Bioactivity and the Methylation Cycle
B Complex vitamins are a group of eight related water soluble vitamins that are not produced in sufficient amounts in the human body, and therefore classed as essential. We need a regular supply of all these B vitamins from our diet and there are times – especially when under stress or creating a new baby – when modern food sources alone are insufficient and a B Complex supplement is recommended.
B vitamins are known as the ‘stress’ vitamins because they are vital to the health of the nervous system and adrenal glands, the stress responders in the body. We need adequate B Complex intake to be able to manage life’s many stressors and continue to function well physically, mentally and emotionally. B vitamins are essential for metabolising the food we eat into usable energy. At times of increased or prolonged stress the support of a good vitamin B Complex supplement can make a big difference to how you respond to challenging situations.
B Complex vitamins are so fundamentally important to our lifelong health that deficiencies can cause a range of symptoms, some severe. These range through foetal abnormalities, neurological impairment, mental health conditions, depression, anemia, adrenal fatigue, hypertension, insomnia, heart disease, inflammatory conditions and more.
The 8 essential B Complex vitamins (look for these bioactive forms):
- B1 Thiamine hydrochloride (HCl) or Thiamine pyrophosphate
- B2 Ribose 5-phosphate
- B3 Niacinamide
- B5 Pantethine
- B6 Pyridoxal-5′-phosphate
- B9 L-5-MTHF methylfolate
- B12 Methylcobalamin
In addition to these 8 vitamins are Inositol, PABA (Para-AminoBenzoic Acid) and Choline, once considered members of the B complex and now reclassified as B vitamin cofactors. Neither inositol nor PABA are called essential nutrients because enough of both is synthesised in the body by intestinal bacteria, however long term use of antibiotics or high coffee intake can cause deficiencies.
Choline, however, is considered an essential nutrient because although synthesised in the liver in small amounts, dietary sources of choline are needed throughout the body, mainly in the form of phospholipids such as phosphatidylcholine (a lecithin compound) as components of cellular walls. Choline is also needed in the methylation cycle and for the primary neurotransmitter involved with thought, learning and memory, acetylcholine.
Why only bioactive B vitamins work
The type of supplement you choose is crucial. Scientific studies are showing us clear evidence that unless your body can use the bioactive forms of B vitamins, you won’t get any benefit from them. This standard type of B Complex supplement has been around a long time and generally contains non-active forms (some synthetic) of most B vitamins. If the label shows riboflavin (B2), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid (B9) or cyanocobalamin (B12) you may not get much benefit from that product. These non-active forms need to be converted in the body to their co-enzyme or bioactive forms. What’s the difference?
- R5P (riboflavin 5′-phospate) is the activated vitamin B2 form used by the body for many key metabolic processes including foetal nervous system development, red blood cell formation, energy production, healthy growth and tissue repair. Less effective is riboflavin, the non-active form which must be converted to bioactive R5P for the body to effectively utilise it. This is the vitamin responsible for the bright yellow colour of your urine when you take a B Complex supplement.
- Pantethine is the active form of vitamin B5 and a vital component of coenzyme A. Research suggests pantethine is more effective in the body than the non-active form pantothenic acid.
- P5P (pyridoxal-5’-phosphate) is the active form of vitamin B6 you need. Studies have shown low rates of conversion from the non-active pyridoxine hydrochloride form to the active P5P form, especially in people with poor liver function or gluten allergies, in older adults, and in children with autism.
- L-5-MTHF (methylfolate or 5-methyltetrahydrofolate) is the methylated bioactive form of vitamin B9 folate. Folic acid is the synthetic form commonly used in supplements and ‘fortification’ of food, as opposed to folate in its natural form. Folic acid is useless unless your body can convert it to L-5-MTHF, which performs two functions that are critical to brain health and to life itself – production of neurotransmitters in the brain and production of the important enzyme regulator SAMe (s-adenosylmethionine).
- Methylcobalamin is the naturally occurring methylated form of vitamin B12, available to your biochemistry for immediate use, while cyanocobalamin is a cheaper synthetic form that does not occur in nature. Methylcobalamin is essential for red blood cell formation, nerve health and detoxifying the brain. Deficiency can cause anemia and impair brain or nervous system function.
Toxicity from wasted supplements
Supplements of inactive forms contain much higher amounts of each vitamin than the body needs on a daily basis. This is to allow for the high percentage that is not absorbed and becomes waste material, which the body must then try to eliminate. Circulating unmetabolised folic acid is now being linked with increasing incidence of food allergies, neurological disorders and other conditions. Particularly for people with the relatively common C677T variation of the MTHFR gene (see below) the folic acid form of vitamin B3 is contraindicated.
In contrast B vitamin supplements containing the bioactive forms can supply less of each vitamin per dose, because the cellular uptake is so much greater and only minimal amounts become waste material. This is particularly relevant with a liposomal supplement delivery system.
Liposomes: a breakthrough in nutrient delivery
The most efficient method of delivering bioactive B Complex vitamins into the cells that need them is via liposomes. These sub-microscopic lipid spheres create a protective shell around the vitamins, and are so small they can pass through the intestinal wall directly into the bloodstream. Thus liposomal vitamins bypass the destructive environment of the digestive tract, unlike with tablet or capsule supplements. Liposomes of phosphatidylcholine provide the B vitamin cofactor choline, as a component of the lipid shell that merges with and nourishes the cell wall as it delivers its B vitamin contents inside the cell. Over 90% of the liposomes’ vitamin content is safely delivered to its destination cells, a vast improvement over other supplement types.
B vitamins, Methylation and a common Gene Variation
Recent scientific research is showing the non-active B vitamin forms are no help to a large percentage (up to 50%) of the population. One in every two or three people simply cannot process non-active B vitamin supplements due to common gene variations occurring in the enzyme methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR). These people end up not only deficient in bioavailable B vitamins, but with all that unused supplement waste building up in their tissues and causing problems.
This very simplified diagram indicates essential interactions between the MTHFR gene, the active B vitamins 5-MTHF folate and methyl-B12, and the Methylation Cycle in the human body:
Methylation is an essential metabolic function that is catalysed by a variety of enzymes and occurs in every cell and tissue of the body. Methylation regulates healing, cell energy production, DNA gene expression, neurological function, detoxification (of chemicals, heavy metals and hormones via the liver), production of glutathione (the body’s important intracellular antioxidant), immunity response, cancer risk and adrenal stress.
MTHFR gene variations prevent conversion of folic acid to the active folate (B9) form L-5-MTHF (or L-5-MethylTHF). Other bioactive B vitamin forms Ribose 5-Phosphate (B2), Pyridoxal-5′-Phosphate (B6) and methycobalamin (B12) are also needed for healthy methylation cycle function. A deficiency of L-5-MTHF disrupts vital methylation pathways in the body, including homocysteine regulation which may be implicated in many chronic disease conditions.
Methylation affects homocysteine levels and inflammation
Homocysteine metabolism occurs within a well-functioning methylation cycle, requires the active vitamin B6 form Pyridoxal-5′-Phosphate (P5P), and is dysregulated by variations of the MTHFR gene. When methylation pathways are disrupted, homocysteine levels become elevated causing increased inflammation. Harvard Medical School reports that Vitamins B6, B9 and B12 in combination have been shown in several studies to reduce homocysteine levels, a significant factor in coronary artery disease and stroke risk. Researchers are also looking closely at the relationship between high homocysteine and the many autoimmune diseases reaching epidemic proportions in the western world, in which a common factor is uncontrolled inflammation. Interruption of the methylation cycle and consequent unregulated homocysteine in the body may be a root cause of these modern diseases.
Providing your body with the readily available bioactive forms of the B Complex vitamins supports healthy methylation, especially if you have one of the MTHFR gene variations. With half the population potentially at risk of methylation cycle disruption and elevated homocysteine levels, it is vitally important to have a reliable supply of efficiently delivered active B Complex vitamins, particularly during times of increased stress and while pregnant.
By Carolyn Simon, Naturopath
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Do you take a B Vitamin Complex regularly? What form do you find best suits you?
Have you tried any other supplements delivered liposomally?
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