Why is Vitamin B12 Important?

Why is Vitamin B12 Important?

Quick overview of what you’ll learn from this blog post:

  • What Vitamin B12 is
  • Why our body needs Vitamin B12
  • The connection between DNA methylation and Vitamin B
  • How to supplement with Vitamin B12
  • Importance of B vitamins on overall health

The Basics on Vitamin B12

In simple terms, Vitamin B12 is commonly known as cobalamin, a water-soluble vitamin involved in our metabolism. It is one of eight essential B vitamins (which we’ll explore in future blog posts).

Why We Need Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is not a naturally occurring nutrient in plant-based foods. Hence vegans and vegetarians are at an increased risk of developing deficiency disorders if they don’t complement their dietary routine with vitamin B12 supplements.

Our body needs cobalamin (mineral cobalt) for:

  • DNA synthesis
  • creating new red blood cells
  • protein and fat metabolism
  • neurological/brain functions

Cobalamin is naturally found in foods like fish, dairy products, meat, and especially beef liver. This vitamin is extremely important for synthesizing blood cells and ensuring optimal health of nerve cells. The most common B12 deficiency disorder is anemia [1]. Other characteristic symptoms of cobalamin deficiency include fatigue, weakness, weight loss, constipation, and loss of appetite. Inadequate levels of vitamin B12 can also cause major damage to the nervous system – leading to confusion, depression, and dementia in the long run.

DNA Methylation and Vitamin B

The topic of DNA methylation is often discussed in conjunction with activated vitamin B. This section will highlight some key aspects of this topic.

Methylation is a biochemical process that transfers a chemical unit called methyl (CH3) from one substance to another.

When this process occurs, that particular area of DNA is said to be methylated. The methylation process has a significant impact on numerous biochemical & metabolic reactions that play a crucial role in regulating the activity of the neurological, cardiovascular, detoxification, reproductive systems, including those relating to:

  • histamine metabolism
  • DNA production
  • neurotransmitter synthesis
  • estrogen metabolism
  • liver health
  • fat metabolism

Methylation is a very important mechanism for ensuring a functional system. Our body is a very complicated machine, which requires a wide array of switches and gears to function properly in order to perform optimally. The process of methylation and demethylation allows our body to control those switches and gears to maintain a sense of harmony among bodily operations and cellular reactions [2].

Supplementing Methylation Defects with Vitamin B12

According to studies, around 60% of the United States population has a genetic mutation that makes creating enough 5-MTHF (also known as active folate or methyl-folate) really challenging. 5-MTHF is a critical component of a system that produces SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine), which is responsible for donating its methyl group to other substances – enabling neurological, cardiovascular, detoxification, and reproductive systems to perform optimally.

As a result, individuals suffering from genetic methylation defects are no longer able to efficiently produce important molecules such as:

  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Glutathione
  • Serotonin
  • Melatonin
  • Norepinephrine
  • Nitric Oxide
  • L-Carnitine
  • Cysteine
  • Epinephrine
  • Taurine

The good news is that such individuals can use supplements for essential nutrients for methylation such as:

  • active vitamin B2 – (Riboflavin 5’-Phosphate)
  • active vitamin B6 – (Pyridoxal 5’-Phosphate)
  • active folate – (5-MTHF)
  • active vitamin B12 – (Methylcobalamin)

Methylcobalamin is a very critical form of activated vitamin B. It is used to treat vitamin B12 deficiency [3]. Cobalamin is an integral component for ensuring a healthy brain, nervous system, and proper production of red blood cells. Methylcobalamin is often recommended in treating individuals suffering from diabetes, pernicious anemia, and other health conditions.

Importance of B Vitamins on Overall Health

B vitamins play a pivotal role in maintaining a healthy and functioning human body. Imbalances in their normal levels can lead to severe health disorders with numerous associated complications. It is essential to beware of practices that can lead to the deficiency of essential nutrients -this can be through certain dietary habits or drug-induced.

For example, drugs such as methotrexate and phenytoin are known to aggravate vitamin B9 (folate) deficiency. Similarly, diabetic patients who are using glucose-control drugs (e.g. Metformin) or individuals using PPIs (pantoprazole, omeprazole, or esomeprazole) are at an increased risk of drug-induced vitamin B12 deficiency [4]. As a result, this can lead to potential complications associated with cobalamin deficiency – impaired cell division, faulty DNA synthesis, hyperhomocysteinemia, hematopoiesis, etc.

Drug-induced nutritional imbalances are a very common occurrence among patients on prescription medications. Hence, frequent monitoring appropriate management is essential for avoiding any severe complications.

If you are on such medications that have a tendency to induce nutrient deficiency, it is important to consult your healthcare provider. Your blood levels of these vitamins will be evaluated with a quick blood test. In case your nutrient levels are low, you can balance out the deficiency by taking relevant supplements if needed.

References:

  1. Langan RC, Goodbred AJ. Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Recognition and Management. Am Fam Physician. 2017;96(6):384-389.
  2. Jin B, Li Y, Robertson KD. DNA methylation: superior or subordinate in the epigenetic hierarchy?. Genes Cancer. 2011;2(6):607-617. doi:10.1177/1947601910393957
  3. Thakkar K, Billa G. Treatment of vitamin B12 deficiency-methylcobalamine? Cyancobalamine? Hydroxocobalamin?-clearing the confusion. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2015;69(1):1-2. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2014.165
  4. Linder L, Tamboue C, Clements JN. Drug-Induced Vitamin B12 Deficiency: A Focus on Proton Pump Inhibitors and Histamine-2 Antagonists. J Pharm Pract. 2017;30(6):639-642. doi:10.1177/0897190016663092