Why is vitamin B12 so important for the body?
Vitamin B12 is one of the most important B vitamins. It is therefore all the more important that we take it in through our food. But what is the best way to do this? What is the function of vitamin B12 in our body? And what consequences can a vitamin deficiency have?
In this article we clarify your open questions about vitamin B12.
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Table of contents
• What is vitamin B12?
• What is the function of vitamin B12 in the body?
• How does a vitamin B12 deficiency occur and what are its effects?
• What treatment options are there?
• Is it possible to overdose on vitamin B12?
• Tips for vegans
• Different forms of vitamin B12
• Our micronutrient solution
What is vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin in technical terminology, is a water-soluble vitamin from the series of vitamin B complexes. The body cannot produce vitamin B12 itself. Therefore, the intake of the vitamin through food is the only way to supply it to the body. Finally, the intestinal mucosa plays a decisive role, because it is from here that the glycoprotein (also called instrinsic factor) formed in the gastric mucosa transports the vitamin into the body1.
Did you know that the body is able to store vitamin B12 in the liver for several years, the only vitamin capable of doing so1?
What is the function of vitamin B12 in the body?
Vitamin B12 has many health-promoting functions in the body. Among other things, it is relevant for energy production, DNA repair and synthesis, but also for the central nervous system. One important role, along with other cofactors, is to reduce homocysteine levels in the body. Although homocysteine primarily has a supporting role in the formation of other amino acids, an elevated level has a potentially toxic effect on your body and, in the worst case, can cause diseases such as Alzheimer's or venous thrombosis 2.
When it comes to the formation of red blood cells (erythrocytes), vitamin B12 also plays an important role. Without sufficient vitamin B12, anemia would occur, i.e., a poverty of red blood cells. Among other things, this leads to a poorer oxygen supply to the target organs2.
Vitamin B12 also has a function in cell proliferation of other cells and is a cofactor of an enzyme of fatty acid metabolism.
How does a vitamin B12 deficiency occur and what is its effect?
As is already known, the body can only absorb the vitamin in the form of food and this mainly through animal food sources. Vegetarians and vegans in particular must be careful here not to suffer from a deficiency and, if necessary, supplement by means of dietary supplements.
But a purely plant-based diet is not the only reason to suffer from a vitamin B12 deficiency. Genetic changes or diseases can also inhibit the absorption of the vitamin. This is the case, for example, when the gastric mucosal cells are damaged by gastritis and thus can no longer form the glycoprotein that is important for absorption. A similar effect can be caused by gastric bypass3. Intestinal diseases such as Crohn's disease also prevent the small intestine cells from absorbing the vitamin and play a major role in the development of the deficiency3.
There are already a few mild symptoms that indicate a vitamin B12 deficiency. Among other things, these take the form of difficulty concentrating, reduced memory, anemia, fatigue and, in some cases, numbness in the fingers and toes2.
However, just because someone is tired more often for a certain period of time does not mean that they are immediately suffering from a vitamin B12 deficiency. For an accurate diagnosis, it is advisable to see a doctor and have a detailed blood count done.
What treatment options are available?
Once the vitamin B12 store in the body is filled, it takes between six to twelve months for it to run out4. However, this makes it all the more important to supply the body with vitamin B12 on a regular basis.
As mentioned earlier, diet, disease or genetic changes can inhibit or even stop the absorption of the vitamin. Nevertheless, there are ways to supply the body with vitamin B12.
One of the best known and most commonly used is the intramuscular injection. This involves injecting the patient with 1 mg of hydroxocobalamin three days a week for two weeks. After this two-week intensive treatment, the rhythm is scaled down to every three weeks5. However, the frequency and length of therapy can vary depending on the reason for treatment.
In addition to the intramuscular injection, it is also possible to take vitamin B12 in the form of tablets or capsules. Daily intake of the high-dose vitamin capsules has the same degree of effectiveness as the injections. The only difference is that the intramuscular injection works faster and is therefore more of an option for patients with severe deficiency symptoms or neurological symptoms6. In addition, the digestive tract is bypassed. The injections are particularly useful for people with inflammatory intestinal diseases.
Is it possible to overdose on vitamin B12?
As a rule, it is not possible for an overdose of vitamin B12 to occur in the body. A healthy body flushes out the excess vitamins through the kidneys. However, an elevated vitamin B12 level can be a sign of diseases such as kidney failure, hepatitis diseases or liver diseases. In this case, it is advisable to consult a physician4.
Tipps for vegans
As mentioned above, vegans are particularly affected by vitamin B12 deficiency because, unlike vegetarians, they also avoid dairy and egg products. In the USA there is already breakfast muesli enriched with vitamin B12. Whether one may go here also so far, is to be doubted.
Since even the vitamin B12 traces contained in fruit or vegetables do not cover the daily requirement of vitamins, it is advisable to supplement with the help of supplements.
Different forms of B12
There are four different approved forms of cobalamin that can be used in supplements. These are partly synthetic, partly natural.
Cyanocobalamin: synthetic form
Cyanocobalamin, short form CNCbl, belongs to the category of the synthetic form of vitamin B12. Due to its special stability, it is a popular ingredient of dietary supplements or medications. However, cyanocobalamin does not occur in natural form and must be obtained artificially. It is also found in the human body only in trace amounts in tissues7. The bioactivity, i.e. the influence on your body, is thus lower, since it must first be converted in order to be used.
Active & natural forms of vitamin B12
Methylcobalamin (MeCbl), adenosylcobalamin (AdoCbl), and hydroxocobalamin (HCbl) are among the naturally occurring forms and have long been a popular ingredient in dietary supplements. Some scientists advocate the long-term use of the natural substances for dietary supplements to prevent the formation of cyanide in human tissues, which can happen with the use of CNCbl7.
Also: Methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin are active forms that our bodies can use directly in this way. Thus, they are often considered the best forms for supplementation. Methylcobalamin plays a role in methyl and homocysteine metabolism, while adenosylcobalamin plays a role in fatty acid metabolism.
For the vitamin B12 contained in our products, we mainly use the natural forms methylcobalamin, adenosylcobalamin and hydroxocobalamin.
1 Vitamin B12 - These are the most frequently asked questions. (2021, 31. March). Naturheilkunde.de.
2 What are the functions of B vitamins and vitamin C?(o. D.). https://mitocare.de/blogs/wissensblog/funktionen-wasserloesliche-vitamine.
3 Obeid, R., Heil, S. G., Verhoeven, M. M. A., van den Heuvel, E. G. H. M., de Groot, L. C. P. G. M., & Eussen, S. J. P. M. (2019). Vitamin B12 Intake From Animal Foods, Biomarkers, and Health Aspects. Frontiers in nutrition, 6, 93. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2019.00093.
4 Romain, M., Sviri, S., Linton, D. M., Stav, I., & van Heerden, P. V. (2016). The role of Vitamin B12 in the critically ill--a review. Anaesthesia and intensive care, 44(4), 447–452. https://doi.org/10.1177/0310057X1604400410.
5 Shipton, M. J., & Thachil, J. (2015). Vitamin B12 deficiency - A 21st century perspective . Clinical medicine (London, England), 15(2), 145–150. https://doi.org/10.7861/clinmedicine.15-2-145.
6 Langan, R. C., & Goodbred, A. J. (2017). Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Recognition and Management. American family physician, 96(6), 384–389.
7 Temova Rakuša, Ž., Roškar, R., Hickey, N., & Geremia, S. (2022). Vitamin B12 in Foods, Food Supplements, and Medicines-A Review of Its Role and Properties with a Focus on Its Stability. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 28(1), 240. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules28010240.