“Are you mad? You’ll be needing a ton of supplements, especially Vitamin B12, if you want to become a vegan!” That was the reaction of my friends and doctor friends when I told them I wanted to try a raw vegan lifestyle. So I went away and I read as many books I could about vitamin deficiency and how to avoid it. As a result, I’ve come up with this post, which tackles the good, the bad, the ugly, and how to avoid vitamin B12 deficiency.
You see, I’ve found that no matter what kind of diet you follow, when a certain vitamin or mineral is consistently missing, imbalance and disease can occur within the first 2 years, and often much sooner. One of my goals in life was to have an abundant, thriving energy level and to achieve it through effective sleep, sport and food. So obviously I wanted to know if the vitamin B12 myth was real, and if so, what exactly causes vitamin B12 deficiency?
Short Answer: Vitamin B deficiency is caused by poor or absent intestinal flora, caused by a lack of the good microorganisms and bacteria (our sources of vitamin B12) which are found on wild food.
Poor Intestinal… What?
Allow me to explain:
Vitamin B12 is produced by soil microorganisms and bacteria. Centuries ago, people didn’t need to worry about vitamin B12 deficiency, because fruits and vegetables were not washed thoroughly or treated with pesticides. In addition, sterile environments didn’t exist and so all produce was naturally matched to our digestive systems. The natural soil microorganisms and bacteria found on wild unwashed food and garden plants, as well as that supplied by plant fermentation, were typically sufficient to supply the body with enough vitamin B12. For optimal absorption of food, and to efficiently kill the bad toxins (without taking too much energy from us) it’s necessary for these natural bacteria, which are present in the soil, to be transferred into our stomach and intestines.
As stated by Dr. Victor Herbert, a nutrition expert, professor, and chief of the Nutrition Laboratory of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bronx, New York: The soil microorganisms and bacteria which grow on raw fruits and vegetables need to be duplicated in the intestinal tract for the proper absorption of vitamin B12 to take place. Herbert discovered that strict vegetarians who do not wash their food thoroughly did not have a vitamin B12 deficiency.
What Is Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is essential in the growth and formation of red blood cells, DNA synthesis, and neurological functioning in the human body. Surprisingly then, it has the smallest recommended dietary allowance or RDA of all known vitamins, requiring only 3 to 4 micro-grams per day. Yet despite these small amounts, its absence or insufficiency can cause serious health problems, even to a raw-food vegan; who requires less due enhanced gastric powers and a high ability to recycle vitamin B12.
Signs of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 deficiency develops gradually, making it hard to detect. Because of this, it can often go unnoticed, especially in the absence of a proper medical evaluation. Inadequate intake and absorption of B12 produces a clinical deficiency resulting in nervous system damage and anemia. Anemia is characterized by red blood cell or hemoglobin reduction. This condition can bring about numerous complications:-
- Energy loss
- Blurred vision
- Memory problems
- Hand and feet tingling
- Decreased pain or pressure sensitivity
- Balance loss
- Personality changes
- Heart disease
- Pregnancy complications
Thank God I Am Not a Vegan or Vegetarian!
Unfortunately, even if you’re not a vegan, ignoring your intake of vitamin B12 can cause you a multitude of serious health problems. In his book, “The Sunfood Diet”, Dr. David Wolfe points to studies which have shown that people eating ‘regular’ diets (that include animal products) actually require more vitamin B12 than those who follow a non-regular (no animal products) diet. This is because animal-based diets often lead to gastric atrophy, a condition that makes the stomach deflate and function at less than its optimum. Because vitamin B12 is peptide bound in animal products and must be removed using enzymes, this condition causes an inability to efficiently extract vitamin B12 from the food. Raw food vegans, who have more powerful digestive systems, actually get more vitamin B12 by re-absorption of the bile than they do from external food sources.
Best Ways to Get Vitamin B12
To get enough vitamin B12, and to supply my intestines with good bacteria, I make sure to eat some un-washed garden plants, or foods that were grown wildly from organic farms. I do this at least 3 times a week. Another solution I’ve found is to eat seaweed, spirulina, fermented foods, and raw sauerkraut. Please remember that non-organic food must be washed thoroughly because it may be loaded with harmful pesticides, pollution, and toxins. In my last post, you can see which foods absorb the most toxins and pesticides and which non-organic food you should avoid eating.
Plant Sources of Vitamin B12
Some scientists may tell you that plants contain only small amounts of B12. That’s true, because our daily requirement is very little. If nature placed small amounts of vitamin B12 in our food then our need would be minimal. In fact, we need less than one micro-gram (one millionth of a gram per day) and the body recycles vitamin B12 over and over before your body discards the vitamin. Don’t you just love Mother Nature.
Some vegetables, legumes, and fortified Vitamin B foods, such as breakfast cereals and plant milks, are the only reliable and scientifically proven food sources of B12 for vegans. Do not use Soy milk. It also contains vitamin B12 but has negative effects on your health.
I wrote about these in this post.
Below are two lists of sources for sources of vitamin b12 (The first is the one I use most):
- Bee Pollen
- Sunflower seeds
- Green Beans
I use the following list less often, but still at least once a week. I do this simply because it’s easier to get sprouts or Banana’s than it is to get Algues (which are common in Japan).
Vitamin B12 Action Plan by Dr. David Wolfe
1. Read “Edible Wild Plants“. If you want something beneficial to do and you live outside the city, take this book with you on hikes and start identifying the wild edible plants that are growing in your area. It’s probably not the most efficient solution, to be honest, but for many vegans this is the best way to get an excellent quality of Vitamin B12.
2. Include one or more of the following in your daily diet:
- Unwashed organic garden plants
- Wild plants
- Roots like burdock root (these have been shown to contain high levels of vitamin B12)
- Spirulina or blue-green algae (2-3 teaspoons)
- Occasional fermented foods ( i.e. raw sauerkraut)
3. Do take your daily dose of a Vitamin B12 supplement, especially if you’re pregnant or nursing. The great thing about B12 supplements is that they efficiently provide the nutrient in an inactive form called cyanocobalamin. This form is easily converted to 5-deoxyadenosylcobalamin and methyl-cobalamin, which are the active B12 forms. For vegans, a 10 mcg daily or 2000 mcg weekly dose of a B12 supplement can conveniently and economically supply the essential nutrients. Enhanced absorption of B12 supplements can be easily facilitated by either chewing the tablet or allowing it to dissolve prior to swallowing. B12 injections and B12 shots are also widely available, and these are further used to treat severe cases of deficiency.
4. Organic probiotic supplements
5. Read Dr. Gabriel Cousens’ book “Conscious Eating“.
6. Go outside in the sun. The vitamin D it produces will activate your vitamin B12 more effectively.
Vitamin B12 Resource Links
Below are several websites which contain medical and scientifically-based data regarding the dietary facts of vitamin B12 and other supplements.
- The Vitamin B12 Solution – Experience The Stunning Health Benefits Of Vitamin B12, by Jonathan G. Johnson
- What Every Vegetarian Should Know About Vitamin B12, by Erin C. Hoekstra
- Harvard University research and results conducted on B12 consumption, absorption, and deficiency in adults and children.
- Vitamin University has an informative B12 fact sheet as well as, B12 studies and special population considerations
- Excellent investigative evidence validating raw foods diet for healthier living and vegan & vegetarian specific information regarding dietary supplement suggestions for B12
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