Methylcobalamin – Bioactive Vitamin B12
Methylcobalamin is one of the two bioactive coenzyme forms of vitamin B12 which our body really needs. Only methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin can have a positive effect on our health directly; all other forms of vitamin B12 must first be converted into methylcobalamin or adenosylcobalamin in order to become an active coenzyme in our bodies.
Methylcobalamin is therefore a natural vitamin B12 form which is also present in many foods, particularly highly concentrated in milk and cheese. In the body, it is most commonly found in cells and the central nervous system. An overview of the most important forms of B12 can be found in the article vitamin B12 types.
How Does Methylcobalamin Work?
Methylcobalamin works directly within the cells, where it is responsible for the reactivation of folic acid (folate). Without methylcobalamin, the folic acid remains unusable and cannot have a positive effect in the body. The consequences of this are anemia, nerve damage and genetic errors during cell division, amongst others.
This reaction also rids the body of the dangerous animo acid homocysteine, which endangers the blood vessels and leads to cardiovascular problems. The corresponding methionine in in turn a precursor of S-adenosylmethionine (SAM), which plays an important role in the regulation of enzymes and genes, protects the nerves as well as filling up the synthesis of the neurotransmitters. A deficiency in SAM leads to difficulties in concentration, mood changes, nerve disorders and the increased risk of a variety of diseases.
Methylcobalamin has the following three factors during a single reaction:
- It reactivates the folic acid
- It breaks down the dangerous homocysteine
- It creates a precursor of the important S-Adenosylmethionine
As a result of this, it has the following positive properties:
- Prevention of cardiovascular disease
- Protection of vessels and nerves
- It ensures a sufficient synthesis of neurotransmitters and DNA
- It ensures an error-free cell division
Methylcobalamin vs. Cyanocobalamin
Given that methylcobalamin can be used directly by the body and doesn’t need to be converted first, it has a clear advantage over the synthetic form cyanocobalamin, which must first be converted into methylcobalamin in three individual steps. This reaction is partly dependent on other vitamins and coenzymes and uses up the body’s resources, which is a clear disadvantage.
A part of the cyanocobalamin still also obtains its methyl group calculated from S-adenosylmethionine (SAM), where it is broken down and cannot fulfil its duties mentioned above.
By contrast to methylcobalamin, which delivers an important methyl group, the cyano radical of the cyanocobalamin is at best unnecessary. The corresponding nerve toxicant cyanide can even lead to a harmful overexposure in heavy smokers, even if the practised dose gives off extremely low corresponding amounts.
More important still, is the fact that methylcobalamin shows a far better cellular absorption when compared to cyanocobalamin. Initially, blood levels increase considerably higher after taking cyanocobalamin than methylcobalamin and a larger amount of cyanocobalamin is simply excreted shortly afterwards without being used, whilst methylcobalamin has been proven to increase the pivotal cellular B12 levels.1
All these reasons clearly speak for the benefit of choosing a vitamin B12 supplement which contains the natural and bioactive form methylcobalamin, instead of its synthetic sibling cyanocobalamin.
Special Effects of Methylcobalamin
Although all B12 forms can theoretically be converted into one another, methylcobalamin has been observed to have positive effects, which have not been seen yet in some other B12 forms, particularly cyanocobalamin.2
These are as follows:
- Improvements to nerve disorders and pain associated with diabetes mellitus
- Normalisation of the hyperhomocysteinemia associated with diabetes
- Improvements in sleeping disorders
- Help with infertility
Animal testing has additionally shown that methylcobalamin can increase the life expectancy of mice suffering cancer by a considerable amount. Cyanocobalamin does not show this effect.3
During testing on rats, methylcobalamin was able to aid the regeneration of severely damaged nerves.4
Methylcobalamin Lozenges, Pills or Drops?
Since methylcobalamin can also be absorbed via the oral mucosa, it is commonly available in forms of methylcobalamin lozenges or methylcobalamin drops.
Whether this actually carries a therapeutic advantage is still unproven, since the corresponding studies have yet to be carried out. It can be argued that methylcobalamin lozenges could be advantageous, because methylcobalamin could be too chemically unstable for certain circumstances in the stomach and intestine. This would represent a contradiction with the studies mentioned above, which have shown a good absorption rate of methylcobalamin through the intestine.
The same train of thought is followed for methylcobalamin drops, but there are similarly sufficient studies missing here. However, it is of note that in both cases, a much longer contact between vitamin B12 and mucous membranes would be necessary. The question with these supplements always remains as to whether the likelihood of accidental ingestion is simply too high, reducing the value of these types of supplements; though this is less of an issue with drops.
Lozenges have the disadvantage in many cases of containing a variety of artificial flavoring and coloring additives, which are undesirable in a vitamin supplement designed for health. This is particularly problematic in diverse sweeteners, such as aspartame, which can have adverse health effects. When taking these supplements, it is thus very important to consider the ingredients before buying.
Readers who prefer to avoid additives as far as possible, are best advised to take capsules, which can only contain the pure active ingredient for technical reasons. It is still advisable to check the label for these supplements too despite this, as some producers opt for using unnecessary and unwarranted additives.
Methylcobalamin – the new Gold Standard?
For good reasons, methylcobalamin is becoming increasingly popular and could soon be the standard for oral supplements: the numerous advantages listed for methylcobalamin truly speak for themselves.
Methylcobalamin is most definitely a good choice for readers seeking as natural a vitamin supply as possible.
Finally, methylcobalamin can also be combined with and added to hydroxocobalamin, which is also a natural precursor of the coenzyme forms and has an excellent residual effect.
1 Okuda K, Yashima K, Kitazaki T, Takara I. Intestinal absorption and concurrent chemical changes of methylcobalamin. J Lab Clin Med. 1973 Apr;81(4):557-67. PubMed PMID: 4696188.
2 Kelly G. The co-enzyme forms of vitamin B12: Toward an understanding of their therapeutic potential. Alt Med Rev. 1997;2(6):459-471.
3 Tsao C, S, Myashita K, Influence of Cobalamin on the Survival of Mice Bearing Ascites Tumor. Pathobiology 1993; 61:104-108
4 Tetsuya Watanabe, Ryuji Kaji, Nobuyuki Oka, William Bara, Jun Kimura, Ultra-high dose methylcobalamin promotes nerve regeneration in experimental acrylamide neuropathy, Journal of the Neurological Sciences, Volume 122, Issue 2, April 1994, Pages 140-143, ISSN 0022-510X, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0022-510X(94)90290-9.