Vitamin B12 is a collective term for a group of chemically similar compounds that exhibit vitamin activity. The identifying structure of the various forms of vitamin B12 is a planar tetrapyrrole ring with a cobalt atom at its center. Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient for animals, meaning that it’s necessary to live and can’t be synthesized in the body.
Vitamin B12 is involved in many metabolic processes, especially DNA regulation and synthesis. It is also necessary for the metabolism of amino acids and fatty acids. The brain and nervous system are particularly dependent on an adequate supply of vitamin B12.
Along with folic acid, vitamin B12 is a cofactor for converting homocysteine to the amino acid methionine. If vitamin B12 is deficient, it may lead to increased homocysteine levels which is linked to many age-related health conditions including cardiovascular problems and cognitive decline. Supplementation with vitamin B12, together with vitamin B6 and folate significantly reduces the rate of brain shrinkage (atrophy) in older age, an effect that is likely due to lowered homocysteine levels.
Cobalamin is the pure form of vitamin B12. This name is a combination of “cobalt” and “vitamin,” reflecting the presence of a cobalt atom in vitamin B12 molecules. Vitamin B12 can’t be synthesized in the laboratory and can only be produced through the fermentation of bacteria. These processes typically yield hydroxocobalamin, which the body must convert into usable forms of vitamin B12. Cyanocobalamin is a semi-synthetic form of vitamin B12 that doesn’t occur in nature and is derived from hydroxocobalamin in the laboratory.
Animals must ultimately obtain vitamin B12 from bacteria in some way since only bacteria can synthesize vitamin B12. Herbivores typically do so by harboring these bacteria in the digestive tract, while carnivores obtain vitamin B12 by eating other animals. Animal proteins are therefore the most concentrated sources of this nutrient, especially seafood and organ meats.
All dietary sources of vitamin B12 must be converted into usable forms in the body, which include methylcobalamin and cobamamide. These forms are also becoming common in more expensive food supplements and pharmacological products. Cobamamide in particular is a highly efficacious form of vitamin B12.
Nutritional supplements of cobamamide are in oral form, usually tablets. This form of vitamin B12 is metabolically active as soon as it is ingested and is primarily used in the liver. Specific biochemical uses of cobamamide include a cofactor for the enzyme methylmalonyl-CoA mutase (MCM).
Vitamin B12 is often used to maintain healthy blood cell levels. Additional areas that often benefit from vitamin B12 include the eyes, nerves, and hormones. People with low Vitamin B12 status are less likely to respond to taking garlic supplements. Because of this, vitamin B12 is often included in garlic or aged garlic supplements for blood pressure support.
Humans are particularly sensitive to even slight deficiencies in vitamin B12. These signs primarily affect the brain and nervous system and typically include fatigue, low moods, and poor memory. More severe vitamin B12 deficiencies are also associated with psychological signs such as psychosis and mania. Some intestinal disorders and drug interactions may also indicate a need for vitamin B12 supplements.
Cobalamin, Cyanocobalamin, Cobamamide
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