You may have recently heard about activated or “biologically active” nutrients, particularly active B vitamins. Some examples of vitamins and their active counterparts are listed below:
- Vitamin B2 - riboflavin sodium phosphate
- Vitamin B6 - pyridoxal-5- phosphate
- Vitamin B9 or folate - folinic acid or 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (also known as 5-MTHF or MTHF)
- Vitamin B12 - mecobalamin (also known as methylcobalamin or methyl-B12)
- Coenzyme Q10 - ubiquinol
These vitamins can often exist in foods and supplements in many different forms. When you consume the “inactive” vitamin, your body must carry out a number of steps in order to convert that nutrient into the “active” form so that it may function to support health.
These activation steps often require other nutrients, certain enzymes and the absence of specific imbalances. For example, when you take folic acid (the inactive, synthetic form of folate), there are multiple reactions that take place to covert it to 5-MTHF (“active” folate), and these steps need healthy levels of active vitamin B6, vitamin B2 and amino acids, while active vitamin B12 is needed for active folate to then carry out its roles. If you are low in any of these supportive nutrients, if you have inflammation in your body or any genetic variations that prevent the enzymes involved in these steps functioning at their peak, then the benefits you can expect to achieve may be reduced.
There is research around that supports the use of these active nutrients (e.g. 5-MTHF) as being more efficient in achieving healthy levels more rapidly for certain individuals.
Who can benefit from active B vitamins:
- Poor diet (i.e. not achieving 5 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit daily)
- Vegans/some vegetarians (active vitamin B12 specifically)
- If you have multiple nutrient deficiencies due to intestinal/digestive issues
- Individuals with widespread inflammation (this can hinder nutrient activation processes)
- Long term use of certain drugs which are suggested to contribute to deficiencies (e.g. the oral contraceptive pill, anti-inflammatory drugs, cholesterol lowering medications)
- History of high alcohol consumption
- You have been identified by your practitioner as having certain genetic variations that impact enzymes involved in nutrient activation pathways (e.g. on the MTHFR gene)
- Older individuals
When it comes to pregnancy, most individuals are aware of the importance of folate. Due to this, many will take a folic acid supplement or consume foods fortified with folic acid (e.g. processed breakfast cereals).
Folate is involved in supporting many functions in the body, including DNA health, brain, nervous system and mood health, and immune and liver function just to name a few. Because folic acid is a synthetic, non- active form of folate, simply consuming more folic acid without supporting its use with good nutrition can mean that you don’t achieve the full benefit that you would otherwise. In some situations, the active 5-MTHF or folinic acid form can be a more desirable option, as it supporting the folate’s function a little more efficiently without the extra nutrients mentioned earlier. In addition, it can also be a good idea to take the other supportive B vitamins together with folate as part of a pregnancy multivitamin, rather than just a single supplement on its own (unless of course you have been recommended otherwise by your healthcare practitioner).
It is vital to remember too that healthy foods such as green leafy vegetables provide active forms of nutrients. Additionally, different plant and animal based foods provide distinct combinations of vitamins and minerals. Therefore if you wish to consume a healthy balance of all nutrients that will continually support each other to maintain your health, then a diverse diet providing many different coloured vegetables and fruits, plus raw nuts, seeds, wholegrains, legumes and lean protein is a great place to start.
ABOUT THE EXPERT
Belinda Reynolds is a BioCeuticals dietitian and nutritionist.