Vitamin B12 Benefits: Four Types and Their Health Benefits

Vitamin B12 is a lot like a key, opening up doorways that lead to an array of metabolic, cellular processes. Like a key, vitamin B12 is unique among all other vitamins in both structure and function. Plants, animals, and fungi do not create it, unlike most dietary nutrients. While bacteria in the gut can create B12, it is unproven as to whether or not the production is adequate. Without this important nutrient, cellular function would cease and energy would plummet. Considering that B12 contributes to the production of ATP, many people with low energy levels will often get vitamin B12 injections. Vitamin B12 deficiency is common among both vegans and meat eaters alike, and more people today are reaching for supplementation.

Health Benefits of Vitamin B12

This essential nutrient, mostly available from animal sources, protects nerve and brain cells from free radical damage. B12 has also been shown to reduce pain associated with neuropathy. [1] The vitamin contributes to the creation of healthy DNA and RNA (the human body’s genetic material). It also works with other B vitamins to form red blood cells, support immune system health, improve mood, protect the cardiovascular system, and maintain overall energy levels.

The only natural sources of B12 are animal foods. This includes organ meats (liver and kidney), eggs, beef, pork, seafood, and dairy products. These foods, however, often carry a heavy toxic burden, so supplementation with a vegan B12 supplement is often advised for most people. While vegetarians can get vitamin B12 through dairy, vegans need to supplement so as not to become deficient. Early symptoms of B12 deficiency include fatigue, digestive problems, nausea, and loss of menstruation. Advanced symptoms include nerve pain, mental health disorders, infertility, impaired immune function, and anemia.

What are the 4 Types of B12?

Everyone should understand the importance of getting enough B12 in the diet, something that is usually easier said than done. Some estimates show up to 40% of the US population suffer from some form of B12 deficiency. That’s almost half of the population! Knowing the four different types of B12 will allow you to choose the right one for you.

1. Methylcobalamin

This is the most active form in the human body. It converts homocysteine into methionine, which helps protect the cardiovascular system. Methylcobalamin also offers overall protection to the nervous system. This B12 form can also cross the blood-brain barrier–without assistance–to protect brain cells. It contributes essential methyl groups needed for detoxification and to start the body’s biochemical reactions.

2. Cyanocobalamin

This synthetic version of vitamin B12 is created in a lab, which makes it the cheapest supplement option. It offers the most stable form of B12, although it does so through the presence of a cyanide molecule. While the amount of cyanide is not dangerous, it does require the body to expend energy to convert and remove it.
3. Hydroxocobalamin

Bacteria naturally creates this form of vitamin B12, making it the main type found in most foods. It easily converts into methylcobalamin in the body. Hydroxocobalamin is commonly used via injection as a treatment for B12 deficiency as well as a treatment for cyanide poisoning.

4. Adenosylcobalamin

The energy formation that occurs during the Citric Acid cycle requires this form of B12. Although naturally occurring, it is the least stable of the four types of B12 outside the human body and does not translate well into a tablet-based supplement.

B12 Absorption Rates Differ by B12 Type

It’s conservatively estimated that at least 40% of Americans have trouble absorbing B12. Whereas the human body is able to easily absorb most other vitamins, B12 absorption is especially reliant on digestive health.

Your stomach produces, or at least is supposed to produce, a protein to help with B12 absorption; that protein is called intrinsic factor. Not having enough intrinsic factor is the most common reason for not absorbing enough B12.

There are a few reasons a person might not have enough intrinsic factor — surgery, gastritis, consuming food preservatives like MSG, exposure to mercury, intestinal ailments like leaky gut, gluten sensitivity, pernicious anemia, and weak stomach acid. Sometimes your body just doesn’t produce enough. Regardless, without intrinsic factor, it’s hard for your body to absorb the B12 it needs and B12 deficiency becomes a real risk.

Because of the inherent potential for B12 absorption problems, there’s absolutely no reason to mess around with anything other than the most absorbable types of B12. According to the National Institute of Health, a combination of methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin is the most absorbable and bioavailable supplemental B12 and superior to formulations that only contain cobalamin or hydroxocobalamin. [2]

One Final Thought

When it comes to supplementing with vitamin B12, methylcobalamin offers the best option. Like hydroxocobalamin and adenosylcobalamin, it contains molecules the body can use, as opposed to cyanocobalamin which takes a methyl group and forces the liver to dispose of the cyanide molecule. This makes methylcobalamin ideal for anyone looking to take B12 for a natural energy boost.

The good news is that all forms of B12 have no known adverse side effects.

Vitamin B12 Benefits: 4 Types and Their Health Benefits

  1. Shibuya K1, Misawa S, Nasu S, et al. Safety and efficacy of intravenous ultra-high dose methylcobalamin treatment for peripheral neuropathy: a phase I/II open label clinical trial. Intern Med. 2014;53(17):1927-31.
  2. National Institute of Health. Vitamin B12 Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet.

Vitamin B12 Benefits: 4 Types and Their Health Benefits

Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Global Healing Center does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Global Healing Center are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.