Vitamin B12 Pumps Up Energy Drinks

June 5, 2008
When formulating energy drinks for consumers, beverage manufacturers rely on Vitamin B12.
Glaceau Vitamin Water’s Energy variety provides 100 percent of the RDA of vitamin B12.

Energy drinks certainly are hot right now, and one of the hottest ingredients in those beverages is an oldie-but-goodie: vitamin B12.

B12 is responsible for the body’s metabolization of fats and carbohydrates as well as for DNA and RNA production. “The body stores about 2-3g [of B12] and loses about 0.1-0.2 percent per day,” says Lori Stern, scientific leader at DSM Nutritional Products, Inc., Parsippany, N.J. Although it may take 2-6 years to lose these stores, Stern cautions, “It is not recommended to let stores become depleted because of the serious consequences of B12 deficiency.”

Consequences can include memory loss, disorientation, hallucinations, and tingling in the arms and legs. Some people diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer's disease actually are suffering from the more reversible vitamin B12 deficiency, according to a Harvard School of Public Health report.

New research has indirectly linked B complex vitamins to protection from heart disease. “There are population data to show that increased levels of homocysteine can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, while B vitamins [folic acid, B6 and B12] have been shown to effectively lower blood homocysteine levels,” according to Stern.

As a result, FDA allows a qualified health claim (“evidence in support of the claim is inconclusive”) connecting folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 to reduced risk of vascular disease.

Striking a balance between vitamin content and taste, developers of Fuze apparently felt comfortable only fortifying the beverage to 50 percent of the RDA of vitamin B12.
In addition to antioxidants and its general trendiness, the acai berry contributes vitamin B12 to Anheuser-Busch’s nonalcoholic 180 Blue.

Four forms of supplemental B12 are available, according to Ram Chaudhari, senior executive vice president and chief scientific officer at based Fortitech Inc., Schenectady, N.Y. “While cyanocobalamin is the form most typically used, hydroxocobalamin and adenosylcobalamin are two others.”

Manufacturers looking to set their product apart, though, may try another form, which Chaudhari suggests “may be the best of all”: methylcobalamin. “Research shows this active form of B12 has the unique ability to provoke the regeneration of nerves without adverse side effects,” he claims. “This is because B12 facilitates methylation, the process that creates and maintains nerves and brain chemicals.”

But B12 has degradation issues. “Cyanocobalamin vitamin B12 loses its activity when exposed to light, oxygen and acid or all alkali-containing environments, but it is heat-stable,” Chaudhari continues.

Interaction with other ingredients also can limit vitamin functionality. “Calcium can prevent the adsorption of B12,” warns Heather Biehl, senior scientist for Wild Flavors Inc., Erlanger, Ky. She also notes that vitamin C can interact with B12 and accelerate degredation.

Degredation due to light and oxidation is a concern. According to Gus Castro, senior technical marketing manager-beverages for DSM Nutritional Products, “The only way to ensure label claim is to add ‘overages’ – extra vitamins to meet the claim at the end of shelf-life.” It’s also a good idea to use cans instead of glass or clear plastic.

If manufacturers are creating a dry mix version of an energy drink, encapsulation is a way to overcome some technological problems associated with functional food ingredients, since usually a dry mix would be added to the liquid just prior to consumption.

Over-supplementation is one way processors can beat degradation, and it may even improve the marketing of the end product, but it does not appear to improve absorption of the ingredient. “B12 absorption appears to be a function of dose. The smaller the dose, the more is absorbed and vice versa,” according to Stern.

In this regard, the National Academies of Science report data that show 60 percent of a 5 microgram dose of supplemental crystalline B12 is absorbed vs. 1 percent absorption of a 500 microgram dose. So processors are increasing their production costs without increasing any benefits.

B-12's marketing spin

Producers like FRS Co., Foster City, Calif., use B12 in FRS Healthy Energy as “one of seven vitamins that play a supporting role in the beverage to maximize the bioavailability and effectiveness of key ingredients like quercetin,” a flavonoid found in fruits and vegetables, according to director of marketing Korinne Munson. FRS, by the way, stands for free radical scavenger.

Anheuser-Busch Cos., St. Louis, inserts B12 benefits through use of the vitamin- and antioxidant-rich acai berry in its nonalcoholic 180 Blue beverage.

With an over-the-top product name, why not go over the top with B12 fortification? Redux Beverage’s buzz-worthy drink has 600 percent of the RDA of the vitamin.

According to Castro, B vitamins will charge you up along with the caffeine, ginsing or guarana in most of the energy drinks, but the charge is short-lived. And since B vitamins are water soluble, the excess is quickly eliminated.

What’s the ideal amount? Vitamin Energy by Glaceau and SoBe Energy by SoBe Beverage Co. have 100 percent of the RDA for B12. On the other hand, Redux Beverage’s Cocaine drink contains 600 percent of the RDA for B12. That’s overkill in terms of fortification, but who can say what it does for marketing?

But quantity can affect taste. “In energy drinks with 100 or 200 percent RDA, you’ll get a vitamin taste or smell,” Castro points out. To mask unwanted tastes, some ingredient suppliers can pair B12 with products that block bitter receptors.

“Flavor impact” was a critical consideration of Fruit2O Energy, according to Sydney McHugh, spokesperson for Cincinnati-based Sunny Delight Beverage Corp. Perhaps as a result, the drink contains just 20 percent of the RDA for vitamins B6, B12 and niacin.

Fuze Beverage, a Coca-Cola unit based in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., provides 50 percent of the RDI of B12 in its Refresh and tea drinks.

While most marketing of energy drinks is geared toward the younger crowd, customers over age 50 represent a great opportunity for the vitamin B12 story. These consumers “are at increased risk of B12 malabsorption due to the conditions that hinder the production of stomach acid, which is essential to release B12 from food,” according to Lori Stern of DSM.