Vitamin B12 is a component of numerous reactions that protect our genes, enhance cognitive function, and ward off cardiovascular disease. According to the Department of Agriculture, 33 percent of Americans don’t get enough B12, and the actual number may be higher. If you are age 65 or older, you have a high risk of atrophic gastritis, a digestive condition that interferes with B12 absorption.
ALIAS: Several forms of B12 are available as supplements, including cyanocobalamin, hydroxocobalamin, and methylcobalamin. Many health experts consider hydroxo-cobalamin and methylcobalamin to be the more natural forms of the vitamin. [Editor’s note: Hydroxocobalamin is hard to find; you may need to go through a holistic practitioner to purchase it.]
BENEFITS: Research has revealed multiple health benefits to vitamin B12.
Methylation. Vitamin B12—along with folic acid and other B vitamins—plays an essential role in methylation, which is needed to replicate genes and regulate their activity, protect against cardiovascular diseases, and make neurotransmitters and phospholipids.
Cardiovascular Diseases. Low levels of vitamin B12 lead to increases in blood levels of methylmalonic acid, which may boost the risk of heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. To protect yourself, take a supplement with vitamins B12 and B6, and folic acid.
Gene Protector. People with low levels of vitamin B12 experience a high rate of gene damage, which accelerates cell aging and increases the risk of cancer. Michael Fenech, PhD, a researcher at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, found that supplemental B12 and folic acid could reduce gene damage.
Mood Booster. Experiencing a “down day” or the “blues,” but not serious enough to call it depression? Some physicians recommend 500 mg of L-tyrosine combined with 500 mcg of sublingual vitamin B12.
Mental Health. Low levels of vitamin B12 are considered a type of “nutritional anemia” that may result in fatigue, mental fuzziness, and symptoms of senility. Every person with Alzheimer’s symptoms should be tested for a B12 deficiency—or simply be given sublingual tablets to see if they ease symptoms. Low vitamin B12 levels are common among people with early forms of Alzheimer’s.
BACKGROUND CHECK: Some drugs interfere with the absorption or assimilation of vitamin B12, setting the stage for often-unrecognized deficiencies. These include heartburn and acid-blocking medications, antibiotics, and oral contraceptives. Nitrous oxide, often used in anesthesia, destroys vitamin B12. A study described in the British Medical Journal found that the longer people with diabetes took the drug metformin, the more likely they were to experience a B12 deficiency.
CLINICAL PEARL: Japanese doctors treated six multiple sclerosis patients by injecting them with 60 mg of B12 (a massive dose) daily for six months. Although the patients’ muscle function didn’t improve, their visual and hearing problems did.
GLEANINGS: Traditionally, B12 deficiency is identified by noting the presence of megaloblastic anemia, in which red blood cells are abnormally enlarged. But this change occurs only after years of vitamin B12 deficiency. A more useful test measures methylmalonic acid, which rises when “functional” levels of B12 are low.
HEADS UP: A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that large amounts of supplemental vitamin B12 are needed to correct a deficiency. The vitamin depends on a molecule called “intrinsic factor” for absorption through the gut. Sublingual B12 seems to work as well as injections and bypass the need for intrinsic factor.
WHAT SHOULD YOU TAKE: The recommended daily amount of B12 for adults is a scant 2.4 mcg. But because aging and common drugs interfere with B12, it’s likely worthwhile to take 500—1,000 mcg daily. The vitamin is exceptionally safe.
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Because aging and common over-the-counter and prescription drugs interfere with vitamin B12 absorption, it's worthwhile to take larger amounts than the recommended daily dose (only 2.4 mcg).
Bluebonnet nutrition Earth sweet methylcobalamin has 5,000 mcg of this highly absorbable form of B12. The chewable tablets in Natural Raspberry Flavor are sweetened with an mix of juice concentrates.
Enzymatic therapy B12 Infusion contains 1,000 mcg of methylcobalamin in a tasty cherry chewable form that is absorbed quickly for all-day energy. The formula is gluten free and vegetarian.
Jarrow formulas Methyl B-12 has 5,000 mcg of methylcobalamin in a delicious cherry-flavored lozenge. Xylitol is used to sweeten the lozenges, which you can chew or let dissolve in your mouth.