THE IMPORTANCE OF VITAMIN B12 (COBALAMIN)

       Most people are familiar with the B-Complex which is a group of water soluble vitamins that are necessary for the proper function of the human body.  B12 is part of this complex and is essential for the making of heme which is a component of the protein hemoglobin.  Hemoglobin is the component of blood that transports oxygen to the cells of our body.   

       A condition call pernicious anemia may occur as a direct result of vitamin B12 deficiency.  Pernicious anemia is a condition in which there are too few red blood cells or the red blood cells are deficient in hemoglobin.  This results in poor oxygen carrying capacity of the blood which results in low energy and general poor health. 

       Vitamin B12 is important to the proper function of the nervous system as it helps maintain the myelin sheath that surrounds nerves.  This vitamin, along with the B vitamins B6 and folic acid, also plays an important role in lowering elevated homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease in that excessive build up of this protein in the blood creates inflammation which damages the walls of arteries.

From where do we get vitamin B12?

       Vitamin B12 is made from bacteria in the intestinal tract of animals and is passed on to us when we eat animal products such as red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products.  Beef liver is an excellent source of B12.  Except in some rare cases, plants are not a source of B12.

       While the same B12 producing bacteria are found in the human intestinal tract as is found in animals, the research is mixed as to how well B12 produced in the human intestinal tract is utilized by the body.  Therefore, it is generally believed usable B12 must be obtained from the diet.  When consuming foods containing B12, the B12 passes into the stomach where parietal cells secrete a protein called intrinsic factor.  Intrinsic factor binds to B12 in the small intestine from where it is released into the blood stream. B12 is called cobalamin because it has the trace mineral cobalt at the center of its molecular structure.

Supplemental B12:

       Vitamin B12 is available as a supplement in the form of either cyanocobalamin or methylcobalamin.  Cyanocobalamin is chemically synthesized in a lab.  It does not appear in nature.  Cyanocobalamin is a form of B12 attached to a cyanide group.  While the amount of cyanide is minuscule, the body must eliminate it because it is a toxin. This is accomplished through the body’s use of the antioxidant glutathione which reduces levels of this toxin.  Smokers and those with liver problems should not take cyanocobalamin because they cannot readily eliminate cyanide from their body.

       Methylcobalamin is a form of B12 attached to a methyl group (carbon and hydrogen) and is the form of B12 that exists in nature.  It is obtained from bacteria. In order for the body to use cyanocobalamin it must convert it to methylcobalamin or the form adenosylcobalamin.  Only in its methylcobalamin form does B12, along with folic acid and vitamin B6, lower homocystene levels as discussed above.

      Methylcobalamin remains in the body for a longer period of time and at higher levels than cyanocobalamin.  Research indicates methylcobalamin appears to improve vision whereas there is no evidence cyanocobalamin does.  Methylcobalamin is used primarily in the liver, brain and nervous system.  It is very important to the vitality of red blood cells and the nervous system.  Methylcobalamin has been shown to help promote better sleep.  Research has shown methylcobalamin in high doses can help regenerate nerves and be useful in the treatment of peripheral neuropathies.

Oral versus sub-lingual supplementation of B12:

       It is a common belief that it is better to take sub-lingual B12 supplements (under the tongue).  It is felt B12 taken orally (swallowed) is not utilized by the body because it is destroyed by stomach acid.  Research indicates this is not the case.  Stomach acid (HCL) does not destroy B12 but breaks it down so it can combine with intrinsic factor.  Once this is accomplished, B12 moves to the ileum of the small intestine from where it is absorbed into the blood stream. If this process is working properly, orally taken B12, whether in a food or supplement, should be utilized as well as sub-lingually taken B12.

       University of Tel Aviv researches published a 2003 study in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology which studied the effectiveness of sub-lingual B12 versus oral B12 in subjects with B12 deficiency. The subjects were randomly given 500 micrograms of B12 sub-lingually or orally, or two tablets daily of a vitamin B complex. The researchers found that both dosage forms effectively treated B12 deficiency.

       A similar study by University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine researchers and published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2006, substantiated the Israeli study results.

       Methylcobalamin can be used immediately by the body whereas cyanocobalamin has to be converted to methylcobalamin and have its toxic cyanide component eliminated.  Methylcobalamin stays active in the body longer than cyanocobalamin and at higher levels.  

       It appears that both oral and sub-lingual supplementation of B12 will get the vitamin into the blood stream.  However, the utilization of oral (swallowed) B12 is dependent on the intestinal digestive/absorption process properly working (the presence of sufficient HCL and intrinsic factor).

       As we age, this process becomes less efficient. Since sub-lingual supplementation of B12 is absorbed into the blood via the mucus membranes under the tongue, this method of supplementation bi-passes the digestive process in the stomach. Therefore, this method of supplementation may insure better utilization of supplemental B12. At Milk 'N Honey we carry sub-lingual B12 in both tablet and spray formats.