Comments about non-injected vitamin B12

B12 is available in nasal form. How does that compare with classically injected B12?

The uselessness of sublingual Vitamin B12?

In the past I criticized the use of sublingual vitamin B12. Now there is nasal B12 available. A recent article in Gastroenterology[1] showed that nasal B12 is effective in treatment of B12 deficiency, using a dose of1.5 mg per day. 

Patients with Crohn’s disease often have involvement of the last part of the small intestine, which is known as the terminal ileum. That part of the intestine is responsible for absorption of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is a large molecule that will not cross any part of your body unless it is specifically brought across by a transport system. For B12 this requiresa system that involves a special protein made in the stomach, called intrinsicfactor, and the transport system in the terminal ileum which brings B12 into the body when it is bound with intrinsic factor. 

What is interesting is that there is a second way to absorb B12 that does not depend on the usual route. This pathway was described years ago, but requires high dose of B12, about one mg per day. I suspect that the B12 given nasally is eventually swallowed and absorbed by the intestinal route.

Interesting that now B12 is available in these formulations. While true that one gets away without a shot, the dose is about 300 times what is given orally. I imagine that 350 to 475 mg of vitamin B12 a year adds up in cost, and it may indeed be cheaper to just get a yearly shot of 1 mg of B12. Add to that the cost of testing to see if the oral or nasal B12 is getting in the system, and I wonder about the cost.

Patients with Crohn’s are at risk for B12 deficiency. Blood counts should be done regularly. In the future, as folate is added to the diet, looking for large blood cells as a clue to B12 deficiency will no longer work, so B12 levels will need to be every few years or so to detect the developmentof B12 deficiency in patients.

Stephen Holland, M.D.
Section of Clinical Pharmacology
University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria

  1. Slot, WB and Merkus, FW and Van Deventer, SJ and Tytgat, GN. Normalization of plasma vitamin B12 concentration by intranasal hydroxocobalamin in vitamin B12-deficient patients. Gastroenterology 1997 Aug; 113(2):430-433.

Author: Stephen Holland

Stephen Holland, M.D. went to medical school at Northwestern University in Chicago, then did his medical residency at Loyola in Maywood (just West of Chicago). He then did research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, did his GI fellowship there, and went to the University of Illinois at Peoria to teach and do research. He ran a successful private practice for over 12 years in Naperville, Illinois. Most recently he was chief of GI at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Chicago for 5 years.

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