If there ever was a heart-mind vitamin, then B12 is it. Synthesizing neurotransmitters that govern mood, energy, sleep, appetite, and motivation all the while supporting heart and circulatory health, B12 is a brilliant multi-tasker and not a vitamin to ignore.
Yet, Tufts University reported that at least 40% of the population is B12 deficient (1). Vegetarians, the elderly and those on long-term use of medications are at much higher risk for deficiency (2).
Moreover, many subjects who tested normal for B12 levels experienced a therapeutic effect when supplemented with B12. Could the bar for normal vitamin B12 levels be too low?
Learn how one amazing vitamin can help support your heart and mind, where to get it, how to absorb it, and how to make sure you’re getting the most active form.
B12 Supports Mind and Mood
The main function of B12 is to support the nervous system while maintaining healthy brain chemistry and synthesizing neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and epinephrine. These govern mood, energy, sleep, appetite, drive, motivation, movement, cognition and numerous other brain functions.
Studies have shown that certain people with “resistant” mood issues responded well to B12, B6 and folic acid (3). One study reported that 50% of the subjects with mood issues were also deficient in vitamin B12.
B12 Supports a Healthy Heart
Low levels of B12, folic acid and B6 are linked to high levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which can negatively alter a healthy inflammatory response. The relationship between B12 and homocysteine is so strong that measuring homocysteine levels is considered one of the tests to measure B12 levels.
While its ability to support mood, sleep, energy and a healthy nervous system is amazing, perhaps its most valuable function concerns the heart. High levels of homocysteine may compromise heart health (4). The most active form of B12, called methylcobalamine, is essential for converting homocysteine into methionine (a naturally occurring amino acid) through a process called methylation. As B12, folic acid and B6 are required for this conversion, they work in concert to lower homocysteine levels. New studies reveal that high homocysteine levels are also elevated in the case of mood issues (5, 6).
Why Are We Deficient?
It is difficult to detect a B12 deficiency, because the related health issues may not appear for some 5-6 years. Another problem is that a serum blood test for B12 is not a foolproof test. Even the most accurate way to access B12 levels is somewhat unreliable.
When you combine the facts that many people have stopped eating red meat (which is high in B12), that B12 is a large, bulky and hard-to-absorb vitamin, and that few have the digestive strength to absorb B12, you can understand why this has become a national health issue.
Some of the foods richest in B12 are meat, fish, eggs and dairy, which is why vegetarians and vegans are at such great risk for B12 deficiency. Vegetable sources do exist, but there are not many of them. Sea vegetables, brewer’s yeast, soybeans, hops, and alfalfa offer small amounts of B12 (7). It is also believed that a healthy large intestine will synthesize B12 naturally, which is why I am such a stickler for restoring optimal digestive health without relying on enzymes, laxatives or a restrictive diet.
Weak Digestion Makes For Poor Absorption of B12
Dietary B12 is released from certain foods in the stomach by hydrochloric acid (HCL). If the digestive acids are low, then B12 absorption is also low. When HCL levels are optimal, the stomach’s parietal cells produce a protein called the intrinsic factor. This protein attaches to the free B12 and carries it to the distal part of the small intestine, where it is then stored in the liver.
As we age, digestive strength typically weakens and the production of the intrinsic factor decreases, causing the utilization of B12 to plummet. While I don’t believe this necessarily has to happen, seniors are at significant risk for this reason.
What Type of B12 is Best?
Perhaps the most common form on the market today is cobalamin. While it is the most inexpensive form, it is not the most active. Cobalamin must be converted to methylcobalamin, which is the most active form.
For years, B12 injections were in fashion for boosting energy. It was understood that absorption of B12 orally in the cobalamin form was low. In fact, some studies showed that people who took cobalamin for years still tested low for B12 (8).
Today, methylcobalamin exists in a highly absorbable sublingual form. This accomplishes two things that have changed the culture around B12 deficiencies:
1. Because sublingual B12 (along with folic acid and B6) absorbs through the thin permeable mucous membrane under the tongue and bypasses the digestive system, the adequate production of the intrinsic factor – which decreases with age, poor diet and medications – is no longer an issue. Sublingual pathways provide an alternate absorption route for absorbing B12 directly into the bloodstream.
2. In addition, adequate amounts of folic acid, B6 and a mood supportive chemical called SAMe are all needed to convert (or methylate) the cobalamin into methylcobalamin. Using the methylcobalamin form sublingually, this cumbersome process of activating the B12 is already accomplished. B12, folic acid and B6 also help increase the production of SAMe (S-adenosylmethione), which in one study was shown to support healthy moods (9). The sublingual form of B12 (methylcobalamin) is an effective delivery system for this vitamin.
Facts about Optimal B12 Levels
• B12 supports healthy immunity and natural killer cell activity (10).
• B12 stimulates the release of melatonin – the sleep hormone – from the pineal gland (11).
• Patients with cognitive issues may have decreased the amount of B12 in their cerebrospinal fluid (12).
• B12 supports antioxidant activity (13).
• Please Note: It is best if B12, B6 and folic acid are combined in a sublingual form because they are synergistically active. Each vitamin can be toxic if taken on its own at very high levels.