Vitamins B6 and B12 are part of the larger group of vitamins collectively known as the B-complex vitamins, which are essential for supporting the body's metabolism, producing energy, and combating disease and infection, according to the American Dietetic Association. Within these systems, vitamins B6 and B12 have their own unique roles to play. Both vitamins are available in many commonly consumed foods. However, certain groups of individuals may be at risk from a deficiency of either vitamin.
Significance of vitamin B6
Vitamin B6, also called pyroxidine, is a water-soluble vitamin. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements, or ODS, B6 plays a variety of functions in the human body. From protein metabolism to immune system function to blood glucose regulation, B6 is essential for human health. While a dietary shortage of vitamin B6 will hinder these functions, the ODS says a vitamin B6 supplement will not enhance their effectiveness in well-nourished individuals.
Sources of vitamin B6
Several foods contain vitamin B6, including red meat, poultry, fish and pulses, as well as fortified cereals, seeds, wheatbran and some fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, tomatoes, avocado, spinach and potatoes. Pyroxidine is often added to B-complex vitamin formulas for people who need or choose to take supplements.
Significance of B12
Vitamin B12 is also a water-soluble vitamin that exists in several forms, collectively known as colabamins, says the ODS. Like vitamin B6, the body uses B12 to perform many key functions, including the formation of red blood cells, synthesis of DNA and proper neurological function. Absorption of B12 relies on sufficient hydrochloric acid in the stomach to cleave B12 from its accompanying protein during digestion. According to Mayoclinic.com, the body stores several years worth of vitamin B12, so deficiencies are extremely rare except in individuals with compromised digestion.
Sources of vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 binds to protein in food, so naturally occurring sources of B12 come from animal products such as meat, poultry, eggs, fish, milk and other dairy products. Although plant foods do not typically contain B12, fortified breakfast cereals and some nutritional yeast products do contain the vitamin. Oral supplements or injections are available for individuals who have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12 or choose not to eat animal products.
Consuming a healthy and varied diet provides most individuals with adequate amounts of vitamins B6 and B12, but certain demographics are vulnerable to a deficiency of either or both vitamins, including older adults, individuals on certain medications or those with poor-quality diets such as alcoholics. In the case of vitamin B12, individuals with gastrointestinal problems and vegans may be at risk of deficiency. In these circumstances, dietary supplementation may be warranted under the guidance of a GP or qualified health professional.