Vitamin B12 — Start your Biohacking with this Foundational Nootropic
The cobalamin Vitamin B12 plays an essential role in the normal functioning of the brain and human nervous system.
The chemical components of B12 are actually involved in brain metabolism and the manufacture of neurotransmitters.
This article is mostly going to focus on decoding what the human studies are saying about Vitamin B12 and how this squares up with the anecdotal experiences of Biohackers online. For more of my own personal experiences, thoughts, and comparisons please see the written and video reviews in the sidebar.
With over 10000 results on Pubmed and over a hundred human clinical trials in the past 5 years.
A Gateway Brain Vitamin
I feel confident recommending Vitamin B12 as a gateway smart drug to those beginning their Biohacking. Many people email me asking questions about exotic new Nootropics when I question them a little and I discover that they have done very little to optimize their diet and lifestyle before diving into the murky water of cognitive enhancement. Since B12 plays a role in so many foundational processes that power our minds and bodies, people should begin their Biohacking by making sure they are getting enough of the B vitamins before diving into hardcore Nootropic or pharmaceutical solutions.
An Energizing Nootropic
Vitamin B(12) is essential for DNA synthesis and for cellular energy production.
According to a University of Sydney paper. The mechanisms of action of Vitamin B12 empower a demanding work hard, play hard lifestyle both in the short and long term, Biohackers on Longecity.org regard it as one of the top Nootropics for motivation and energy.
To quote a long term user of B12 and a “Professional Shark Tamer” on Amazon:
“I take one of these per day (in the morning) and it makes SUCH an overall difference in my energy level. I can immediately feel the difference. If you are feeling sluggish, depressed, and anxious…take this product! I have been getting over a nasty stomach infection and after a month-long bout of heavy duty antibiotic therapy I was left feeling drained of ALL my energy. I literally felt like I couldn’t get my body feeling like it used to “pre-medication” and was actually losing hope in ever feeling that energy again. Then I tried this. Call me crazy but I swear this boosted my mood and lifted me off my feet on the first day of usage. I actually felt BETTER than I did before the antibiotics! I feel amazing now! I don’t get sleepy mid-day and I am alert and far more positive since starting this.”
Of the +100 Nootropics I’ve tried, Vitamin B12 passed the snooze test most impressively; you set your alarm about 30–40 minutes early then you leave your Nootropics and a glass of water next to your bed and when your alarm goes off take the Nootropic and then go back to sleep. The Nootropics should kick in and wake you up. When you are relaxing in bed in that semi-conscious state, it can be a really cool sensation to feel the Nootropics switch on, especially when it happens in the middle of a lucid dream.
“There is a distinct boost to my concentration that comes from it, as in it becomes much easier to stay settled on what I am focusing on, as well as the depth and richness of my thoughts increases with regard to the natural detail that spawns from them.”
B Vitamins are Mitochondrial Support
Of all the nutrients defined as true vitamins , the ones that have the greatest direct impact on cellular metabolism and energy production are collectively known as the B vitamins . This group is made up of numerous distinct nutrients , and each is either a cofactor in an important metabolic process or a precursor of an important energy — related molecule .(2666–2669)
Vitamin B12 plays an important role in supplying essential methyl groups for protein and DNA synthesis, and has numerous functions. However, for the mitochondria, vitamin B12 is involved in several important metabolic processes, including the generation of S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe), which is important for cell function and survival. (2730–2733)
Cyanocobalamin vs Methylcobalamin vs Hydroxocobalamin
If you are Vitamin B12 deficient, either form will benefit you, however, certain forms are more bioavailable than others. Certain molecule shapes are more likely to cross the blood-brain barrier or benefit the central nervous system.
Cyanocobalamin is the base model, the benefits it offers are dubious.
Methylcobalamin is significantly more bioavailable, however, the body is a master regulator and if you have sufficient Vitamin B12 levels already it gets flushed.
Hydroxocobalamin is the holy grail of Cobalamins and the most expensive, but also the most bioavailable. It releases at a slower pace which actually increases the baseline of the vitamin in the body. To quote a Dutch human study:
…application of hydroxocobalamin in cobalamin-deficient patients results in fast nasal absorption and leads to sustained increase of baseline cobalamin concentrations.
So for Biohackers who already have a highly calibrated diet and want to supplement their energy levels and spark neurogenesis for high leverage skill acquisition, Hydroxocobalamin is the clear choice.
Getting B12 from a Multivitamin
Vitamin B12 is a great case study of the general uselessness of multivitamins, it’s a well known enough vitamin that most laypeople have heard of it and know it’s important to general health. However, the vast majority of multivitamins that include it use the cosmetic grade or less bioavailable, cheaper forms of Vitamin B12. I wouldn’t trust the B12 in a multivitamin or Nootropic stack if they are not explicit about the form used and prove it by publishing a COA showing purity, Neuro-Stack for example, meets this high standard.
If you’ve ever noticed, while taking a multivitamin, that your pee is really colorful, that’s because the bioavailability of the individual components of the multivitamin are just being flushed out of your system.
Or neurogenesis is the capacity of the brain to grow and adapt to the challenges presented to it.
Anytime you take on a cognitively challenging new task, whether it’s learning a new language, playing a musical instrument, programming IOS or salsa dancing that sensation of frustration at your snail’s pace of improvement is the gears of neuroplasticity working in your mind. Personal development, on any level, requires stimulus — usually trying to learn something you suck at (salsa dancing anyone?) — and fuel, which is comprised of your environment and what you are feeding your brain. Vitamin B12 is a potent fuel and chemical building block of new synaptic connections.
The abstract from a 2014 Yunnan University paper includes some interesting conclusions:
In this review, we summarize the manner in which nutrients can protect against oxidative damage to mitochondria and lipids in the neuronal circuits associated with cognitive and affective behaviors. These nutrients include… members of the vitamin B family (Vitamin B12 and folic acid) and magnesium. Accumulating data have shown that these nutrients can enhance neurocognitive function, and may have therapeutic benefits for depression and suicidal behaviors. A growing body of studies suggests the intriguing possibility that regular consumption of these nutrients may help prevent the onset of mood disorders and suicidal behaviors in vulnerable individuals, or significantly augment the therapeutic effect of available antidepressants.
According to a 2007 Chinese study:
…both vitamins [Vitamin B9 and Vitamin B12] are essential for normal brain development, and have a role in neuroplasticity and in the maintenance of neuronal integrity.
The authors of a population-based study of 278 people conducted in Rotterdam, The Netherlands came to the conclusion that low Vitamin B12 levels were a cause of depression and not merely a symptom of it.
The association of vitamin B(12) and folate with depressive disorders may have different underlying mechanisms. Vitamin B(12) may be causally related to depression…
This is an important distinction that’s not always understood by laypeople; marketers and people with agendas in regards to our health will often make sensationalistic claims based upon a small piece of data that draws a vague and often purely coincidental connection between two things. Like when we hear someone claim that violent video games cause school shootings, hopefully, we all understand that it’s not actually video games that cause shootings but that mentally unstable young men belong to a demographic that’s just more likely to play violent video games.
However, in the case of depression and Vitamin B12, the researchers of this extensive study are saying that depression in a lot of their subjects was indeed, caused by the deficiency.
Unless one’s diet is strictly controlled for both quantity and quality of B12 sources, risk of deficiency is serious. It’s very important to maintain healthy B12 levels, at levels only a little below normal, symptoms such as fatigue, insufficient memory and depression can occur. Signs of deficiency include:
- Fatigue and constant tiredness
- Lack of energy
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent headaches
- Heart palpitations
- Moodiness or depression
- Stomach upset
- Sudden weight loss
These are obviously very ubiquitous symptoms that any even a quite healthy person will probably experience sporadically, so if you suspect you are deficient a blood test is the best way to verify. Other conditions associated with deficiency:
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Surgical resection
- Autoimmune pernicious anemia
- Crohn’s disease
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Atrophic gastritis
Serious B12 deficiency can cause irreversible damage to the mind in the forms of mania and psychosis.
An Anti-Aging Vitamin
Especially beyond age 64, high levels of it have been shown to combat Alzheimer’s disease and brain atrophy in the elderly.
A study of +700 women by the National Institute on Aging in the United States stated:
After adjustment for sociodemographic characteristics and health status, the subjects with vitamin B(12) deficiency were 2.05 times as likely to be severely depressed as were nondeficient subjects… In community-dwelling older women, metabolically significant vitamin B(12)deficiency is associated with a twofold risk of severe depression.
According to a 2013 University of Oxford study:
Our results show that B-vitamin supplementation can slow the atrophy of specific brain regions that are a key component of the AD process and that are associated with cognitive decline.
The conclusion of the body of research done on Vitamin B12 is that it’s highly beneficial to those with cognitive deficits but it doesn’t really affect the baseline in those with healthy cognition. A 2012 University of Melbourne study encapsulated this saying:
There is a small subset of dementias that are reversible with vitamin B12 therapy and this treatment is inexpensive and safe. Vitamin B12 therapy does not improve cognition in patients without pre-existing deficiency.
Cognition deficits are not limited to the elderly, a number of lifestyle factors can lead to cognitive deficiency:
- High Cholesterol
- High blood pressure or hypertension
- Frequent alcohol consumption
- Even low-income levels are linked to cognitive shortcomings.
A double-blind placebo-controlled human trial of 300 subjects conducted by the University of Chile reached the conclusion:
…higher vitamin B12 intakes that might potentially may contribute in preserving neurophysiologic and cognitive function and thus improve quality of life for older people in Chile.
Where does come from? Actually, your own intestinal tract contains bacteria that produce B12, but scientists agree that it doesn’t produce enough to satisfy your body’s needs. The B12 in your diet comes from animals you eat, the best sources being:
- Shellfish (Cooked Clams, Oysters and Mussels)
- Beef liver (Liverwurst Sausage, Paté de Foie Gras and Chicken Liver Paté
- Fish (Mackerel, Salmon, Herring, Tuna, Canned Sardines and Trout)
- Red Meat (especially lamb)
- Low-fat dairy (skim milk)
- The liver has a particularly high amount of B12
Chemically and industrially it’s produced via a bacterial fermentation-synthesis process.
For Vegans & Vegetarians?
It’s important for vegans and vegetarians to take B12 supplements regularly or eat B12 fortified foods. To quote a 2010 paper out of the School of Molecular Bioscience, University of Sydney:
Vitamin B(12) deficiency is common, mainly due to limited dietary intake of animal foods or malabsorption of the vitamin. Vegetarians are at risk of vitamin B(12) deficiency as are other groups with low intakes of animal foods or those with restrictive dietary patterns.
Two or three micrograms per day for healthy adults.
It would seem that there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing as B12 has very, very low toxicity and taking it in quite large doses appears to do no harm to healthy people. Theoretically, those with cobalt allergies should avoid B12 supplements as B12 contains cobalt.
An article was published on WebMD entitled Folic Acid, B12 May Increase Cancer Risk, this is a great example of a pet peeve of mine because the fine print of the article clarifies that in the study it’s based upon
70% of all the patients in the study were either current or former smokers, including more than 90% of those who developed lung cancer…
So the patients in the study where already at huge risk for cancer and somehow the researcher drew a thin grey line between cancer and these B Vitamins, and WebMD with it’s loyalty ultimately to its pay per view advertisers published this clickbait article, which few laypeople are going to read in its entirety. This is why the layperson’s understanding of health science is so bad! This is why I spend more time on Pubmed than Facebook! When you hear an outrageous science fact like…
- B Vitamins cause cancer
- Exercise causes cancer
- We only use 10% of your brain
Instead of getting your facts from a website that has a bunch of ads plastered all over it…
- Do a search on Pubmed for human clinical studies.
- Pay attention to the conclusions the researchers make in the abstracts.
- Use a forum like Longecity.org, the Limitless Mindset Secret Society, or the Bulletproof forum.
- In the forum post a new topic, entitle it something like Questions about _____? or Does ______ cause cancer?
- Write a quick synopsis of your understanding of the topic based upon the studies you read.
These forums have a bunch of really helpful, very knowledgeable members and moderators, a lot who are actually researchers and scientists, along with Biohackers that have many years of self-experimentation and self-quantification. These members will jump in on your posts and give you honest, courteous feedback on the accuracy of your conclusions. If you are incorrect they won’t be rude and insulting, these online communities are generally very respectful. I feel like that’s a more accurate way to get information about your health decisions than reading from these content farm health websites.