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Learn - Friday 22, 2019
What is Vitamin B12?
B12 is one of the eight B vitamins and is known as the energy vitamin; it is actually the largest of all the vitamins, and also the most chemically complex. It is the only essential vitamin that contains the trace mineral cobalt at its center (hence the name cobalamin). It is a water-soluble vitamin that plays essential roles in red blood cell formation, cell metabolism, nerve function and the production of DNA. Vitamin B12 can be consumed in large doses because excess is excreted by the body or stored in the liver for use when supplies are scarce. Stores can last for up to a year, which can make detecting low levels of B12 rather tricky. As a biochemical, B12 plays the role of a cofactor in the body. Cofactors essentially act as “helper molecules” in the body, which assist in biochemical processes and transformations.
Different Forms of B12: Cyanocobalmin vs Methylcobalamin
Cyanocobalmin (non-methylated) vs methylcobalamin (methylated) are the two main forms of vitamin B12.They are the same compound with only one molecular difference: methylcobalamin has methyl group, cyanocobalmini has cyanide group.
Cyanocobalmin is the synthetic version of B-12 and does not occur naturally in any living organism. It is most commonly found in multivitamins and fortified foods as it is more stable with a longer shelf life and is a cheaper version of the vitamin, from a manufacturing stand point. Cyanocobalmin contains a cyanide molecule at the center (this is found naturally in things such as almonds and apple seeds), but the body must remove and replace this molecule with a methyl group. It has to be broken down and converted to methyl-cobalamin, which is an infective process in most Americans. This form is also not ideal for those who smoke or drink, as the cyanide can build up in the liver over time.
Individuals with gene mutations such as MTHFR or MTRR have trouble with the methylation of B12. In America, about 25 percent of people who are Hispanic, and 10 to 15 percent of people who are Caucasian have these mutations. These individuals often need larger doses of B12 and methyl B12 also provides support for methylation.
Methylcobalamin is the active and bio-available form of B12 in the body, as well as being the active co-enzyme form. This form is said to be more ideal, as it eliminates the need for an extra chemical reaction on the body and doesn’t have to be converted from the inactive form to the active form (since it is already in the active form). Methyl-cobalamin can cross the blood brain barrier, can remain in the body for longer periods of time, is said to be retained by the by tissues and better absorbed by the body. Methyl-cobalamin is also beneficial for various functions in the body, as it contributes methyl groups needed for a process known methylation, a biochemical process that occurs billions of times per second in nearly every cell, which is needed for detoxification, immune system health, DNA and RNA functioning and energy production.
The “hydroxo” form is another common form used to treat B12 deficiency, and is the main form in animal food sources, which gets converted to methylcobalamin.
Who Needs More B12?
Roughly 40 percent of people are deficient in B12. In order to break down vitamin B12 you need a protein called intrinsic factor, as well as adequate levels of HCL (stomach acid), both of which decline as we age, as well as decline with levels of stress, poor diet, OTC medications and antacids. Vitamin B12 must be obtained through diet or supplementation. However, B12 from the diet is only found in meat, dairy and fish products; it cannot be produced by plants, animals or fungus—only though fermentation of bacteria and in the gut of animals. Plant sources of vitamin B12 are considered to be in the analog form, which is not absorbed by the body, therefore in order to get enough B12 through the diet, you must consume animal protein.
Individuals who might benefit from having their B-12 levels checked (through a test called MMA, as opposed to blood serum levels) are vegans, vegetarians and pregnant women, as their needs are increased. If you find yourself having fatigue, low-energy, muscle weakness, brain fog (memory loss, confusion, depression, mood swings), coldness, numbness, tinging in your hands and feet, sleep issues, are over the age of 50, have low stomach acid, have elevated homocysteine levels and frequently use antacids, OTC (over-the-counter) medication and birth control, you likely have lower levels of B-12.
Good food sources of vitamin B12 include poultry, meat, fish and dairy products. B12 must be obtained through diet or supplementation, as we create only small amounts on our own, and absorption is rather low. Vitamin B-12 is synthesized only by certain bacteria, and it is primarily concentrated in the bodies of animals located higher in the food chain. B12 is the sole vitamin that is absent from plant-derived food sources.
Energy Production: While all B vitamins are known for their role in energy production, vitamin B12 has been touted as the “energy vitamin” due to its role in various biochemical reactions throughout the body. The metabolism of every cell in the body depends on B12, as it plays a role in the synthesis of fatty acids and energy production. One of the most common early signs of vitamin B12 deficiency is fatigue or lack of energy, which may be due to its contribution in red blood cell formation (which carry oxygen throughout the body) and the prevention of anemia. If you suffer from anemia, the body doesn’t have enough red blood cells to transport oxygen to vital organs, which can lead to feelings of weakness and fatigue.
RBC & WBC Formation: Low vitamin B12 levels can cause a reduction in the formation of red blood cells and white blood cells, both of which are required for immune system functioning, energy production, clotting and platelet formation. Vitamin B12 has a vital role in cell growth and development in many processes and reactions that occur in the body and when levels become elevated or lower than normal, the process of healthy red blood cell formation can become inefficient.
Neurotransmitter Creation: Vitamin B12 is a precursor for the creation of GABA, an amino acid and neurotransmitter that acts to calm the brain. Vitamin B12 is also a cofactor in the synthesis of other neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine.
Hair, Skin and Nail Support: Due to the role that vitamin B12 plays in cell production, having enough B12 is required to promote the growth and production of healthy hair, skin and nails. Low vitamin B12 levels have been found to contribute to various skin issues such as hyperpigmentation, as well as inflamed and cracker mouth corners and nail discoloration.
Myelin Production: Myelin is the protective coating around nerve cells found in the central nervous system, which is mostly made of fat and cholesterol. Myelin helps to produce myelin sheath, which protects the spinal, cranial and peripheral nerves and a lack of this protective coating can damage your nerves, resulting in neurological problems. Vitamin B12 is a major cofactor in forming myelin.
Mood Support: Depression has been linked to diminished B12 status and high homocysteine levels. A study found that those with B12 deficiency were associated with twice the risk of severe depression. Vitamin B-12 is also a required to make GABA and serotonin, both which can result in anti-anxiety and calming effects on the body. Folate and B12 are also both involved in the metabolism of SAM-e, which is crucial for neurological function and mood support. Vitamin B-12 is also required from the production of methionine, which is a precursor to SAM-e.
Immune Support: Vitamin B12 plays a role in the production of white blood cells, which are essential for proper immune system functioning. A lack of B12 can lower your overall immunity and your body’s ability to fight off foreign invaders and pathogens. Vitamin B12 has been shown to increase the production of natural kill cells as well as T- lymphocytes, both of which are needed for proper immune system health.
Cardiovascular and Eye Health: B12 and folate are important for homocysteine metabolism, an amino acid found in the blood. Elevated homocysteine levels are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Research has found that supplementing with B12 to lower homocysteine levels and elevated homocysteine levels has been associated with an increased risk of age-related macular degeneration.
Brain Health: B12 and methylation reactions are essential for the preservation of the myelin sheath around nerve cells and for the synthesis of neurotransmitters. Metabolic implications of B12 deficiency include the accumulation of homocysteine and methylmalonic acid (MMA), which might contribute to the neuropathologic features of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as cognitive impairment and decline and behavioral disorders.
Conception Support: Having adequate levels of B12 is necessary for maintain a healthy pregnancy. Studies have found that the development of the fetus’s brain and nervous system requires B12 levels from the mother to develop properly and having a B12 deficiency in early stages of pregnancy may increase the risk of birth defects. The status of B12 with the mother can also contribute to premature birth or increased risk for miscarriages.
Metabolism Support: Vitamin B12 helps the body convert fats and proteins into energy that is needed for our cells, as well as assists in the breakdown of carbohydrates. B vitamins are also essential for supporting functions of the liver, which deals with creating and breaking down various hormones that deal with our metabolism, detoxification pathways and stress response.
DNA Production: The preservation of DNA integrity depends on folate and B12 availability throughout the body. Deficiency of B12 essentially “traps” folate in a form that is unusable by the body, which is needed for DNA synthesis. Both B12 and folate deficiencies result in a diminished capacity for methylation reactions. Thus, B12 deficiency may lead to an elevated rate of DNA damage and altered methylation of DNA, both of which are important risk factors for cancer and overall cellular health.
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