Everyone enjoys a good mystery, but very few people enjoy unanswered questions when it comes to their health or that of a loved one. As a practitioner, I have encountered a mystery that I think I have solved. After conducting hundreds of Hair Tissue Mineral Analyses (HTMA) for my clients, I have observed several trends, one of which is high cobalt. First I eliminated other factors which can result in cobalt toxicity such as certain hair products, paints and glazes, certain metal products including prosthetics, etc. Then I asked a few colleagues about this trend, and I received mixed answers depending on the bias of each source that I queried. Following is my analysis and conclusions about this trend as I continued to search for an answer to this mystery.
Excess Supplementation with Vitamin B12:
My original suspicion was that high cobalt was due to high amounts of Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) in supplements. This vitamin is crucial for:
- Nerve function and mylenation
- Prevention of neural tube defects
- Promotion of the growth and advancement of red blood cell formation
- Replication of RNA & DNA
Supplements often contain Vitamin B12 in the form of inexpensive cyanocobalamin:
“A common semi-synthetic form of the vitamin[B12] is cyanocobalamin, which does not occur in nature but is produced from bacterial hydroxocobalamin. Because of its stability and lower production cost, this form is then used in many pharmaceuticals and supplements as well as a food additive. In the body it is converted to the human physiological formsmethylcobalaminand5'-deoxyadenosylcobalamin, leaving behind thecyanideion, albeit in a minimal concentration. More recently, hydroxocobalamin, methylcobalamin, and adenosylcobalamin can be found in more expensive pharmacological products and food supplements.”(1)
Methylcobalamin is the form of B12 that is used by the body. Organic, natural forms of this nutrient, come from animal products such as meat, fish, seafood, and dairy. Vegan options include tofu, yeast extract spread (marmite), and cultured or fermented foods. Because of the lower availability of this essential vitamin from plant sources, vegetarians and vegans are often deficient, leading to low energy and anemia.
The body does better with natural forms vs. synthetic forms of any vitamin or mineral, although synthetic will generally produce an improvement for a short time, and if you are extremely deficient or malnourished, synthetic is certainly better than nothing! We saw evidence of this when our congregation volunteered to fill MannaPacks in March 2015 when a “NoCo Slammin’ Famine” event partnered with Feed My Starving Children (FMSC). Each MannaPack contained one scoop each of the following ingredients: white rice (ugh!), dried soy beans (double ugh! Likely GMO!), dehydrated vegetables, and a vitamin and mineral powder (probably synthetic!)
In just two hours of service, 346 people packed 400 boxes of food containing 36 bags per box, with each bag containing 6 meals. This equated to 86,400 meals which is enough to feel 238 children one meal per day for an entire year! And the entire event produced 640,000 meals!! What made this event particularly impactful was watching a video of a 3 or 4 year old boy who, due to malnourishment, was unable to stand or walk because his legs being too weak to support his weight before he received his MannaPacks. He sat alone in a pig pen all day, exposed to the elements. Several weeks after receiving this nourishment, in spite of it containing white rice, soy beans, and likely synthetic vitamins and minerals, this little boy was walking, talking and riding a tricycle-- he was thriving!
So, what should I do with this information as a Nutritional Consultant? Like I said before, something is better than nothing, especially if you are starving! But ultimately, I would like to design a formula myself that is completely food-based and contains more than the 20 nutrients that FMSC deems to be essential for growth. Dr. Joel Wallach eliminated over 900 diseases through the 90 essential nutrients. I would like to see all "90 for Life" included in nutritional packs for those who are starving-- more than growing and gaining weight, I would like to see them go on to live long, healthy lives, free of disease! And for my clients, what about those who still suffer from anemia even though they supplement with adequate Vitamin B12? The mystery remained….
As mentioned above, cyanocobalamin is much less bio-available than methylcobalamin, requiring a conversion before being utilized by the body. If methylation dysfunction is an issue, I next reasoned that excess cobalt could end up in the hair, causing a high reading on the HTMA. According to several Hair Analysis labs, excess amounts of any mineral means bio-unavailability/ malabsorption. And some supplements contain several THOUSAND percent more than the US RDAs and DVs for B12 (which is not necessarily a bad thing-- READ MORE in a previous blog). My second theory was brought to light when one of my clients asked me if Vitamin B12 shots for energy could be culpable for the high levels of cobalt in her hair. Yes! I thought this was the answer I had been looking for, but as it turns out she was using methylcobalamin. In fact, most of the people I screen supplement with methycobalamin, but they quite often still test high in cobalt through HTMA, meaning that quite possibly they are not fully utilizing the supplement. This really left me scratching my head and led me to my third theory.
Impaired Digestion & Lack of Critical Factors for Proper Digestion:
My low energy client, not unlike the majority of people I see in my practice, has suffered through years of digestive issues including gluten intolerance. With B12 injections, she noticed an increase in energy, meaning that some of the vitamin was being utilized, but impaired digestion would cause the rest to be thrown off into the hair as a waste product: Cobalt (which by the way can be toxic in excessive amounts even being linked to cardiomyopathy). Many allergies and intolerances are due to a lack of adequate enzymes which leads to inadequately digested foods entering the small intestine, leading to intestinal inflammation, then leaky gut, and ultimately autoimmune disorders. And a lack of digestive enzymes, particularly hydrochloric acid in the stomach, prevents the absorption and assimilation of Vitamin B12 (and a host of other nutrients). So by continuing to follow the issue all the way “upstream,” I finally arrived at impaired parietal cell (or oxyntic cell) function in the stomach lining, which is something discovered by Dr. Royal Lee over half a century ago. These cells are responsible not only for the production of hydrochloric acid but for intrinsic factor as well, and this important substance is:
“essential for the absorption of Vitamin B12 in the ileum, is secreted by oxyntic cells along with the secretion of HCL. Therefore, when the acid producing cells of the stomach are destroyed, which frequently occurs in chronic gastritis, the person not only develops achlorhydria (lack of stomach acid) but also develops pernicious anemia because of the failure of maturation of the red blood cells in the absence of Vitamin B12 stimulation of the bone marrow.” --Dr. Royal Lee
I believe this is where a genetic predisposition toward B12 methylation dysfunction can actually be activated. (2) If there was adequate stomach acid plus intrinsic factor, I believe that methylation issues would be reduced and poor utilization of Vitamin B12 would not be so common today.
So how do parietal cells become damaged? The short answer is GASTRITIS, or inflammation of the stomach lining. Here is a short list of causes of gastritis:
- Infections such as H. pylori
- NSAIDs and corticosteroids
- Autoimmune disorders, including leaky gut
- Lack of sodium-- yes, we need sodium (in the form of Sea Salt) because the stomach lining is formed by sodium AND the chloride from Sea Salt provides the additional benefit of donating chloride atom for the formation of hydrochloric acid
- Antacids & proton pump inhibitors
This last item is a big deal! These substances shut down the production of hydrochloric acid in the parietal cells, and when these cells don’t function properly, they are also unable to produce intrinsic factor as well. Over the long-term this lack of use will cause parietal cells to quit working all together! No wonder so many people have autoimmune issues and food sensitivities! They don’t have the necessary factors to digest and assimilate nutrients!
So, what can you do if you suffer from a B12 deficiency, damaged parietal cells or methylation dysfunction?
- Supplement with enzymes, particularly one containing betaine hydrochloride rather than using antacids or proton pump inhibitors
- Eat plenty of Sea Salt
- Ensure that you are getting adequate calcium, magnesium, zinc and copper. Calcium also helps to tone the esophageal sphincter, preventing acid reflux.
- Consume animal stomach parenchyma-- “What is that?” you may ask. It is the functional portion of the stomach, which contains parietal cells. Think menudo, but not the band-- I mean the Mexican soup made from cow tripe! While it may seem disgusting to most Americans, our ancestors consumed every organ of an animal, each for its medicinal and health properties. If your cells are damaged, supplementing with an animal form of parenchyma (such as beef) can support the healthy jumpstart and activation of your own parietal cells. Can’t “stomach” parenchyma *pun intended*? There is a pill form of this organ too! Ask me about it!
- Supplement with a quality form of B12 (methylcobalamin, hydroxocobalamin, etc.). Or try cooking up some beef spleen or liver. Try out these recipe ideas. Again, there are supplement forms of these as well!
Mystery solved! Health begins in the gut! Contact me to find out what your cobalt levels are and to get started on the right supplements for your new vitality!
L’chaim-- To Life!