Ask A Question
Free Subscription
The Raw Food Blog

Making Your Life Easier

Raw Weight Loss And Vitality

Savory Dressings And Sauces

The Raw Lifestyle Ebook

Raw Food Coaching

The Vitamix!

Product Suggestions

The Basics

The Raw Food Diet

Escape Disease

Weight Loss

Success Stories

Andrew's Recipes

Reader Favorite Recipes

Raw Food Videos

Food Choices

Which Raw Foods

Fruit List

Cooking Damage


Fruit Handling

Fruity Locations

Harmful Diets


The Raw Lifestyle

Mind Over Matter

Caring For Yourself

Body Care


Improving The World

Save The Earth

Organic Gardening

Structuring Society

The Joys of Movement

Born To Run

Odds and Ends

Meet Andrew

What's New

Article List/Sitemap

Become An Affiliate

Advertise On This Site

Amazon Store

Contact Andrew

Support This Site

Good Books

Worried About Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to serious health problems, so do we need to supplement?

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 Deficiency?

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 without it.

What happens when we try? Anemia, mania, and degeneration of the spinal cordB12 Deficiency Spinach Harvest are some of the nastier end results. In the short term, vitamin B12 deficiency often leads to tiredness, decreased mental work capacity, problems sleeping, depression, and other issues.

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 see later.

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:

  • Deficiency is caused by low B12 intake.
  • 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 issue no one seems able to agree on.

Eating To Prevent Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

B12 Deficiency PillsEating 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 Food

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 Vegetables

All fruits and vegetables contain some B12, but it's often in small quantities. Organic fruits and vegetables contain significantly more, however.


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 take in.

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.

B12 Deficiency Needles

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 (1).

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
  •     Chemical Soil Test 2: 5 µg/kg
  •     Organic Soil Test 1: 14 µg/kg
  •     Organic Soil Test 2: 10 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
  •     Soybeans Organic: 2.9 ng/g
  •     Barley Kernels Normal: 2.6 ng/g
  •     Barley Kernels Organic: 9.1 ng/g
  •     Spinach Normal: 6.9 ng/g
  •     Spinach Organic: 17.8 ng/g

B12 Deficiency SeaweedHere 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 chemically-treated soils.

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 deficiency. Yet these are not actually vegan, and are considered as much animal as plant (4).

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 Own B12?

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.

B12 Bacteria

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 absorption" (6).

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 India (7)(8).

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 small intestines.

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 well.

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 internal production.

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?

B12 DurianPutting 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 these requirements.

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 Recoveries

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 subside.

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:

  1. The proper B12 levels were there all the time but body conditions brought on by high-fat substandard diets and poor lifestyles stopped them from being utilized properly.
  2. The lack of fat intake allowed the body to start producing B12 at proper levels intestinally, thus meeting whatever need was present.
  3. The patients had declined to the point where their body 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

B12 Deficiency RambutanRaw 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 sites (5).

So Should We Supplement?

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 worse (15).

B12 SproutLong 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 from cyanocobalamin.

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 (15)."

When In Doubt About Vitamin B12 Deficiency, Supplementing Won't Kill You.

If you're already eating a healthy low fat raw vegan diet, but suspect you mayB12 Apple Orchard 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.

Following Up On Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Read about my B12 blood test results.

Start eating a healthy low fat raw vegan diet that prevents vitamin b12 deficiency.

More articles on raw food nutrition.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency Article Sources:

(1) Water: Quality, Quantity & Organic Agriculture: http://www.malcolmbeck.com/books/gv_method/WaterQualityQuantityandOrganicAgriculture.htm
Water: Quality, Quantity & Organic 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 & Clarifying the Vitamin B12 Issue.
(16) Perlot, Andrew. Don Bennett's Raw Food Success Story.


Receive the free Raw Food Health Journal
Keep up to date with new articles from this site.

Enter your E-mail Address

Enter your First Name (optional)

Don't worry -- your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you The Raw Food Health Journal.

Search Raw-Food-Health.net

Copyright © raw-food-health.net | All rights reserved. Website design by Cre8ve Online
Click here for the mandatory privacy policy and terms of use, which you agree to by using this site.

Raw Food Health Site Build It