Researchers have developed a special type of anti-vitamin that can outperform the B12 from our diet in the battle to be absorbed in the body. This now makes it possible to study the consequences of vitamin deficiency, which are e.g. suspected of causing lasting damage to the nervous system and dementia. (Photo: Colourbox)
Researchers have succeeded in producing a copy of the B12 vitamin that is completely without effect, and which can outperform the naturally occurring vitamins in our diet. For the first time it is therefore possible to create selective B12 vitamin deficiency in laboratory animals. This is a critical step towards a deeper understanding of the consequences of vitamin deficiency.
Researchers estimate that approx. 20-30 percent of all persons above the age of 60 have some degree of B12 vitamin deficiency. As we grow older, production of a special protein in the body is weakened. This protein has the task of absorbing the vitamin from our diet.
Despite an otherwise good nutrition and preventive dietary supplements, a large part of the elderly population very often have vitamin deficiency. There is no comprehensive overview of the consequences of this, but we know that the B12 vitamin includes a group of vital chemical substances which are also significant for the formation of red blood cells and for the maintenance and regeneration of the nerves.
B12 deficiency suspected of contributing to dementia
A deficiency of the B12 vitamin is also suspected of being one of the most important causes of dementia and other examples of lasting damage to the brain and nervous system. But so far it has not been possible for the researchers to acquire sufficient knowledge of the deficiency’s complications, explains Sergey Fedosov, senior researcher at Aarhus University.
”B12 has a very complex chemical structure and we do not yet have a fully detailed understanding of the importance of the vitamin for all of the body’s functions. But we suspect that a lack of the vitamin can be part of the explanation for a number of different pathological phenomena connected with the nervous system.”
The B12 vitamin is the general term for a group of chemical substances under the name cobalamins.
First laboratory animals with strong B12 vitamin deficiency
The primary reason for the researchers’ lack of knowledge about B12 vitamin deficiency is that it has not been possible to create a controlled vitamin deficiency in laboratory animals.
”It is impossible to put together a diet lacking in B12 without also causing other types of deficiencies. This makes it difficult to isolate the significance of the B12 vitamin for the symptoms that we can identify in laboratory animals. Neither is it possible to test new treatment methods,” says Sergey Fedosov.
For this reason, he and his colleagues from the University of Innsbruck in Austria put their heads together five years ago and began to experiment with the preparation of a so-called anti-
vitamin to B12. Today, they have succeeded in designing a molecule that is almost identical with the real vitamin in its chemical structure, but which is completely without effect.
In the laboratories at Aarhus University Hospital, the researchers completed the first experiments and exposed animals to a diet rich in anti vitamins, with positive results.
Anti-vitamin outperforms B12 from our diet
What is so smart about the anti vitamin is that it outperforms other types of B12 vitamin in the battle to be absorbed in the body. The anti-vitamin is designed so that it can be absorbed in the intestinal system but, at the same time, is unable to perform the B12 vitamin’s normal reactions in the body.
”When the real B12 vitamin from the diet is absorbed through the intestinal system, it is transported to the cells that are equipped with a special enzyme. The enzyme converts the vitamin into a catalytic form where it is able to carry out the reactions that are necessary for the body’s functions. When an anti-vitamin to B12 is absorbed in the body and meets the cell’s enzyme, its molecule becomes completely ineffective,” explains Sergey Fedosov.
So far the researchers have produced two different chemical variants of the anti-vitamin to B12.
Fluorescent molecules provide researchers with new knowledge
They have also developed a third form of the B12 vitamin with a chemical composition that gives it fluorescent properties. This means that the vitamin becomes visible when you illuminate it so that the researchers can follow how it is transported inside the body and determine how it fairs in competition with the anti-vitamins.
The technique to make the vitamin molecule luminous can also be used in connection with the natural occurrence of B12 vitamins in the food we eat, opening up for completely new studies of its functions in cells and tissues.
In the long term, Sergey Fedosov hopes that this access to new data can be used by doctors to develop efficient methods for the treatment of vitamin deficiency.