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Vitamin m-B12 a better version (minus the cyano group)

Posted May 22 2012 12:00am

I had a patient ask me the other day if there was cyanide (a known toxin/poison) in the Vitamin B12 shots administered at the doctor's office.  My reply was as follows:

Q:  Is there cyanide in the Vitamin B12 injections?
A:  Yes, but let me explain..... When you say cyanide, many think of WWII German "SS" soldiers keeping cyanide capsules in the headbands of their helmets.  Well there is actually a difference, since there are many kinds of cyanides as a classification of compounds having carbon and nitrogen.  Here is an explanation of what a cyanide or cyano compound is.  Carbon-Nitrogen with triple atomic bonds make up the cyanide structure.  In organic substances we refer to them as nitriles.  When we use cyanocobalamin the most commonly used form of vitamin B12 for injection or consumption in a vitamin pill or fortified food it does in fact have this carbon-nitrogen component attached to a cobalt containing vitamin unit.  The amount of cyano is minuscule and does not impart a "poisonous" or harmful amount to humans when injected.  Incidentally, the antidote for massive cyanide poisonings is in fact B12.
For more details read the following:

A cyanide is a chemical compound that contains the cyano group, -C≡N, which consists of a carbon atom triple-bonded to a nitrogen atom. Cyanides most commonly refer to salts of the anion CN−, which is isoelectronic with carbon monoxide and with molecular nitrogen.In organic chemistry compounds containing a -C≡N group are known as nitriles and compounds that contain the -N≡C group are known as isocyanides. Organic nitriles and isocyanides are far less toxic because they do not release cyanide ions easily. In the case of Cyanocobalamin, the most common and widely-produced of the chemical compounds that have vitamin activity as vitamin B12. 

Vitamin B12 is the "generic descriptor" name for any of such vitamers of vitamin B12. Because the body can convert cyanocobalamin to any one of the active vitamin B12 compounds, by definition this makes cyanocobalamin itself a form (or vitamer) of B12, albeit a largely artificial one. Cyano (or cyanide component in the B12) is used as a preservative, otherwise the organic B12 vitamin would spoil on the shelf.  Once injected the B12 detaches and is used by our bodies.  The cyano component is excreted in our urine.  The enzyme rhodanese is present in the body, mainly in the liver, and together with sulphur transforms cyanide into thiocyanate, which is passed out in the urine.

Cobalamine is the antidote for major cyanide poisoning.  Cyanocobalamin usually does not occur in living organisms, but animals can convert commercially-produced cyanocobalamin into active (cofactor) forms of the vitamin, such as methylcobalamin. The amount of cyanide liberated in this process is so small that its toxicity is negligible.  

How cyanide is poisonous:  The cyanide anion is an inhibitor of the enzyme cytochrome c oxidase (also known as aa3) in the fourth complex of the electron transport chain (found in the membrane of the mitochondria of eukaryotic cells).  It attaches to the iron within this protein.  The binding of cyanide to this cytochrome prevents transport of electrons from cytochrome c oxidaseto oxygen.  As a result, the electron transport chain is disrupted, meaning that the cell can no longer aerobically produce ATP for energy.  Tissues that depend highly on aerobic respiration, such as the central nervous system and the heart, are particularly affected.  This is an example of histotoxic hypoxia.  Organic nitriles, which do not readily release cyanide ions, have low toxicities in this case cyano-B12.  Deficiencies in Vitamin B12 affect red blood cell production, the elimination of homocysteine which is a risk factor for heart disease and also low levels of B12 can cause neurological problems and disease.

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