Vitamin B12 deficiency as a worldwide problem

Annu Rev Nutr. 2004:24:299-326. doi: 10.1146/annurev.nutr.24.012003.132440.


Pernicious anemia is a common cause of megaloblastic anemia throughout the world and especially in persons of European or African descent. Dietary deficiency of vitamin B12 due to vegetarianism is increasing and causes hyperhomocysteinemia. The breast-fed infant of a vitamin B12-deficient mother is at risk for severe developmental abnormalities, growth failure, and anemia. Elevated methylmalonic acid and/or total homocysteine are sensitive indicators of vitamin B12-deficient diets and correlate with clinical abnormalities. Dietary vitamin B12 deficiency is a severe problem in the Indian subcontinent, Mexico, Central and South America, and selected areas in Africa. Dietary vitamin B12 deficiency is not prevalent in Asia, except in vegetarians. Areas for research include intermittent vitamin B12 supplement dosing and better measurements of the bioavailability of B12 in fermented vegetarian foods and algae.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Megaloblastic / epidemiology
  • Anemia, Megaloblastic / etiology
  • Anemia, Pernicious / epidemiology
  • Anemia, Pernicious / etiology
  • Biological Availability
  • Diet, Vegetarian / adverse effects
  • Global Health*
  • Humans
  • Hyperhomocysteinemia / epidemiology
  • Hyperhomocysteinemia / etiology
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Vitamin B 12 / administration & dosage*
  • Vitamin B 12 / pharmacokinetics
  • Vitamin B 12 Deficiency / complications*
  • Vitamin B 12 Deficiency / epidemiology*


  • Vitamin B 12