You may have noticed that your urine will turn a bright yellow or orange color after taking a multivitamin or B-complex. This is because of riboflavin, or vitamin B2, which is named due to its color. Flavin comes from the word flavus, which is Latin for yellow.
B vitamins are water soluble and your body can only use so much at a time. The rest is released out of your body. Though this is not the case with vitamin B12, otherwise known as cobalamin.
Our body actually stores about 2,000 to 4,000 mcg of B12, more than any other vitamin. The majority of this is stored in the liver. Though not all. The plasma layer surrounding our cells also contains about 400 mcg. When the amount gets too high, the body will begin to break down and excrete the excess.
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient for the body. It is needed to protect our DNA and used for producing energy, taking care of nerve and brain cells, stimulating the production of neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin, supporting our immune function, and helping red blood cells to form. It is even important for maintaining a positive mood and good sleep.
Diet is the best way to get vitamin B12. Sources include eggs, milk, cheese, meat, fish, and poultry. Notice these are all animal products. This vitamin is generally not found in plant foods. If you are not getting enough from these foods to maintain healthy B12 levels, you will either need to eat fortified foods or take a supplement.
B12 deficiency can take a long time to develop. The first indications will start to become apparent on average 2 to 8 years after being on a poor diet. Children and infants can have problems sooner, especially if their mothers are vegetarian or deficient.
Replenishing can take awhile as well, maybe six months. Some people will benefit from taking high dosages for a short period of time. Because of the body’s absorption mechanism, an injection could be a good choice.
Keep in mind there are different forms of B12. The adenosylcobalamin form is stored mainly in the liver while the methylcobalamin and hydroxocobalamin forms are stored in cell plasma. When needed, the form stored in the liver will break away to create the other two forms within our cells.
The typical form of B12 found in fortified food or consumer supplements is called cynocobalamin. The body doesn’t use this form directly and needs to convert it into another form as soon as possible, the methyl form. It does this by removing a cyanide molecule. It’s the methyl compound the body needs to function properly.
Whether taking it orally or from an injection, I prefer the more bio-available and active forms over the synthetic cynocobalamin version. Methylcobalamin is more readily absorbed and remains in the body for a longer time and at higher levels.
Some individuals, like myself, have genetic mutations that affect how B12 is processed in the body. This is affected by a gene group referred to as MTHFR. I require more B12 and in the right form. It is estimated as many as 60 percent of the population are less able to convert cynocobalamin into the form the body needs.
One of the primary reactions of methylcobalamin is the conversion of homocysteine to methionine. This conversion also results in the formation of glutathione, the mother of all antioxidants. If you have elevated homocysteine levels this may be an indication of B12 deficiency. It is also an indicator of heart disease and stroke risk because high levels give rise to hardening of the arteries.
Come on down and let’s chat if you’d like to hear more about vitamin B12.
Scott Porter, a functional medicine pharmacist, is the director of the Center for Functional Nutrition at Sandpoint Super Drug.