The name vitamin B12 is misleading as this is not one single vitamin but the general name for a group of essential biological compounds known as cobalamins; so named because they carry the element cobalt, much like hemoglobin carries iron. It is best taken in a vitamin B complex as, with most other B vitamins, it works synergistically with its counterparts. For example, B12 bound to protein in food (found almost exclusively in animal tissues) is released for use by the body by the activity of hydrochloric acid and gastric enzymes in the stomach, which we already know, rely on B1 and B3 for their production. Also similar to its counterparts, vitamin B12 is water soluble. However, B12 is “protein-bound”, meaning it is bound to protein in foods and therefore requires a good protein digestion in order to become bioavailable.
Look to meats as your primary dietary source of vitamin B12. If supplementing with B12, look for methylcobalamin as it is more readily absorbed by the body than the common, and cheaper to manufacture, cyancobalamin form of B12. Cyancobalamin is converted into methylcobalamin by the liver but not in the amounts needed by the body and certainly not in the amounts needed if your liver isn’t functioning at optimal capacity. The small intestine synthesizes most of the B12 from our food so gastrointestinal disorders can restrict the amount of B12 that gets into your body even if you’re getting sufficient amounts from your diet. If this is the case, B12 taken via injections (which are only obtainable with a prescription and under a professional’s supervision) is more appropriate than tablets.
The Functions of Vitamin B12 in the Body
Throughout our lives, B12 is an active participant in the growth and protection of our nervous system. As we age, more vitamin B12 is needed by the body to protect us against neurological deterioration that goes hand in hand with the aging process. Part of that deterioration takes place on the outer covering, or sheath, of our nerves. B12 helps prevent nerve damage by playing a role in the maintenance the fatty sheaths that cover and protect nerve endings.
Along with aging comes a decline in cognitive abilities, specifically memory and learning. B12 is linked with the production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that assists memory and learning. Acetylcholine carries nerve impulses across gaps between nerve cells (called a synapse) and from nerve cells to muscle cells generating muscle contractions.
As we age, our sleep patterns alter and sometimes change altogether. B12 enhances sleep patterns allowing for a more restful and refreshing sleep; something we can all use at any age.
Vitamin B12 is necessary in digestive processes, the absorption of foods and the metabolism of carbs and fats. It is this metabolism of fatty acids which is essential for the maintenance of the myelin sheath that protects nerve cells.
B12 also plays an important part in methionine metabolism. Methionine is an essential amino acid; something that your body cannot produce without the raw materials obtained through your diet. Methionine helps prevent the buildup of fat in your liver and arteries. It also helps the digestive system (crucial to B12 absorption), aids in the detoxification of harmful substances such as heavy metals from the body and helps with muscle weakness.
B12 and Homocysteine
A byproduct of methionine metabolism is homocysteine. If converted quickly enough by vitamin B6 and B12, homocysteine is broken down into the amino acid cysteine and other compounds such as ATP (an important source of cellular energy) and SAMe (a methyl donor which helps protect against cancer, heart disease and other age-related problems).
If not converted quickly enough, usually due to a lack of folic acid, B6 or B12 which are crucial to conversion, high levels of homocysteine in the blood may be toxic to the lining of the blood vessels and may increase clotting factors which can result in the buildup of plaque and eventually lead to heart disease and stroke. High levels also promote LDL (“lousy” cholesterol) oxidation. Homocysteine levels in red blood cells have been shown to have an inverse relationship to levels of B6, B12 and folic acid – that being the lower the levels of these vitamins, the higher the level of homocysteine. Since folic acid, B6 and B12 can reduce blood levels of homocysteine, extreme meat eaters should consider supplementing with vitamin B complex. In addition, folic acid also helps regulate the formation of red blood cells, cells in general, helps our cells live longer, stronger lives and helps the body utilize iron.
SIGNS OF A Vitamin B12 DEFICIENCY
- Chronic fatigue, drowsiness
- Digestive disorders
- Eye disorders
- Headaches, including migraines
- Inflammation of the tongue
- Labored breathing
- Memory loss
- Neurological damage
- Pernicious anemia (read more about pernicious anemia by CLICKING HERE.
- Ringing in the ears
- Spinal cord degeneration
Food Sources of Vitamin B12
The largest amounts of vitamin B12 are found in meats and, luckily for us, the body absorbs vitamin B12 much better from animal rather than plant sources. Dietary sources include brewer’s yeast, clams, eggs, herring, kidney, liver, mackerel, milk and dairy products and seafood. It is not found in any great quantity in very many vegetables.
Conditions Which May Benefit from Vitamin B12
Multiple Sclerosis and Vitamin B12
Studies have reported a significantly higher rate of vitamin B12 deficiency in people with MS than in people without MS, which is suspected to be due to problems with binding and transport of vitamin B12 (meaning that the body does not process vitamin B12 efficiently, which makes it difficult to maintain normal levels without supplementation). One study found low B12 levels in the cerebrospinal fluid of people with MS, although their blood levels were normal. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause destruction of both the myelin (nerve sheath) and the underlying axon (the “tail” of the nerve cell that carries the nerve impulse away from the main body of the cell). 1
Cardiovascular Health and Vitamin B12
Folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 play key roles in converting homocysteine into methionine, one of the 20 or so building blocks from which the body builds new proteins. Without enough folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12, this conversion process becomes inefficient and homocysteine levels increase. In turn, increasing intake of folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 decreases homocysteine levels. The Nurses’ Health Study shows lower risks of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and hypertension among people with higher intakes of folate, those who use multivitamin supplements, or those with higher levels of serum folate (the form of folate found in the body). 2
Anemia and Vitamin B12
Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. (To read more about anemia, CLICK HERE. Your body needs vitamin B12 to make red blood cells. In the case of pernicious anemia (the body destroys elements called intrinsic factor necessary to absorb B12), lifelong vitamin B12 replacement is necessary, most often using injections, which is usually very successful although any damage to nerves may be permanent.
Nutter’s Can Suggest…
In a recent study, subjects taking methylcobalamin experience improved sleep quality and increased daytime alertness and concentration, and in some cases they also reported improved mood. Much of the benefit appears to be a result of methylcobalamin’s influence on melatonin secretion and resetting the biological clock. Specifically, methylcobalamin causes a significant decrease in daytime melatonin levels while increasing nighttime levels.
B12 methylcobalamin makes adrenaline from norepinephrine, and melatonin from serotonin. It is crucial for the transcription of DNA, and other entities. To convert harmful homocysteine into the beneficial antioxidant, methionine, a methyl group is required. Methylcobalamin provides it thereby protecting your cardiac system.
1. About.com Multiple Sclerosis
2. Harvard School of Public Health
Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Fourth Edition, Phyllis A. Balch, CNC
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, natural health and wellness, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch Practitioner, and Reflexologist.
The suggestions by Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods and the contents of this article
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.