B Vitamins, Methylation, Genes
What are B Vitamins?
What are B vitamins and why are they so special? How are these topics; B vitamins, methylation, genes, related? Last month I talked about SNPs; genetic variations that impact our health. We are all born with unique genetic expressions. Some are more favorable and carry a lower risk of an array of diseases including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and birth defects. The good news is that nutritional interventions can reduce your risk of many diseases even when you have a less favorable genetic expression. When you know you have a poor genetic hand, you can stack the cards in your favor.
Lets get back to B vitamins. There are eight B vitamins that are all water soluble but chemically dissimilar. They are lumped together because they work in concert and depend on each other to get the job done. B vitamins are essential co-factors for cell metabolism. Activated B vitamins are necessary for the cell to make energy, make and repair DNA, and build signaling molecules for the brain.
What is methylation?
One of the key chemical processes requiring B vitamins is methylation. For you fellow science geeks, a methyl group is three hydrogen atoms attached to a carbon atom. Methylation is putting a methyl group on a compound. When that happens, the compound is activated and goes on to do its task. It may build or repair something: it may produce energy: it may even turn on or turn off a gene.
Why take supplements?
You may have heard that you “pee out” your b vitamins and that they need to be activated. Because B vitamins are water soluble, they don’t store for long in our bodies and what we don’t use is eliminated in urine. Therefore, it is important to take these vitamins daily. Activated B vitamins are fully loaded and ready to be used by your body. Taking the active form insures your body has what it needs despite your genetic weak points. Below are the active forms of the eight essential B vitamins.
- B1, thiamin, the active form is thiamin HCL
- B2, riboflavin, the active form is riboflavin-5’-phosphate
- B3, niacin, the active form is niacinamide
- B5, pantothenic acid, the active form is pantothine
- B6, pyridoxine, the active form is pyridoxil-5’-phosphate
- B12, cobalamine, the active form is methylcobalamine. Hydroxycobalamine and adenocobalamine are also important intermediate compounds
- Folate, the active form is methyltetrahydrofolate. (Not to be confused with folic acid, a man-made chemical that can be helpful but can also be harmful. It is best to avoid folic acid.)
- Biotin, the active form is biotin
How to take supplements
How do you know how much of each to take? The best option is to work with a functional medicine doctor who can run some tests. All naturopathic doctors, many chiropractic doctors, acupuncturists and nutritionists, and some medical doctors are trained in functional medicine. Look for a health practitioner who can run a 23 and me for genetics and other blood test for current nutritional levels of B vitamins.
If you are choosing nutritional support on your own, my best advice is “keep it simple”. A balanced multi B vitamin with all the above active forms will do the most good while causing the least harm. I do not recommend taking high does single nutrients without the support of a well-informed professional.
What about food?
What about food? Whole, fresh, organic food can provide many of the B vitamins you need. There are two important reasons to add B vitamin supplements to a healthy produce-rich diet. One is the genetic factor. Food based nutrients are generally not in the active form. For people with SNPs, making B vitamins active is a slow inefficient process. The other reason is that fact that our modern world is a toxic environment. We are all exposed to thousands of man-made chemicals every day. Processing these chemicals requires a ton of methylation.
For optimal health and vitality, eat nine servings of fresh, organic, local (when available) produce every day. Discover your genetic variants and what you can do to stack the cards in your favor. Find a practitioner who can help you create habits to balance your health.