What is vitamin B12 good for?

What is vitamin B12 good for?


Life is busy, right?


Many of us are tired and rundown. We’re constantly dashing between work, family, and personal commitments. We eat on the run, forget to exercise, sleep badly, and make poor choices regarding alcohol and sugary treats.


But we put up with it. Why? Well, it’s just what we do. And we’re used to it. Eating a healthy diet and getting our quota of daily exercise, rest, and nutrients is a luxury we don’t have time for!


Unfortunately, this gap in our nutritional needs means that our bodies and minds are suffering. Even though we might not be aware of it at first, a lack of certain vitamins can lead to small problems that become big problems later in life. Inflammation, digestive malfunction, cognitive deterioration, nervous system disorders, and more: these are all linked to poor nutritional status.


Of course, nobody can have the perfect lifestyle or even the perfect diet. But we can ‘fill in the gaps’ with dietary supplements. 


But where do you start? Can you just grab a multivitamin off the shelf and hope for the best?


Not if you want success. But you can start with the B vitamins.


What are the B vitamins?

There are 13 vitamins that are essential to your everyday health. These include the eight B vitamins: thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folate or 'folic acid' when included in supplements (B9), and (B12) which has 4 forms: cyanocobalamin, methylcobalamin, adenosylcobalamin or hydroxocobalamin.


All of your cells need all eight of these B vitamins to function at their best. Although they’re recognized as a group, each vitamin is required by a unique set of the body’s enzymes to carry out important functions. Deficiencies in any of these can lead to chronic health issues.


Each B vitamin has a different role within the body. They work together to help your body break down glucose (blood sugar) and create energy in the form of ATP molecules. Without ATP, your body simply wouldn’t function.  


B12 is one of the most important vitamins of all. It’s also the vitamin that most of us are deficient in.


The role of vitamin B12

Unlike the other B vitamins, B12 is almost exclusively available from animal products. It’s synthesized by bacteria in a process that takes place in the gut of ruminant animals. Ruminants acquire vitamin B12, through a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria present in their stomachs.


This is one of the reasons that vegans and vegetarians are often deficient in B12. However, plenty of people who eat animal products are also lacking in this vital nutrient.


B12 is bound to the protein in food. For us humans to absorb it properly, we need something called intrinsic factor, a glycoprotein that’s made by the parietal cells of the gastric mucosa (the lining of our gut). During digestion, the hydrochloric acid in our stomach releases B12 from protein, where it then combines with intrinsic factor.


If your gut is lacking in intrinsic factor, your uptake of vitamin B12 will be impaired. This can result in a B12 deficiency.


Because B12 is intimately involved in red blood cell production and nervous system maintenance, deficiency is a major cause of fatigue and neurological disorders. Low levels of B12 have been linked to mood disorders, anxiety, nerve pain, and major depression.


How Vitamin B12 Supports Important Processes in the Body

Vitamin B12 isn’t just an energy booster. It’s a highly complex nutrient, and absolutely crucial to the proper functioning of your body. It helps make your DNA and red blood cells, and it plays a key role in the normal function of the brain and nervous system.

Two important enzymatic reactions are known to be dependent on vitamin B12. The first reaction involves the conversion of methylmalonic acid (MMA) to succinyl-CoA, which is crucial for the catabolism of some branched-chain amino acids as well as odd-chain fatty acids.

MMA is a substance in the blood which is usually made in tiny amounts when you digest protein. A lack of B12 means that MMA will not be converted to succinyl-CoA. As a result, MMA can build up in the body, leading to a potentially fatal condition called metabolic ketoacidosis.

The other reaction that requires B12 is the conversion of homocysteine to methionine. This process requires both vitamin B12 and folate as cofactors. Again, a deficiency of vitamin B12 or folate may lead to increased homocysteine levels (which is known to be a risk factor in cardiovascular and other diseases like diabetes, etc.).

If your diet is not providing adequate B12 - or your body is unable to absorb it properly - it’s vital that you take a quality B12 supplement to support your body’s needs.

Here’s a breakdown of the many roles vitamin B12 has in the body.

B12 supports energy and alertness

Vitamin B12 plays an important role in energy metabolism in several ways.

For a start, B12 works closely alongside folate to help make red blood cells, which are required for carrying oxygen to all parts of your body. Hemoglobin helps transport oxygen to other cells and tissues in the body, while oxygen is a crucial part of the cellular respiration process of converting glucose into ATP. Your red blood cells remove the carbon dioxide produced by aerobic respiration and carry it to your lungs.

Vitamin B12 is also a cofactor for the enzymatic reaction that leads to the production of succinyl-coenzyme A, or succinyl-CoA. This is the only mitochondrial enzyme capable of ATP production in the absence of oxygen. It enters the Krebs cycle or the respiratory chain: the last two stages of the process in which the body breaks down food into a form that the cells can use for energy.

Research has shown that Vitamin B12 deficiency reduces endurance and physical performance.
Supplementing with B12 is also known to correct megaloblastic anemia, a condition caused by B12 deficiency which leads to fatigue and weakness. It is often used by athletes to boost endurance and recovery.

B12 is required for healthy methylation

B12 works with the enzymes that use folate to generate and utilize methyl groups. These methyl groups are produced by a process called the ‘methylation cycle’ which involves various molecules within your body, including S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), homocysteine and methionine.

Methylation is the process in which a methyl group is added to another substance - such as DNA or a protein - so that the substance receiving the methyl group is able to function. The addition of methyl groups to DNA molecules helps change the activity of a DNA segment without changing its sequence. DNA methylation is involved in gene transcription - the process of turning an RNA copy of a gene sequence “off” or “on.”

B12 reduces homocysteine levels

Homocysteine is a naturally-occurring amino acid that’s created when your body breaks down the essential amino acid methionine. Methionine is broken down into homocysteine, and then homocysteine is ‘recycled’ back to become methionine again.

High levels of homocysteine in blood plasma have been shown to significantly increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease in older people. This risk is even more severe than high cholesterol, blood pressure, or smoking.

B12 works alongside folate and vitamin B6 in the methionine-homocysteine pathway to maintain normal concentrations of homocysteine. When taken along with folate, B12 has been shown to help lower homocysteine levels more significantly than taking folate alone.

B12 helps you think, learn, and remember

Ultimately, Vitamin B12 is crucial for proper cognitive function and the maintenance of all nervous system tissues. It is required for the structural integrity of the brain and spinal cord. Nerve cells use B12 to produce key neurotransmitters including dopamine, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline).

There is a known link between low B12 concentrations and poor memory performance, memory loss, disorientation, and early-onset dementia. These neurological symptoms are often a result of damage to the myelin sheath of the cranial, spinal, and peripheral nerves. As mentioned above, B12 is required for maintenance of this myelin sheath.

B12 also protects neurons by acting as a cofactor in the synthesis of methionine. Methionine is an amino acid that donates the methyl groups required for methylation reactions. It’s also essential for the production of myelin and neurotransmitters required for proper neurological development, maintenance, and functions.

B12 supports neurological function

B12 and folate are primary cofactors of one-carbon metabolism, which produces the naturally occurring chemical compound of S-adenosylmethionine, or SAMe. This compound is vital for proper neurological function. It’s especially involved in the regulation of the stress response and harbors powerful antidepressant effects.

Again, this is all to do with methylation. Studies have shown that depression has a genetic component, and that modifications in DNA methylation have a positive correlation with depression. Research has suggested that hypermethylation in the BDNF and SLC6A4 genes are positively correlated with major depressive disorder.

Excessively high levels of homocysteine decreases the SAMe-dependent synthesis of important mood chemicals such as serotonin. This is due to a genetic alteration in the MTHFR enzyme within the homocysteine metabolism pathway.

B12 may prevent and/or treat neurological disorders

Animal studies have shown that an active form of B12 called adenosylcobalamin can significantly prevent the neurotoxicity of the gene associated with Parkinson's disease. 

Adenosylcobalamin acts as an inhibitor of the kinase activity of LRRK2, which is associated with an increased risk of Parkinson's disease and also Crohn's disease.

B12 supplementation has been suggested as a means of therapy for those in danger of hereditary Parkinson's associated with pathogenic variants of the LRRK2 enzyme.

B12 helps support your everyday mood

Studies suggest that up to 30% of patients hospitalized for depression are deficient in B12. Elevated levels of homocysteine and low serum levels of B12 are associated with poor cognitive function, cognitive decline and dementia.

Your mood is linked to serotonin, the body’s ‘happy chemical’. Serotonin depends on the methylation process, which is also responsible for creating other monoamine neurotransmitters and catecholamines.

Adequate levels of vitamin B12 are vital for the maintenance of healthy cognitive and mental function. Folate and B12 work together to produce S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), which contributes to a healthy mood.

Vitamin B12 supplementation has been shown effective in treating mood disorders such as clinical depression. A study published in the Open Neurology Journal found significant improvement in depressive symptoms following a combination of SSRI and vitamin B12 therapy.

B12 may be an effective treatment for clinical depression

A randomized controlled trial examined the effectiveness of Vitamin B12 supplementation in patients with major depressive disorder. The 73 patients already had low B12 levels and had not responded adequately to SSRIs.

Half of the patients were treated with SSRIs, and half received both SSRIs and Vitamin B12 injections. After three months of treatment, 100% of the patients in the B12 group showed a 20% decrease in depression scores, and 44% showed a 50% decrease. This compared to 69% of patients in the control group who showed only a 20% decrease.

The researchers believe that these results indicate combining Vitamin B12 supplementation with conventional antidepressants may be effective in decreasing depressive symptoms.

B12 helps prevent the loss of neurons

Vitamin B12 is crucial for the synthesis and maintenance of myelin sheaths, the covering that protects the nerves of the central and the peripheral nervous system. The myelin sheath is required for fast and effective nerve-impulse transmission.

Damage to the myelin sheath caused by B12 deficiency typically results in neurological problems later in life.

Vitamin B12 is also required for the proper conversion of the protein methylmalonyl-CoA into succinyl CoA. Without B12, methylmalonyl-CoA may instead be converted to methylmalonic acid (MMA). Excess MMA can result in abnormal fatty acids and a weak myelin sheath, and subsequently, demyelination. The result is severe central and peripheral nervous system dysfunction.

B12 may reduce the risk of early onset dementia

Vitamin B12 may help to slow brain atrophy in older people. Brain atrophy is the shrinking of the brain which results in a loss in brain volume and neurons. This has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

A 2008 study published by the American Academy of Neurology investigated the nutritional status of 107 participants aged over 61. The researchers found that the brain volume lost over five years was greater in people who had lower serum B12 levels.

Although there is no evidence that B12 supplements can improve memory loss in those who are already suffering from Alzheimer's disease, it is possible that adequate B12 will reduce the risk of developing dementia.

B12 may improve sleep quality

Your brain needs B12 to make melatonin, the most important hormone involved in falling asleep.

This is related to B12’s role in the methionine cycle and the production of SAMe. SAMe provides methyl groups in order for numerous biochemical or metabolic functions to occur in the body.

When it comes to melatonin, SAMe helps promote the function of the enzyme acetylserotonin O-methyltransferase (ASMT), which helps convert the metabolic intermediate n-acetylserotonin into melatonin.

Several studies have demonstrated that B12 supports normal sleep patterns by helping to keep circadian rhythms in sync. There also appears to be a connection between low Vitamin B12 and insomnia. Depression is also a significant underlying factor for disrupted sleep-wake cycles.

Supplementing with vitamin B12

There are hundreds of B12 supplements available online and in stores - but not all will benefit everyone. This is because many commercial brands contain forms of B12 that the body cannot use effectively, especially in the case of gene defects or enzyme deficiencies.

The three active forms of Vitamin B12 include Hydroxocobalamin, Adenosylcobalamin, and Methylcobalamin. These are the forms that are bioidentical to those naturally occurring in your body and in foods we eat. They are also forms your body can immediately use and benefit from - complex conversions are not required.

The synthetic form, cyanocobalamin, occurs only in trace amounts in human tissues. This contains a cyanide molecule: a potentially harmful poison produced by exposure to cigarette smoking and other sources. It is cheap and found in many vitamin supplements, but it also requires complex conversions within the body to become one of the other forms which can be directly used by the cells.

Methyl-Life’s™ B12 Complete is a proprietary formula that contains all 3 active forms of B12 - including the rare adenosylcobalamin. These forms are immediately available for your body to use and do not need to undergo further conversion. This makes B12 Complete an excellent solution for vegans, vegetarians, those dealing with B12 deficiencies, Parkinson’s, Crohn’s, mental health issues, or people with MTR, MTRR, COMT or other gene defects affecting B12 metabolism.

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