under your tongue delivers a rapid surge of B12 to your bloodstream, helping to rapidly heighten your energy levels.
Best vitamin B12 for vegans: LiveWell B12
LiveWell B12 is a liquid-based B12 supplement that is vegan-friendly, tastes great, and easy to use, making it the clear winner for vegans looking to ensure their B12 levels stay in the optimal range.
Best vitamin B12 for anxiety: Transparent Labs Vitamin B-Complex
Deficiencies in B12 and other B-complex vitamins are known to be associated with anxiety, depression, and other mood disturbances. Transparent Labs makes a great supplement that provides B12 alongside other essential B-complex vitamins that help maintain a stable mood.
Best vitamin B12 for seniors: Transparent Labs Vitamin B-Complex
Seniors are often deficient in vitamin B12, but this rarely occurs in isolation—more commonly, seniors are also lacking in the other B-complex vitamins too. That’s why we recommend Transparent Labs Vitamin B-complex: it provides a potent blend of all of the essential B vitamins in one capsule.
Best vitamin B12 for workout performance: Twinlab B12 Dots
The energy-boosting properties of vitamin B12 make it a good option for elevating your alertness and energy levels before a workout. Our favorite supplement for this purpose is Twinlab B12 Dots, thanks to its rapid under-the-tongue B12 delivery mechanism.
Who should buy vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is a vitamin that’s essential for proper functioning of your central nervous system and your blood. Vitamin B12 can be challenging to get in your diet, especially if you have any dietary restrictions: it’s found in respectable amounts in just a few foods, which include beef, eggs, chicken, and dairy.
Beyond these natural sources of B12, the only way to get B12 is via fortified foods or a supplement. Vegans, vegetarians, and people on a ketogenic diet can have a particularly hard time getting enough B12, as their standard diet can be low in food sources rich in B12.
Certain populations either have elevated B12 needs or have diminished capabilities to absorb B12: pregnant and nursing women, and people who have had weight loss surgery are a few good examples. Because of its critical importance for infants and children, vitamin B12 is an ingredient in any high-quality prenatal vitamin or multivitamin for kids.
Increasingly, B12 has also been the focus for research into preventing or slowing cognitive decline in older adults, and B12 deficiency is quite common among the elderly, so they should be added to the list of people who can benefit from a vitamin B12 supplement
How we ranked
Given the nutritional importance of vitamin B12, our rankings were strongly informed by the dosages and supplement forms used by clinical trials and scientific experiments on vitamin B12, particularly those focused on restoring or improving health.
Our first criteria was related to dosage. Since research has found that supplement dosages of at least 500 to 1000 mcg of B12 are optimal for restoring B12 levels back to normal, we eliminated supplements that had a lower dosage than this from consideration.
As we were focused specifically on the benefits of B12, and not B-complex vitamins generally, we also discounted combination supplements that provided B12 alongside other vitamins or minerals (we do have separate rankings for supplements like prenatal vitamins, which include B12 alongside other important vitamins for women who are or will soon be pregnant).
After identifying high-dosage sources of B12, we considered the delivery mechanism of the supplement. Capsule based supplements had a clear advantage, due to their ability to deliver a precise dosage every time. However, not everyone is able to or likes to swallow capsules—this problem is especially relevant considering the fact that older adults are disproportionately represented among people who have low levels of B12.
So, we also analyzed the two competing forms of delivery for B12: gummies and liquid supplements. Liquid supplements can be handy if you already make a protein shake or green drink, but they have the disadvantage of not being particularly easy to get a reliable dosage.
With a liquid form supplement, you are relying on the accuracy of the eyedropper, which can have quite a bit of uncertainty associated with it.
On the other hand, you have gummies, which promise a more consistent dosage. However, gummies demand many more ingredients to give the gummies their consistency, not to mention artificial sweeteners and artificial coloring agents for flavoring and color.
Since our preference is always towards ingredients with a cleaner supplement design, the liquid based B12 supplements edged out the gummy B12 supplements in almost every case.
We applied the same strict standards of purity and clean supplement design to the capsule based supplements as well, rewarding products that kept unnecessary ingredients to a minimum.
After sorting the remaining products according to quality, we had our final rankings: the best B12 supplements that are available right now.
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 very high. 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.
Vitamin B12 may not help after cognitive decline has already started. 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.
Vitamin B12 is essential for children and women who are pregnant. While folate gets a lot of the attention when it comes to critical vitamins to take during pregnancy, but B12 matters too: according to a report by a working group from the World Health Organization, deficiencies in B12 during pregnancy may be related to an increased risk of neural tube defects, a serious birth defect (9).
Some research also supports an association between low maternal levels of B12 and other birth defects too, but the evidence is not as strong.
The importance of B12 for health doesn’t end after birth, though. Children who are deficient in vitamin B12 suffer developmental delays, and may not ever fully recovery.
Among schoolchildren, the working group noted that lower levels of B12 correlated with worse grades and lower scores on tests of cognitive ability.
For these reasons, you’ll find B12 in pretty much any multivitamin for kids. The importance of B12 is underscored even more if you are vegan, vegetarian, or simply don’t eat much red meat and eggs.
As noted earlier, it’s very difficult to get adequate intake of vitamin B12 if you don’t regularly eat animal products or eat foods fortified with B12 (many of which are processed foods which are not particularly healthy for you).
Weight loss surgery can cause vitamin B12 deficiency. Getting baryatric surgery, like a lap band or gastric bypass, can be a life-changing procedure for people who are very obese. These procedures often result in massive amounts of weight loss and a great improvement in quality of life.
However, one of the unexpected side effects of these procedures can be B12 deficiency. Because you are eating so much less food, and because your body’s ability to absorb and process B12 is diminished after weight loss surgery, doctors have noted that patients who undergo bariatric surgery have a substantially higher risk for B12 deficiency.
A 2010 scientific article in the journal Nutrition recommends regular monitoring of blood levels and supplementation of B12 alongside a small number of other vitamins and minerals for people who have had weight loss surgery (9).
As the number of people who have had weight loss surgery grows, the proportion of people who will need to take supplemental B12 will grow as well. Supplementation can assist with one of the side effects of what can be a life changing or even life saving surgical procedure.
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 (10).
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 (11).
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.
Q: What foods are high in vitamin B12?
A: The list of foods that are high in B12 is surprisingly short. Beef, salmon and other fish, milk, cheese and other dairy products, and eggs more or less round out the significant sources of natural B12.
While other foods like breakfast cereals are often listed as being high in vitamin B12, these foods are fortified with supplemental vitamin B12.
Moreover, they’re often not the kinds of foods you want to be eating a lot of: many of them are heavily processed and high in refined carbohydrates.
Q: Is it okay to take B12 as a vitamin supplement?
A: Yes, vitamin B12 is extremely safe. No significant adverse effects have been associated with acute intake of vitamin B12, according to the National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements (12).
As noted in the side effects section of this article, one study found an association between long-term use of vitamin B12 and an increased risk of lung cancer, though more research is needed to replicate this finding. People who smoke or who are otherwise at high risk for lung cancer may want to talk to their doctor before taking a vitamin B12 supplement long-term, but aside from this, it’s okay to take a B12 supplement.
Q: What is cobalamin?
A: Cobalamin is another name for vitamin B12. The terms are interchangeable, so vitamin B12 means the same thing as cobalamin. The actual name comes from the fact that the vitamin B12 molecule has an ion of cobalt at its core.
There’s a bit of confusion regarding B12 and many of the other B vitamins, as they often have alternative names (folate, for example, is the same thing as vitamin B9), but as long as you know that they are one and the same, it shouldn’t cause you any trouble.
Q: What does B12 do during pregnancy?
A: Even in adults, vitamin B12 is known to be critical for proper functioning of the central nervous system. When you know this, it should not be surprising that B12 plays an important role in the development of your baby’s central nervous system and brain.
Neural tube defects, or NTDs, the birth defect that is most strongly associated with vitamin B12 deficiency, is a defect of the central nervous system.
The importance of B12 doesn’t go away after birth, either. Infants and children who are deficient in vitamin B12 face a much greater risk of cognitive and developmental delays, underscoring the importance of vitamin B12 in the proper development of your brain, spinal cord, and nervous system.
Q: Can you overdose on vitamin B12?
A: No. B12 is one of the safest vitamin supplements you can take. B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, so any excess is simply eliminated in urine.
There have been no documented cases of overdose on vitamin B12, and indeed, you’ll find many examples of supplements that provide massive doses of vitamin B12 with no apparent ill effect.
Q: Is getting a B12 injection better than taking a supplement?
A: Vitamin B12 injections were developed for people who have poor natural absorption of vitamin B12 from food and supplements, or who might not reliably be able to take a B12 supplement.
Certain genetic conditions can substantially limit your body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12, so people with these conditions often get a B12 injection instead of taking a supplement.
Likewise, some people who have gastric bypass surgery or another bariatric (weight loss) surgical procedure may elect to get an occasional B12 injection instead of taking a supplement. On balance, though, most people are better off with a supplement if they are capable of taking them: supplements are cheaper and much easier to get.
Injections of B12 became better-known in part because sports organizations used them as a cover-up for steroid injections, claiming that injecting B12 had benefits not accessible by taking it via supplement. These claims, however, are unfounded.
Q: Can you get B12 from vegetables?
A: No, there are no plant-based sources of B12, which is why vegans are at a high risk for vitamin B12 deficiency. The only naturally occurring sources of B12 are actually bacteria, which are consumed and then live as part of the probiotic flora inside ruminants like cows.
These bacteria continue producing B12, which gradually accumulates in animal tissue. That’s why the only sources of it are animal-derived foods like dairy, eggs, and meat.
If you are a vegan, vegetarian, or simply don’t eat much in the way of meat, a B12 supplement is an extremely good investment for your health.
Q: What are the symptoms of B12 deficiency?
A: Vitamin B12 deficiency can manifest as tingling, pins and needles sensations, fatigue, continual tiredness, and pale skin. Not all of the symptoms are easily observable physical symptoms, though. B12 deficiency can also manifest as mood changes, depression, forgetfulness, and other memory problems.
You may feel as though you are in a constant “mental fog” for no apparent reason. If you have these symptoms, it’s worth getting your vitamin B12 levels checked. It’s particularly important to do so if your diet is pretty healthy—there may be an underlying medical cause for B12 deficiency, like celiac disease and other gastrointestinal disorders.
Q: Can you get vitamin B12 naturally?
A: Yes, but only from animal foods. The only natural source of vitamin B12 is from foods like beef, eggs, dairy, and fish. While plants are great sources of many other vitamins and minerals, you won’t be able to get even trace amounts of natural vitamin B12 from any plant based food.
Now, some foods—particularly breads, breakfast cereals, and rice—are often fortified with vitamin B12, so these foods can make appearances on lists of top sources of vitamin B12, but these are not naturally occurring sources of B12; they’re just supplemental B12 added into the mix.
- Vitamin B6
- Multivitamins for men
- Multivitamins for women
- Prenatal vitamins
- Multivitamins for kids
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.
For Alpha XR’s #1 vitamin B12 recommendation, click here.