Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that the body needs to form red blood cells and DNA. Unfortunately, it’s also one of our more common nutrient deficiencies. Since B12 is found only in animal products, vegetarians and vegans often have trouble getting adequate amounts through their diets. Some people also have difficulty absorbing B12, a condition that often grows worse with age. This can lead to a range of complications, including neurological disorders.
Previous research has hinted that B12 may have anti-inflammatory properties, although the precise relationship between the vitamin and chronic inflammation hasn’t been fully understood. Now, a team of researchers in Spain has investigated the effects of vitamin B12 on the levels of two molecules in the body that promote inflammation—interleukin (IL)-6 and C-reactive protein (CRP). The results of their study were published in September in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.
The study used samples collected from participants in PREDIMED, a large, parallel-group, multicenter, randomized, controlled, clinical trial designed to assess the effects of a Mediterranean diet on the prevention of cardiovascular disease. The researchers randomly chose 136 PREDIMED participants with available blood samples and assessed their serum levels of vitamin B12.
They then tested for concentrations of the two inflammatory markers—IL-6 and CRP—and discovered a correlation. Subjects with higher serum levels of vitamin B12 showed lower concentrations of IL-6 and CRP, and this relationship held even when the results were adjusted for other potential causes of inflammation, including smoking and alcohol consumption.
When running the same analysis on a group of aged mice, the researchers found the same correlation. Mice with higher blood levels of vitamin B12 had lower concentrations of IL-6 and CRP. Surprisingly, the researchers also found that, unlike humans, mice do not become B12 deficient with age, which may open up further avenues for research in the future. “We didn’t know this before, and it poses the possibility that studying mice could potentially help us understand how we could prevent B12 deficiency in older humans,” said Marta Kovatcheva, of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) and co-author of the study.
“With regards to vitamin B12 deficiency, we must point out that we did not specifically look at deficient individuals in this study. Nevertheless, our results raise some important questions,” said Kovatcheva. “We already know that vitamin B12 deficiency can be harmful in many ways, but what we have reported here is a novel relationship. This might help us better understand why some unexplained symptoms of human B12 deficiency, like neurologic defects, occur.”
The team now hopes to explore the link between vitamin B12 and inflammation within the context of specific inflammatory conditions such as infection, obesity, and irritable bowel syndrome. “We already know that vitamin B12 deficiency is not good for an individual and that dietary measures should be taken to correct it. It will be interesting to understand if vitamin B12 supplementation can play a role in disease management,” noted Rosa M. Lamuela-Raventós, another of the study’s authors and Professor of Nutrition, Food Sciences, and Gastronomy at INSA-University of Barcelona.