Shot of B-12 please...hold the cyanide...

The Problem

Vitamin B-12 is a crucial nutrient important for nerve health and blood cell production.  It is constantly under investigation to prevent and treat many ailments.  Surprisingly up to 40% of the population is B-12 deficient leading to the misdiagnosing of patients due to mystery symptoms.  Vegetarians and vegans have a much higher incidence of this deficiency but it can even be seen in many meat eaters too due to absorption issues.  The word is out there of this problem and vitamin manufactures, energy drink companies and pharmacies have responded by producing a laboratory invented form--cyanocobalamin.  Read closely.  Is it? Really?  Yes cyanide, that stuff used to murder people.

So why would vitamin companies be giving you cyanide?  It's about 100 times cheaper to produce cyanocobalamin than methylcobalamin.  The cyanide containing form of B-12 is converted by your body to methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin which your body can actually use, leaving the cyanide for your body to eliminate.  This isn't an amount to kill you but it does stress the body to be eliminated.  The incidence of increased blood pressure and chest pain for patients following cyanocobalamin injection is surprisingly high leading one to believe it may be due to this stress.  In addition, because your body must convert this cheap, low-grade substitute, it is impossible to estimate the amount of vitamin B-12 and cyanide your body is actually absorbing.

The Facts

  • Cyanocobalamin is a synthetic compound not found in nature
  • Using cyanocobalamin is 100x's cheaper to produce than methylcobalamin
  • Cyanide is a byproduct from cyanocobalamin conversion
  • Vitamin B-12 is important for nerve health and blood cell production
  • Your body must convert cyanocobalamin to methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin in order to use it
  • The rate of cyanocobalamin activation is unpredictable
  • Anticipating public outcry, vitamin manufactures and energy drink manufacturers have all changed their labels in the last few years to only put B-12 on the package, avoiding "cyanocobalamin" in an obvious location

The Argument

Food and vitamin manufactures over the last 100 years have had the difficult task to produce large quantities of foods and supplements at a low cost to feed a growing population.  However the more we understand, the more we realize that it is time to catch up with all the data.  Cheap and mass production is not necessarily the safest.  From processed foods loaded with sodium and dangerous preservatives, to genetically modified meats(http://www.fda.gov/animalveterinary/developmentapprovalprocess/geneticengineering/geneticallyengineeredanimals/) to wood flooring containing formaldehyde(http://www.epa.gov/formaldehyde/questions-and-answers-regarding-laminate-flooring-0)  we are constantly asked to calculate how much low cost and convenience makes other risks acceptable.

Low-grade vitamin manufactures and cheap big-box pharmacies are going to continue to give you whatever is cheapest as long as they can get away with it.  They currently hide in the ingredient label that they are using the low-grade form of Vitamin B-12 in their cheap supplements.  Look at a label for Vitamin B-12 from Walgreens.  They all contain cyanocobalamin and they even have FD&C Red 40, a controversial food dye that has for long been accepted as a likely carcinogen (http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/ntp/roc/content/profiles/cresidine.pdf).  Even if it is safe, why add it to a vitamin?   And even though it is 100x's cheaper to produce the cyanide containing form, it is not 100's cheaper for you--it saves you just a couple of dollars.

The Solution

  • Look at your vitamin bottles for "cyanocobalamin" and if they have it throw it away
  • Don't trust energy drinks that just read "vitamin B-12"
  • Ask your doctor for Hydroxocobalamin if you receive B-12 injections
  • Do not buy vitamins that hide the chemical name in the ingredient panel instead of the front label or nutrition panel
  • If you need vitamin B-12, use methylcobalamin for a couple dollars more

About the Author

Kirk Heil, PharmD is the pharmacist and founder of Lagom Rx.  He believes in fixing diet, exercise and daily habits before adding a medication.   "Everything in my design of Lagom Rx was done to inspire you to live a longer, healthier life.  From the space I have created, to the team I have assembled, to the supplements I have designed that mission is relentless."

Kirk Heil, PharmD is the pharmacist and founder of Lagom Rx.  He believes in fixing diet, exercise and daily habits before adding a medication. 

 "Everything in my design of Lagom Rx was done to inspire you to live a longer, healthier life.  From the space I have created, to the team I have assembled, to the supplements I have designed that mission is relentless."

Vitamin B-12.  Without the cyanide.  Available everyday at Lagom Rx.

Vitamin B-12.  Without the cyanide.  Available everyday at Lagom Rx.