Malabsorption of vitamin B12 in pancreatic insufficiency of the adult and of the child

Pancreas. 1990 Sep;5(5):559-67. doi: 10.1097/00006676-199009000-00011.


Vitamin B12 can bind two carrier proteins in the digestive tract, haptocorrin (R binder) and intrinsic factor, but only its binding to intrinsic factor allows its absorption. A malabsorption of vitamin B12 is observed in about 30% of adult patients with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, using the Schilling test. None of the hypotheses that have tried to explain this malabsorption are entirely satisfactory. A failure to degrade haptocorrin can prevent the binding of vitamin B12 to intrinsic factor. It has also been suggested that pancreatic secretion could modify the structure of intrinsic factor, enabling the uptake of the vitamin B12-intrinsic factor complex by the ileum. Other factors can also affect the binding of vitamin B12 to intrinsic factor, such as the gastric pH and bile. The Schilling test is abnormal in nearly all cases of cystic fibrosis. One explanation could be the gastric hyperacidity observed in this disease. Despite the frequency of abnormal Schilling tests, vitamin B12 deficiency is very rare in cases of exocrine pancreatic dysfunction, in adults as well as in children with cystic fibrosis. The assimilation of this vitamin with a tracer included in food instead of the crystalline labeled cobalamin used in the Schilling test remains to be investigated.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Cystic Fibrosis / complications
  • Cystic Fibrosis / metabolism
  • Digestion
  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency / complications*
  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / complications*
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / metabolism
  • Schilling Test
  • Vitamin B 12 / metabolism*


  • Vitamin B 12