Vitamin B12 and vegans: A little introduction to the vitamin




 

In general, Vitamin B12 and vegans is a complicated topic. That is because all vegan diets, including raw vegan diet, exclude animal products and getting vitamin B12 from plant sources is a challenge or at least a medical community thinks so.

Specifically, there are many controversies and arguments surrounding where and how vegans should get vitamin B12. Medical (conventional) doctors say one thing, meat and dairy industry says something similar while naturopathic doctors and vegans say the opposite thing.

It is easy to get lost among dozens of papers with scientific date, experiences and opinions.

 

 

What is vitamin B12?

 

Vitamin B12 and vegans - B12 chemical structure

Chemical structure of cobalamin. Note cobalt “Co” in the middle.

First, let’s look at what is vitamin B12.

A scientific term for vitamin B12 is cobalamin. You may think what stands behind such a weird-sounding term. The term originates from the fact that in the centre of the vitamin’s structure there is an element, cobalt.

Cobalt is a metal, and if you look closely at the structure of B12, you can find it denoted with a symbol “Co”.  Actually, vitamin B12 is the only vitamin that has an element  in its structure. Moreover, if you compare vitamin B12 with other vitamins, it has the largest and most complicated chemical structure.

Cobalamin is essential vitamin with numerous roles in the human body.

Although it is easy to get disoriented among all processes that vitamin B12 is involved in, its role in nervous system is what makes it stand out.

To be precise, vitamin B12 is required for myelin formation. Myelin is a lining of some nervous cells and its role to increase the speed at which impulses are passed from one nerve cell to another. In other words, the lining increases the speed at which messages get from your brain to the correct body part. If you think about it, this makes you react faster say when you see a fire in your kitchen, say. Because myelin affects how fast stimulus, such as the sight of fire, is processed, those who lack B12 may have difficulty reacting to danger, as well thinking and reasoning.

Vitamin B12 is also very important in formation of energy, blood and your genetic material (DNA).

 

 

Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency

 

Vitamin B12 and vegans - delusionBecause vitamin B12 plays a key role in your nervous system, many symptoms of B12 deficiency are mental and cognitive in nature.

 

Some examples are:

  • mental confusion
  • delusion
  • paranoia
  • memory changes
  • mood swings
  • apathy and depression

 

Other indicators of low B12 levels are:

  • swollen, inflamed tongue
  • tingling in hands and feet
  • difficulty walking

 

While fatigue, significant weight loss and paleness are symptoms of myriad of other diseases, they are worth mentioning as they can be the first signs of the deficiency.

Since vitamin B12 is partly recycled in the body, it can take up to 3 years for B12 to drop to dangerously low levels. However, once the deficiency is there, it is not something to be kidding around with. If you didn’t eat animal products for a long time and your doctor diagnosed you with vitamin B12 deficiency, it is only in your best interests to act immediately as stubbornness and foolishness may lead to permanent neurological damage and even death.

 

 

How vitamin B12 is made?

 

Vitamin B12 and vegans - home gardening

In clean, untreated soil there is plenty of B12-producing bacteria. So it means that sometimes eating dirt is okay.

Instead of “how vitamin B12 is made”, I guess it is more correct to ask “who makes vitamin B12” ?

The answer is – not a single animal, plant or fungi makes vitamin B12. The only organisms that can synthesize this vitamin are bacteria and archaea.

Archaea are single-celled microorganisms which live in diverse environments including extreme ones such as those with high temperatures, salinity and acidity (think geysers, salt lakes and your gut)

However, forget about B12-producing archaea as science today mostly focuses on B12-producing bacteria.

B12-producing bacteria is found in water, soil and intestinal tracts of animals, including humans. The bacteria uses a special enzyme, cobalt (remember in the centre of B12’s structure?) and a couple other compounds to make the precious vitamin B12.

 

 

Next time, I will explore other critical vitamin B12 topics such as why those who eat animal products have B12 deficiency and most importantly, how you, as a vegan eating raw foods, can address B12 issue.

 

 

 


 

Main references:

www.health.harvard.edu
www.vibrancyuk.com – Dr. Shaw’s website
Allen, L.H. (2009). How common is vitamin B-12 deficiency? The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89 (2) 693S-696S

 

4 Comments
  1. Thanks for the very informative article. So if I get this right… in order to get vitamin b12 you have to eat what exactly? Is it through animal foods or through vegetables? I actually think I used to take vitamin b12 back when I was a teenager for my acne… and it made it all diseapear, may be thats another benefit aswell ;p

    • Thanks for dropping by Hakan. No matter what your diet is, whether you eat animal products or not, you will get more vitamin B12 if you eat raw products.

      If you are on a meat-based diet – your best option is to eat raw egg yolks (raw meat, even fish and shellfish is not for appealing for many)

      If you are a vegan – your best option is eat organic greens and vegetables in slightly unwashed form (so that traces of soil are left on them, better from your own garden then)

      In Vitamin B12 and vegans: How to get vitamin B12 I go into details about the best sources of vitamin B12 for both groups – those who eat animal products and those who don’t. Check it out!

      I guess your acne healed due to improved metabolism of fats after introduction of the vitamin. Congrats!


  2. I read your post with great interest, since I don’t eat a lot of meat. Then I read your B12 Deficiency list and I thought ‘oh! look at that…mental confusion… Lack of B12 is my problem’ lol… kidding…

    But can’t you effectively supplement B12? It’s sublingual right? I think mine includes Folic Acid. I’ve been supplementing to avoid anemia for years. I think it’s working. 🙂

    • You are funny Jackie 😉

      Sure, you can supplement. In fact, this is only supplement that is recommended for vegans and raw vegans; many do take it as its deficiency is pretty dangerous.

      It comes in different forms: as a sublingual tablet, as a capsule, in patches and even in injections. Your choice. You just need to avoid the synthetic version of vitamin B12 – cyanocobalamin. Look for methycobalamin which is naturally synthesized by B12 bacteria. Without knowing the brand of the vitamin B12 you are taking it’s hard to say whether it’s natural or not. Check it, should say on a bottle.

      Even if you did eat lot of meat, it doesn’t mean you would have plenty of the vitamin. Read Vitamin B12 and vegans: Are animal products reliable sources? and you will see why.

      There are also other ways you can get this vitamin (one is weird), check it out here.

      Hope it’s clear. Have a nice day!

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