Supplementing your knowledge – B-12

Supplements can play key roles in various aspects of your health. However, with so many out there, it can be hard to choose the right ones for you. With that in mind, we’re breaking down different supplements to help you get the most out of them.

Apparently, the world has an energy crisis. We’re not talking about electricity but human energy.

If you haven’t stopped by a convenience store lately, let me fill you in – energy drinks are a BIG deal. The global energy drink market was valued at $45.8 BILLION in 2020 and is projected to reach $108.4 billion by 2031.

We mention this because one of the main ingredients touted on the side of energy drink cans (outside of caffeine and mountains of sugar) is often the vitamin B-12. But why?

B-12 basics

While sometimes they’re collectively called “vitamin B,” it’s best to think of B vitamins as a family.

They’re a group of eight essential nutrients that play roles in many organs and bodily systems. And although they can work together in the body, each compound is unique and can carry out its own unique functions.

The lineup includes:

  • B-1 (thiamin)
  • B-2 (riboflavin
  • B-3 (niacin)
  • B-5 (pantothenic acid)
  • B-6 (pyridoxine)
  • B-7 (biotin)
  • B-9 (folate)
  • B-12 (cobalamin)

What happened to Bs 4, 8, 10, and 11, you ask? Unfortunately, they got kicked out of the family for no longer meeting the definitions of being vitamins.

Anyways, Vitamin B-12 is required for the function and development of many parts of the body, including the brain, nerves, and blood cells, and it breaks down some fatty acids and amino acids to produce energy (more on that later).

Methylcobalamin is the active form of vitamin B12. Cyanocobalamin, which must be processed by the body into the active form, is the most common type used in supplements.

People commonly use vitamin B12 for vitamin B12 deficiency. It is also used for everything from Alzheimer’s disease to osteoporosis to fatigue to canker sores, though scientific evidence to support most of these other uses is limited.


So, what’s so special about B-12 that it’s on the side of energy drink cans and people actually get B-12 injections?

Well, remember that part from earlier about its ability to break down fatty and amino acids to produce energy? That’s why … kind of.

You see, like many things, modern marketing has taken a couple of facts and tried to combine them to make something that, on the surface, sounds simple and great. After all, a B vitamin deficiency does cause fatigue, and B-12 helps break down acids to produce energy. Plus, higher levels of B12 are linked with more energy and endurance. So, surely, B-12 and most B vitamins are incredible energy sources for the body, right? It’s a 1+1=2 situation.

The problem is, B-12 and its brethren do not provide the body fuel for energy. Instead, B-12 helps boost metabolism to help the body best use the energy-yielding nutrients (such as carbohydrates, fat, and protein) for fuel. Though, that doesn’t look near as good on the can.

That’s ok, you might think. Who doesn’t want a metabolism boost? Only once you’ve hit 100% of your daily value of any vitamin or mineral, your body just expels the rest. So, getting 3,000% of your daily value of B-12 in an energy drink just means you’ll pee out the extra 2,900% of it.

And more than likely, you’re already getting plenty of B-12 from your normal diet, as poultry, meat, fish, and dairy products all are high in it. For example, one grilled flat iron steak (about 190 grams) provides 467% of the DV for vitamin B12.

That’s why B-12 deficiency is not common in the U.S. However, people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet might be prone to deficiency because plant foods don’t contain vitamin B-12. Older adults and people with digestive tract conditions that affect the absorption of nutrients also are susceptible to vitamin B-12 deficiency.

So, is getting 4,934% of your DV of B-12 from that energy drink a bad thing? No, especially since it’s a water-soluble vitamin with low levels of toxicity.  But unless you’re in the minority group with a deficiency, all it’s doing is helping your body’s metabolism function at optimum capacity. It’s all the caffeine and sugar that are providing the real boost.