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?
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
Some examples are:
- mental confusion
- 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?
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.
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