Vitamin B-12: What is it and why is it so important?
Vitamin B-12 contains a metal ion, cobalt. This explains it’s scientific name, Cobalamin. Our bodies use two forms of vitamin B-12; Methylcobalamin and 5-Deoxyadenosylcobalamin. Cyanocobalamin, used in most supplements can usually be converted into the active forms of the vitamin, but it may make sense to supplement mostly with Methyl B-12 (Methylcobalamin) as it’s the methyl groups this vitamin donates that are critical to the key biochemistry step that converts Homocysteine to Methionine. Methylcobalamin is required along with Folate for the enzyme Methionine Synthase to convert Homocysteine to Methionine. This reaction, I’ve been told, occurs almost every second in every cell and is critical as Methionine is needed to make s-Adenosylmethionine which donates methyl groups. Methyl groups are needed to read our DNA, cancer and cardiovascular disease prevention, neurotransmitter production and function, and the production of virtually all proteins and enzymes in the body. This enzyme system may be the most important in the entire body!
Where do we typically get B-12? Only bacteria can make B-12. We must get B-12 in our food and it is not present in vegetables or grains (plants). This is a key nutrient that needs to be supplemented for vegetarians. The main sources for B-12 are shellfish, fish, meat, dairy, and eggs.
My first awareness of B-12 challenges came in 2003 at a DAN! (Defeat Autism Now!) conference. Dr Neubrander, a neurologist from NY, made the statement that 90% of his autistic patients were getting marked improvement on Methyl B-12 shots, and that this was his main treatment for these patients. I’ve known that our autism patients are like the “canary in the coal mine”. For some reason these children are most vulnerable either to toxins or to nutritional deficiencies, or both. I proceeded to try B-12 shots for over 100 patients (with their informed consent of course). For a handful, the response was huge, for some there was a slight benefit and for most it was hard to tell.
I now have a tool (blood test) that enables the determination of the B-12 levels (and many other nutrients) inside the white blood cells. This gives an indication of functional levels of these nutrients, and using this, I have been able to identify which children likely will benefit form B-12 supplementation. Recently, a 9 month old baby came to my practice with seizures, very low tone, and eyes that wandered all over. The neurologists and specialists in town were unable to help and trying various seizure medications. Spectracell nutrient analysis showed an extremely low B-12 level. We started B-12 shots twice a week with methyl B-12 and within a week or two seizures had stopped, tone was improved, and parents were getting eye contact. This was my second wake-up call to the importance of B-12, and I thank those parents for finding the book “Could It Be B-12?, an Epidemic of Misdiagnoses” by Sally Pacholok and Jeffery Stuart.
In short, if you, or a family member, have any neurological symptoms, and this includes all the psychiatry labels (like depression, anxiety, irritability, and in children, developmental issues) get your B-12 checked. If you have immune issues with increased susceptibility to infections, fatigue, or weakness, you should get your B-12 checked. Large red blood cells (macrocytes) are the classic presentation of Pernicious Anemia, but are often a late sign and severe neurological symptoms can occur without the changes being seen in the blood. When the methylation cycle outlined above is not working well, there is an accumulation of Homocysteine, which is known to be a huge risk factor for cardiovascular problems. For many, this can be a huge killer and the tendency to have blood clots (think heart attacks and strokes) seems to be related to this risk factor.