Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that helps the brain stay water-soluble and keeps our nerve cells well-insulated and methylated. Low levels of vitamin B12 have been shown to cause a wide variety of neurological conditions and brain disorders, especially, but not strictly, in elderly populations.

There is a growing body of research and clinical evidence that illustrates how many individuals develop deficiencies or suboptimal, physiological concentrations. While some individuals may suffer from an inability to effectively absorb vitamin B12, others may have a difficult time converting specific forms of the vitamin to what the body can actually use. Such is the case with the most widely used form of vitamin B12: cyanocobalamin.

Cyanocobalamin is a synthetic form of B12 that does not occur naturally, anywhere in nature. It requires conversion to a methylated form, such as methylcobalamin, in order for the body to use it as a cofactor in driving numerous reactions. The methylation that it requires is counterproductive as vitamin B12 should help produce methylation, not require it. Many researchers have theorized that cyanocobalamin might use valuable resources that would otherwise serve the greater cause in helping meet the body’s need for methylation support.

While some studies suggest that it is just as effective as other forms of the vitamin in raising serum levels, the biggest question surrounds the concept of effectiveness, especially when it comes to methylation and neuroprotection. Some investigations have found inverse relationships between tissue concentrations of cyanocobalamin and a variety of neurological disorders.

This research begs the question: "Why do food manufacturers continue to use a synthetic, and in all likelihood, less effective form of the vitamin?" The answer, of course, is found in how incredibly cheap this form of the vitamin is in comparison to methylcobalamin or adenosylcobalamin. We at Functional Formularies have always used methylcobalamin and can’t understand why companies would use anything less.

Zhang, Y., Hodgson, N. W., Trivedi, M. S., Abdolmaleky, H. M., Fournier, M., Cuenod, M., … Deth, R. C. (2016). Decreased Brain Levels of Vitamin B12 in Aging, Autism and Schizophrenia. PLoS ONE, 11(1), e0146797.

John Bagnulo MPH, PhD. Director of Nutrition