The Body Needs Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin. This means it is not something the body can self-produce and that we rely on a regular intake to remain healthy. Vitamin B12 is therefore vital, but what overall effect does it have on our bodies?
Vitamin B12 acts as a coenzyme in several metabolic processes and is crucial for many simple things such as:
- DNA replication
- Nerve protection and regeneration (in the CNS and brain)
- Haematopoiesis (blood formation)
- Cell division
- Cellular respiration (of the mitochondria)
- Synthesis of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers)
As a coenzyme, vitamin B12 is not always directly responsible for these processes, but its presence is essential for them to take place. If there is a lack of B12, important bodily functions will be impeded, which will ultimately affect overall health.
How does Vitamin B12 Affect our Health?
Vitamin B12 is involved in a number of basic metabolic processes, so it an important element for the maintenance of our health. A B12 deficiency can have serious health implications, for example, anaemia is caused by poor haematopoiesis (blood formation), which left untreated can be life-threatening. If the cell division process fails, particularly mucous membrane cell division, the body is at risk from a great number of secondary diseases. Disruption of DNA synthesis can also affect our health in many ways. An impaired formation of neurotransmitters can cause depression or psychosis and if vitamin B12 cannot fulfill its nerve protecting function then symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or other similar serious diseases could be experienced. It can also lead to cognitive disorders and dementia.
These are just a few examples of the vast and important role vitamin B12 has in maintaining our health. Today there are a lot of symptoms associated with B12 deficiency and in most cases the importance of the vitamin is only just being understood.
Vitamin B12 for Detox
Vitamin B12 also has other uses unrelated to its primary role in the body. Hydroxo- and Methylcobalamin can be used in the detoxification of harmful cyanide (and hydrogen cyanide). The vitamin binds to cyanide so that it can be passed out in the urine. In practice, vitamin B12 is given to fire victims suffering smoke inhalation injury.
B12 can also be used effectively to detox the small amounts of cyanide we absorb from our surroundings. This is particularly relevant for smokers, who inhale cyanide through cigarette smoke regularly.
Nitrosative Stress: Vitamin B12 as a Nitric Oxide (NO) Trap
Vitamin B12 is also able to bind with excess nitric oxide (chemical formula: NO), meaning nitrosative / oxidative stress can be caught by free radicals. Nitrosative stress is linked to many diseases, including autoimmune disease, neurodermatitis, psoriasis, asthma, heart attack, stroke, dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cancer. The relationship between the illness and its cause remains poorly researched; whereas the negative impact that nitrosative stress has on the mitochondria, cholesterol metabolism, steroid hormone synthesis (sex hormones) and the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines is relatively well understood.
Vitamin B12 binds with nitric oxide to form nitrosocobalamin, which is then easily passed out of the body with the urine. In orthomolecular medicine dramatic results have been reported from using vitamin B12 treatment for various forms of nitrosative stress.1
The Effect of Vitamin B12 on the Nervous System
Probably the most important long-term effect of vitamin B12 is how it impacts the Central Nervous System; the spinal cord and the brain. Here vitamin B12 assists the formation of the ‘myelin sheath’ – a protective covering for the nerves, similar to the insulation on electric cables.
This protective layer is destroyed as a result of some illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis and as a result the nerves cannot transmit their signals properly. These diseases are also referred to as ‘demyelinating diseases’ and thought to be linked to vitamin B12 deficiency.2,3
Vitamin B12 for Depression and Other Mental Illnesses
The relationship between vitamin B12 and various mental disorders is becoming increasingly apparent.4 Such illnesses can manifest when there are very low levels of vitamin B12 in the blood or when vitamin B12 deficiency anemia is present. In some cases even a small vitamin B12 deficiency can appear to result in mental illness.5 In part this can be attributed to the demyelination of nerve fibers in the spinal cord.
Vitamin B12 is particularly linked to mental illnesses like depression, due to its role in the formation of neurotransmitters (special messengers that significantly affect our mood).
Vitamin B12 for Nerve Regeneration
Vitamin B12 is very important for nerve regeneration and can be used to treat a range of diseases.
Tests carried out on rats demonstrated that when a very high dose of methylcobalamin was administered the nerve regeneration process was greatly accelerated.6 This studies has not yet been developed further, but could prove very interesting for a variety of human illnesses.
Vitamin B12 for Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
Studies investigating the effects of vitamin B12 when used to treat MS, fibromyalgia and CFS have shown positive results.
Exactly how this healing process works is not yet fully understood. In the case of MS the myelin building property of vitamin B12 offers a rather plausible explanation. The homocysteine-reducing7 and NO-catching (antioxidant) qualities8 of vitamin B12 might serve as an explanation as to why it improves fibromyalgia and CFS .
The Effect of Vitamin B12 on the Brain
Vitamin B12 also plays an important role in the development of the brain. Some hereditary diseases are known to hinder the synthesis of vitamin B12 coenzymes methylcobalamin and cobamamide (adenosylcobalamin). Studies on this topic show that vitamin B12 is vitally important for a successful development and functioning of the brain.9 In the absence of vitamin B12 the brain will grow poorly and cognitive abilities will be underdeveloped and a variety of disorders could manifest.
Studies show that children brought up in a strict vegan or vegetarian environment and so suffer a B12 deficiency tend to be significantly behind their peers in terms of mental development. Often these children were shown to have a smaller brain mass and to be mentally underdeveloped. In most cases, this damage was shown to be reversible once a regular and sufficient vitamin B12 intake was reintroduced10-16.
In this scenario, it is the disruption of the nerve myelination process that predominantly affects the brain’s development. But other methylation processes affected by a lack of vitamin B12 are also linked to neuropsychiatric problems, specifically a lack in S-Adenosylmethionine.
The Effect of Vitamin B12 on Skin
Vitamin B12 is available in cream form, because even when applied topically it can act as an antioxidant due to its ability to bind to nitric oxide (NO). Vitamin B12 cream was advertised as a ‘miracle cure’ against neurodermatitis and psoriasis for a period during 2009.
Despite this, there is a lack of firm scientific evidence on this topic and a lot of dermatologists strongly challenge the effectuality of vitamin B12 cream, despite some patients reporting its success.
In some cases, orally administered vitamin B12 has demonstrated positive results for treating skin problems, which is most likely due to its anti-oxidizing properties.
How Does Vitamin B12 Work in the Body?
How can all of these effects be explained? Vitamin B12 has two main functions in the body: as methylcobalamin it operates in the cytoplasm to aid the activation of folic acid and the conversion of homocysteine to methionine. As cobamamide (adenosylcobalamin) it acts in the mitochondria (the power stations of our bodies) and aids the breakdown of methylmalonic acid into succinyl-coenzyme-A. It is these two processes that ultimately explain the high efficacy of vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 works closely together with the other B vitamins. The process that requires methylcobalamin is also dependant on the presence of folic acid (B9) and the process in the mitochondria needs biotin (B7).
Vitamin B12: an Ordinary Vitamin with Extraordinary Results
While other vitamins like vitamin C, D and E get a lot of attention vitamin B12 is a less obvious choice. Even with the increasing popularity of vegan and vegetarian lifestyles vitamin B12 has not gained popularity. In the long run this is likely to change as the various health effects of B12 become more widely discussed and known. It is becoming more and more clear just how important the role that vitamin B12 plays in maintaining our health is – both mentally and physically.
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