health problems, so do we need to
Anyone who tells you they know the answer to this question absolutely,
or that science has produced a near consensus, is being a bit
disingenuous at best.
Eaters of meat, guzzlers of dairy, vegans and raw foodists alike have
all been known to become deficient.
Yet as far as we know, man and his domesticated pets are the only
creature on this planet that
suffers from this odd lack of B12. To understand why, we need to take a
look at what's going on.
What Is A Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 Deficiency can take a number of forms.
B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a key role in everyday
functions of the brain and nervous system, the metabolism of cells, DNA
regulation, and the creation of blood. In other words, we can't live
What happens when we try? Anemia, mania, and
degeneration of the spinal cord are some of the nastier end
the short term, vitamin B12 deficiency often leads to tiredness,
decreased mental work capacity, problems sleeping, depression, and
And therein lies the problem. What can't you blame on B12? As a cooked
food vegan I actually took B12 supplements in the unlikely hope of
addressing my colitis.
It didn't work, of course, but this vitamin is
so hyped that the mentality is it plays into everything.
Worried about a real or imagined decline in health, many people turn to
B12 pills for a Deus Ex Machina entrance against whatever ails them,
and whether they're right and they're deficient or they're wrong and
B12 isn't the issue, pills often seems to offer a solution, as we'll
While it's a very serious issue, vitamin B12
deficiency has become the medical boogie man because it's so poorly
understood and believed to cause a wide range of problems.
Why Do We Become Vitamin B12 Deficient?
Here's where the massive disagreements start.
Scientists and doctors of all diet persuasions cling to one or more of
these categories of belief:
is caused by low B12
Deficiency is caused by an
inability to use B12.
Deficiency is caused by a
compromised inability to produce B12 internally.
How much intake we need to prevent vitamin B12 deficiency is another
one seems able to agree on.
Eating To Prevent Vitamin B12 Deficiency?
Eating food with a large amount of
the vitamin is
one way to get it in your body, but not one that will necessarily guard
against vitamin B12 deficiency.
Where does B12 come from? The bacteria that live in your gut, in the
bodies of other animals, and in the soil your food is grown in excrete
it as a waste product.
B12 From Meat:
If you're a meat eater, you're getting the B12 absorbed into the bodies
of the creatures you eat. Those creatures got the B12 in them through
their diets or through internal flora. A
high-meat diet likely contains more B12 than any other diet, yet it
doesn't ensure good health.
The first B12 deficiencies were discovered in meat eaters, after all,
and there's no real sign that despite vegans usually having less of it
in their systems, that B12 deficiency is more prevalent in them (13).
B12 From Processed
Most people are supplementing B12 whether they know it or not. Look at
bags of rice, bread, cookies, and other grain products and you'll see
they've been enriched with B12. This is another reason why non raw
vegans test high.
B12 From Fruits And
All fruits and vegetables contain some B12, but it's often in small
quantities. Organic fruits and vegetables contain significantly more,
Bacteria eat decaying organic matter and excrete complex nutrients into
the soil, including B12. This is then absorbed by plants, with some
staying in the roots and some making its way into the leaves for us to
But scientists usually find little B12 in vegetables because they test
produce grown in soil sterilized with chemical pesticides and
fertilizers. We are experiencing better living through chemistry.
When you add chemicals to the soil, you rid
yourself not only of pests,
but also the basic bacteria that supports the web of life. Farmers have
been sterilizing their soil since chemical fertilizers became available
following World War II.
When the Rio Grande Valley was first opened for agriculture, the soil's
organic content measured between 3 and 5 percent. According to soil
tests, the current organic content of those lands is about .5 percent
At that level the soil is essentially dead, and unable to host very
much of the bacteria that produces B12.
What little science has done to study the issue shows us there's a
significant difference in the B12 content of vegetables grown in
organic vs chemically-fertilized soil.
A Swiss study from 1992 came up with some interesting findings (2).
First they looked at the B12 in the soil.
One test was on soil that was not at all heavily composted, which would
be ideal, but merely treated with organic fertilizer (it's not stated
what type of fertilizer was used) every five years. This was compared
to chemically fertilized soil.
Chemical Soil Test 1: 9 µg/kg
As you can see, the organic soil contains more.
The next test checked the B12 content of soybeans, barley kernels, and
spinach by taking samples grown in soil to which nothing had been added
and comparing it to produce grown in soil that had organic cow manure
added. Again, none of these are testing B12 presence under ideal
circumstances in highly composted earth.
Soybeans Normal: 1.6 ng/g
Here we see the produce grown in
the organic manure soil coming out
ahead. It's worth noting that manure has passed through the intestines
of a cow and is likely high in B12. It's not clear what veganic, highly
composted soils would produce, and no tests I'm aware of have been done
to look into this.
Regardless, in the absence of meat and processed food, it's possible
that we risk a vitamin B12 deficiency if we eat only food grown in
Other "Plant" Sources
Intake of algaes like dulse - which has been tested at between 3 and
3.9 µg/30g (3)- as well as spirulina and chlorella, have been
suggested as a source capable of keeping us from a vitamin B12
these are not actually vegan, and are considered as much animal as
Additionally, these sources contain significant amounts of concobalamin
analogues of B12, which interfere with the absorption of true B12,
occupying the body's B12 receptors and lessening our absorption ability
(5). On our tests, which are not very accurate, these analogues are
perceived as actual B12.
Regardless of what you're eating, no amount of B12 taken orally will
guarantee a freedom from deficiency.
Can We Produce Our
We actually produce B12 internally from the
bacteria living in our intestines. Most don't eat a diet that allows
for optimal production and absorption, however.
Numerous doctors and dietitians dismiss intestinal B12 production,
either because they believe it doesn't produce enough B12 to meet needs
or because they're not convinced it can be accessed.
Jack Norris, RD, for instance, says that B12 might well be produced in
the large intestine (aka the colon), "...but since B12 is produced
below the ileum (where B12 is absorbed), it is not available for
The small intestine also hosts flora capable of B12 production.
Several interesting studies note B12 deficiency is common in Indians
who have moved to England, yet uncommon in the native population of
One of the scientist, Albert Mathan, speculates when Indians migrate to
the West, their digestive tracts become like those characteristic of
people in Western countries: with little or no bacteria in their upper
Could it be dietary and lifestyle practices that are hurting us?
We know that antibiotics and other drugs can kill
off helpful bacteria or cause a overbalance of certain types, which
often leads doctors to recommend probiotic supplements for them to take
root again (9). It's likely that these affect B12 producing bacteria as
In addition, diet can have a big impact on B12 production. The bacteria
in our bodies is fueled by simple sugars and stunted by fat (5). Most
westerners, including most raw foodists, eat a very high fat diet that
decreases our ability to provide our own B12.
After three and a half years as a low-fat raw foodist, I had a blood
test done that showed me with serum levels of 468 pg/ml. The healthy
ranger is considered 200-800. Although It's possible I'm still running
off reserves, I doubt it, and it's likely that I'm either getting
sufficient intake or producing b12 in the intestines.
I have not been able to find a single study or estimate of how much B12
the intestines produce. Science has ignored this issue for the most
part, and many Nutritional texts don't even mention the possibility of
Researchers have also mosty disregarded the body's known ability to
produce B12 in other locations, such as from the bacteria in the mouth,
around the teeth, in the nasopharynx, around the tonsils and in the
tonsilar crypts, in the folds at the base of the tongue, and in the
upper bronchial tree (15).
Again, we don't really know how much is produced here.
How Much Intake Do We
Need To Prevent Vitamin B12 Deficiency?
Putting a a solid number down as the appropriate
intake level to prevent a vitamin B12 deficiency is just
about impossible due to widespread disagreements.
The normal SAD diet
intake is certainly higher than would likely be present in raw vegans
due to the consumption of meat and fortified foods.
The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies suggest 2.4
micrograms for most men and women over the age of 14 (10). Numerous
other sources say this is considerably too little or more than
necessary. I've never seen a solid recommendation from raw vegan
advocate nutritionists and doctors.
But using the above RDI, 10 oz of the organic spinach listed above
(That's 284g, 65.3 calories) would yield 5055.2 nanograms or 5.0552
micrograms, well in excess of the group's recommendation.
This does not take into consideration the possibility of internal
production, and combined with other raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and
seeds as part of a healthy, low-fat raw vegan diet, we can easily meet
Numerous sources do not consider organic plants reliable
sources of B12 (12).
Yet this stance makes little sense. Every animal on the earth seems to
do fine with their B12. Either they're getting it through food sources
or they're producing it internally. So if we can't do this as science
says, man is apparently some pathetic wastrel who is incapable of
surviving on this earth without the help of supplements.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency And Unexplainable
One of the oddest things about this topic is that
intake is almost a
moot point in overcoming vitamin B12 deficiency because many lack the
ability to do anything with the B12-laden food or supplements they take
in, or even internally-produced B12.
Some take pills and shots, day after day, without any relief. Dr.
Virginia Vetrano tells the story of one woman she treated who, despite
twice-a-month B-12 and iron injections, suffered from vitamin B12
deficiency-based pernicious anemia and major other health complaints
for years (11).
After fasting with Vetrano her B12 levels rose and her anemia
disappeared. Vetrano goes on to cite over 100 fasts supervised by Dr.
William Howard Hay in which all but eight patients had their anemia
How can this be? During a fast one is taking in nothing but water, and
so it can't be that suddenly the patients get "enough" B12 for their
symptoms to subside. There are only a few possibilities:
The proper B12 levels were there all the time
conditions brought on by high-fat substandard diets and poor lifestyles
stopped them from being utilized properly.
The lack of fat intake allowed the body to
producing B12 at proper levels intestinally, thus meeting whatever need
The patients had declined to the point where
was no longer capable of using or producing B12, but the fast allowed
them that ability to recover.
All three of these possibilities causes problems for the typical "you
need more" treatment of vitamin B12 deficiency the majority of doctors
and nutritionists adhere to.
If the answer isn't more
B12, then what is it?
Relevancy of Diet and
Lifestyle in Treating Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Raw foodists and near raw foodists
certainly can become deficient (14),
though SAD dieters and enriched food eaters suffer from Vitamin B12
Deficiency at roughly the same rate as vegans and raw foodists (13),
despite their higher intake.
You can't argue that vegans have any more chance of developing vitamin
B12 deficiency than anyone else, only that they do develop it.
So why is this such an issue for the whole human race?
Much of it is the excessive (higher than 10 percent of calories
consumed) amounts of fat nearly everyone on this planet eats, including
most raw foodists.
A lack of intrinsic factor is sometimes cited as a reason for an
inability to use B12, and it might not surprise you that as dietary fat
intake rises, production decreases. Fat also deprives the bacteria in
the stomach of the sugars it needs to produce B12, and blocks reception
So Should We
Excess B12 is easily excretable, and is likely not
to do you much, if
any, harm, unlike most supplements. If I was on a sad, cooked vegan, or
high fat raw diet I'd probably supplement because the odds would be
stacked against me, but I feel no need to. Although I supplemented as a
cooked food vegan, I never noticed any difference, and discontinued the
practice when I became a raw foodist.
Some people notice a huge difference after supplementing, but those
effects may not be signs of recovery. When some people try
cyanocobalamin b12 supplements, their bodies are forced to covert the
cyanide form into the active form, methylcobalamin and
adenosylcobalamin. This extra function stimulates you, making you feel
better, but actually wastes nerve energy and makes your situation
Long term low-fat raw foodist and health
educator Don Bennett feels
that B12 is necessary for those having less than ideal lifestyles and
diets, however, and suggests supplementing with methylcobalamin, an
active form of B12 that the body can use without having to convert it
In an interview with raw-food-health.net, he said, "If your body is
functioning optimally, it will make the B12 you need. But many people's
bodies cannot make enough B12, or the person's lifestyle habits
interfere with B12 production.
So if you take a uMMA test or a Hcy test and find you are B12
deficient, do you stick to a philosophy which says that you shouldn't
have to take any pills, or do you deal with reality and do what you
need to do to be healthy? (16)."
Personally, Vetrano's argument works for me:
She said, "There is no such thing as a vitamin B12 deficiency, even in
100% raw vegan food eaters. They do not have to eat dirt, animal
products, or take pills to secure coenzymes of B12.
Bacteria in the intestinal tract make it for us, and the metabolically
usable and necessary forms of coenzyme B12 are contained in
unprocessed, fresh natural plant foods, particularly in nuts and seeds.
The real problem in so-called B12 deficiency is a failure of digestion
and absorption of foods, rather than a deficiency of the vitamin itself
When In Doubt About
Vitamin B12 Deficiency, Supplementing Won't Kill
If you're already eating a healthy low fat raw vegan diet, but suspect
you may have a vitamin B12 deficiency, or
even if concern over possibly
having one is preying on your mind, go ahead and try methylcobalamin
supplements for several weeks, which should offer minimal harm. If you
notice a huge improvement, maybe you're onto something, but more likely
you won't see a difference.
After years spent suffering from bleeding intestines from colitis in my
youth, I sometimes wonder if I might at some point have a problem. But
for now, I'm feeling better and better every day, so I'll stay away
from unnecessary supplements.
The fact is that science can't tell you anything for certain on the
vitamin B12 deficiency question, and until more research is done on
truly healthy individuals we won't know.
But I think your best bet lies in eating as much organic produce as you
can, or better yet, growing your own, getting enough sun and exercise,
and otherwise living according to nature's laws.
That's your best bet for overall stable health, whether the problem is
B12, overcoming heart disease, or dealing with a runny nose.
Quality, Quantity & Organic Agriculture:
Agriculture: (2) Mozafar A.
Enrichment of some B-vitamins in plants with application
of organic fertilizers. Plant & Soil. 1994;167:305-311 (3) Van Den Berg H,
Dagnelie PC, van Staveren WA. Vitamin B12 and
Seaweed. Lancet Jan 30, 1988. (4) University Of
Kalmar (2007, June 20). Understanding Algae That Are
Both 'Plant' And 'Animal'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 27 (5) Graham, Dr.
Douglas. "The 80/10/10 Diet", pg 246-250. < (6) Norris, Jack. "Vitamin B12: Are You Getting
It?" (7) Albert MJ,
Mathan VI, Baker SJ. Vitamin B12 synthesis by human
small intestinal bacteria. Nature. 1980;283(Feb 21):781-2. (8) Refsum H,
Yajnik CS, Gadkari M, Schneede J, Vollset SE, Orning L,
Guttormsen AB, Joglekar A, Sayyad MG, Ulvik A, Ueland PM.
Hyperhomocysteinemia and elevated methylmalonic acid indicate a high
prevalence of cobalamin deficiency in Asian Indians. Am J Clin Nutr.
2001 Aug;74(2):233-41. (9) Cremonini F, Di
Caro S, Nista EC, et al (August 2002).
"Meta-analysis: the effect of probiotic administration on
antibiotic-associated diarrhoea". Aliment. Pharmacol. Ther. 16 (8):
1461–7. PMID 12182746. (10) Institute of
Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference
Intakes: Thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12,
pantothenic acid, biotin, and choline. (11) Vetrano, Dr.
Virginia. Pernicious Anemia and B-12. Hygienic
Review. Vol. XXVIII January, 1967 No. 5 (12) Norris, Jack. "Vitamin B12: Are You
Getting It?" (13) Rauma AL,
Torronen R, Hanninen O, Mykkanen H. Vitamin B-12 status
of long-term adherents of a strict uncooked vegan diet ("living food
diet") is compromised. J Nutr. 1995 Oct;125(10):2511-5. (14) Donaldson MS.
Metabolic vitamin B12 status on a mostly raw vegan
diet with follow-up using tablets, nutritional yeast, or probiotic
supplements. Ann Nutr Metab.2000;44(5-6):229-34. And personal
communication with author Jan 31, 2002. (15) Vetrano, Dr.
Vivian V. Rethinking
Issue. (16) Perlot,
Bennett's Raw Food Success Story.
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