What Is the Chemical Term for B12 and What Does it Look Like?
As you likely guessed from the title of the article, B12 is often called Cobalamin. There are actually 4 forms of cobalamin (methylcobalamin, adenosylcobalamin, cyanocobalamin, and hydroxocobalamin)(1), but for simplicity’s sake I’ll just refer to B12 as Cobalamin. We can get into the differences in the four types at a later time. Below is what cobalamin looks like in a simple structural form. The molecular formula for cyanocobalamin is C63H88CoN14O14P meaning there are 63 carbon (C) atoms, 88 hydrogen (H) atoms, one cobalt (Co) atom, 14 nitrogen (N) atoms, 14 oxygen (O) atoms and one phosphorous (P) atom.
What are B12’s Primary Functions?
You’ve probably seen B12 listed on energy drink labels and assume it has something to do with. . . well, energy. It is more of an assistant than an actual energy producer in the way you may be thinking. Cobalamin plays a role in synthesizing DNA – an essential aspect of red blood cell formation, as well as maintaining the myelin sheath around nerve fibers – providing aid in healthy nervous system activity(2).
Another important role of vitamin B12 is in the metabolism of homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid that at increased levels indicates the possibility of and/or can increase a persons risk of cardiovascular disease(3)(4). Cobalamin works alongside Folate and B6 to help with this metabolism and when there are low levels of available cobalamin, homocysteine levels will increase since the cobalamin provides an important role in this process(5). So, when you see cobalamin listed on your energy drink label, it’s not directly giving you energy, its aiding bodily functions that help maintain normal operations.
On the topic of energy drinks, I personally don’t drink them, but I had a look at one of those 5-Hour Energy labels and see that it contains 500 mcg of Cyanocobalamin, which is listed as 8333% of your daily value. Cobalamin is a water-soluble vitamin and excess is filtered by the kidneys (only a small amount is stored in the liver) so the vast majority of what you comsume is simply being passed in your urine.
In fact, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), according to The National Academies Press, for vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg per day for adult men and women. Some people 50 years and older may have absorption problems because they are not producing enough stomach acid to properly break down food and release the vitamin. Because of this, they may have to consume foods that are fortified with B12 or take supplements(2).
B12 Deficiency and Toxicity
Though there is no known toxicity from consuming an excess of B12, I am curious whether the increased consumption of drinkable supplements like 5-hour energy, will cause us to start seeing side-effects from consuming excess B12. From what I understand, there has not been adequate research into the effects of B12 consumption at the level that which is now possible with supplemental B12. It’s unlikely that you’d simply eat an excess of B12 from food, but when supplements can cram upwards of 16000% of your daily need into one serving it makes me wonder if there is a possibility for toxicity. I’m not a Registered Dietitian (yet), nor can I call myself any kind of health professional (yet), but I think common sense plays a role here: more is not always better. I just wonder at what point can the body simply cannot keep up with the excess or maybe an infinite amount can be taken without issue.
Deficiency, on the other hand, is definitely a concern. Not consuming enough B12 or being unable to absorb enough can cause pernicious anemia, nerve damage, disorientation, problems with memory, dementia, and tingling and numbness in limbs(2)(6). As mentioned earlier, older individuals may have trouble absorbing the vitamin due to decreased stomach acid production, and vegans and other non-meat-eaters fail to consume the vitamin from it’s most common source. Options for individuals with low intake or poor absorption can increase their consumption of food fortified with B12, take supplements, or get injections of B12(7).
What Foods DO You Naturally Get B12 From?
The answer is simple. MEAT! This is why vegans and vegetarians often have a B12 deficiency, particularly if they don’t eat foods that are fortified with the vitamin. Animal products including clams, crab, ground beef, salmon, eggs as well as fortified cereals, fortified soy milk, and dairy such as yogurt and cheese all contain B12.
There are lots more foods that contain cobalamin so if you would like to look up other good food sources there are a many resources available for this. The two that I recommend using (as I’ve used them myself) are the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, and SuperTracker on ChooseMyPlate.gov. If you want to look up what foods contain B12, I recommend using the USDA Database, but if you want to see what nutrients are in the foods you’re eating, and track it, I suggest SuperTracker.
Now that you have read up a bit on B12, Please follow this link to fill out the second survey. By filling out this, and any of the previous B12 surveys, and entering your email you will be entered into a giveaway for a t-shirt with my illustration of B12 (in-progress below) printed on it!
I’ve added a couple additional ways to get entries into the giveaway, so feel free to use this rafflecopter widget below to score a couple more chances at winning:
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References and Resources:
(2)Thompson J, Manore M, Vaughan L. The Science of Nutrition. 3rd ed. Pearson. 2014. Pages 301-304, 326-328, 491-492.
*Disclaimer: I, Sara Kerr, am an Undergraduate Student at Oregon State University and I do not provide this information as a licensed medical professional. It is for your information only – you should do further research and consult your doctor or a Registered Dietitian before taking any supplements or changing your diet. That being said, if you have any questions, I’d be happy to find out what I can as a student, but you should always consult your doctor before making lifestyle/diet changes. Oregon State University is not affiliated with this blog. I operate this blog personally and independently from any companies or institutions.