The Vitamin B12 Issue

by Dr Gina Shaw, D.S., M.A., AIYS (Dip. Irid.)

The subject of Vitamin B12 is not new to most vegans, vegetarians or raw fooders. The supplement companies have many people running to their local health (drug) stores in an effort to make themselves deficiency-free, but is this a good idea? A number of issues will be raised in this article and I will attempt to piece together some information from many different and reliable (non-financially-oriented) sources.

A vitamin B12 deficiency is a serious disorder, but it is never just a B12 deficiency because vitamin and mineral deficiencies never happen in isolation. Indications of a deficiency of vitamin B12, when they do reach a stage where they have shown up, can be quite severe. Fatigue, paleness, anorexia, mental confusion, delusions, paranoia, weight loss, etc. are just some indications that a person may have a B12-deficiency. In my opinion, ME is a B12-deficiency disorder. If you do think you may have a B12-deficiency, it would be wise for you to seek the advice of a health practitioner (such as myself) who is knowledgeable about B12-deficiencies, for immediate advice. This disorder can eventually lead to death if left unchecked.

UK official recommendations have decreased in recent years, the body's needs having been previously over-estimated. Indeed, the Department of Health recognises that some people have lower than average requirements of B12. A whole lifetime's requirement of B12 add up to a 40 milligram speck of red crystals, about one-seventh the size of an average tablet of aspirin! Taking large doses of the vitamin by mouth is pointless because 3ug is the most that can be absorbed at any one time.

Vitamin B12 is excreted in the bile and is effectively reabsorbed. This is known as enterohepatic circulation. The amount of B12 excreted in the bile can vary from 1 to 10ug (micrograms) a day. People on diets low in B12, including vegans and some vegetarians, may be obtaining more B12 from reabsorption than from dietary sources. Reabsorption is the reason it can take over 20 years for a deficiency disease to develop. In comparison, if B12 deficiency is due to a failure in absorption, it can take only three years for a deficiency disease to occur. Since vitamin B12 is recycled in a healthy body, in principle, internal B12 synthesis could fulfil our needs without any B12 provided in the diet, but if cobalt in our diet is lacking, the problem is not so much a lack of B12 synthesising intestinal flora, as a lack of cobalt (which again will need other factors for efficient absorption).

Among the many controversies surrounding vitamin B12, there is the argument that, although intrinsic factor is produced in our stomachs and that our intestines are known to produce vitamin B12, the bacteria is produced too low down in the intestines and cannot be absorbed by our bodies. This argument is sadly still hanging around, however, according to Dr Vetrano, it was disproved by research over 20 years ago and is nothing more than an obsolete scientific theory. Indeed, in a 1999 version of 'Human Anatomy and Physiology' by Marieb, it states quite clearly that we do indeed absorb vitamin B12 through our intestines.

Many people say that the only foods which contain vitamin B12 are animal-derived foods. This also is untrue. No foods naturally contain vitamin B12 - neither animal or plant foods. Vitamin B12 is a microbe - a bacteria - it is produced by microorganisms. Vitamin B12 is the only vitamin that contains a trace element - cobalt - which gives this vitamin its chemical name - cobalamin - which is at the centre of its molecular structure. Humans and all vertebrates require cobalt, although it is assimilated only in the form of vitamin B12.

B12 synthesis is known to occur naturally in the human small intestine (in the ileum), which is the primary site of B12 absorption. As long as gut bacteria have cobalt and certain other nutrients, they produce vitamin B12. According to Dr Michael Klaper, vitamin B12 is present in the mouth and intestines. B12 must be combined with a mucoprotein enzyme named Intrinsic Factor, which is normally present in gastric secretions, to be properly assimilated. If the intrinsic factor is impaired or absent, B12 synthesis will not take place, no matter how much is present in the diet. B12 deficiency may be brought upon by antibiotics (also contained in milk), alcohol, smoking and stress (alcohol damages the liver, so drinkers need more B12, smoking (and all high temp cooked food is smoky) also raises B12 needs).

Many nutritional analyses of foodstuffs were carried out such a long time ago, and, as such, have not taken account of more up-to-date technology in scientific procedures. For instance, Tesco's raspberries now state quite clearly that 100g of raspberries contain 30% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin B12. This cannot be an isolated example of a plant food which contains B12! More likely, it is just one plant food of many which contain this vitamin. Indeed, according to Dr Vetrano, current books on nutrition in the U.S. have now stated that there is B12 in any food that contains quantities of the B vitamin complex, but previously they were just not able to assay the amounts. Nowadays, more modern technology has allowed them to discover that there is B12 in those foods rich in the B complex.

The author does not believe that a vitamin B12 deficiency is more widespread in vegans or vegetarians - this is probably just another marketing lie! In fact, many so-called studies 'showing vegans deficient' have to be carefully studies themselves - many of them do not prove vegans to be deficient at all! In fact, contrary to meat and dairy industry propaganda, meat-eaters are known to be more likely to have a vitamin B12 deficiency - this has been known since 1959!!(1)

Having said this, we must bear in mind that many vegetarians and vegans still take antibiotics or consume antibiotic-containing foods such as onions, garlic, strong radishes and other foods rich in mustard oil, which are lethal to intestinal flora. The trouble is that once we have damaged our intestinal flora, it is difficult to correct without proper and knowledgeable healthcare and dietary advice. It is of far greater importance to correct intestinal flora problems than to rely on so-called supplements. People who have a physical problem because they think they are not getting enough vitamin B12, are in fact often not assimilating their foods properly because of poor digestion. When digestion is straightened out, B12 can be utilized and produced once again

According to Marieb's 'Human Anatomy and Physiology', vitamin B12 can be destroyed by highly alkaline and highly acid conditions. This assumes that the B12 in meat would be easily destroyed because the hydrochloric acid in our stomaches during the digestion of meat is highly acidic. This may explain why meat-eaters are just as likely to have a B12 deficiency as vegans - even though their diet contains vitamin B12. Also, for meat-eaters, there is antiobiotics contained in meat! Of course, many meat-eaters destroy their friendly bacteria in their intestines by constant putrefaction and the putrefactive bacteria naturally present in meat will give the body a hard time.

Another side to the equation is that low serum B12 levels do not equate to a B12 deficiency necessarily. Just because there is a low level of B12 in the bloodstream, this does not mean that there is a deficiency in the body as a whole, it may well be being utilised by the living cells (such as the central nervous system). In any case, a person who takes supplements may well have 'vitamin B12' floating in their bloodstream, but this does not mean it is usable to the human body as synthetic, inorganic vitamins are not.

The illusionary benefits of supplement-taking result in the person's increased metabolism in order to expel these harmful substances as quickly as possible. This results in a stimulation of the body and the illusion of an improvement in health. The truth is that there is a very delicate balance among hormone secretions, vitamins, enzymes, minerals, etc. This is something that scientists know very little about. These substances do not work alone, but in fact require other factors for them to be effective, like fats, etc. We know very little about life within a cell. The use of supplements can disturb this delicate balance and diminish the efficiency of body functions. Health is reduced commensurate to the imbalance that occurs.

Commercially, vitamin B12 tablets are made from bacteria and the bacteria is deeply fermented. A healthy body will usually expel fermented substances. The main problem with pill supplements is that they: 1) Do not contain the hundreds of other nutrients we may need to be healthy that raw foods provide, and 2) they contain artificial substances/contaminants that are detrimental to health.

Synthetic vitamins and minerals are inorganic and are therefore unusable by the human body. In the manufacture of 'food supplements', chemically pure substances must be used for the most part. If the scientists used naturally derived nutrients, their pills would be too large for us to swallow. Additionally, a chemical 'carrier' is added to make the products acceptable to the palate of the consumer and to bring their product up to an acceptable standard. These chemical carriers, as with all chemicals, are toxic to the human organism. They result in stimulation of the body and an illusionary cure.

According to Dr. John Potter PhD, of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, Seattle, “Food's magic is based on thousands of complex interactions of dozens of different phytochemicals which are difficult to recreate in pills. While 190 solid studies prove that fruit and vegetables benefit, supplements have only a smattering of evidence”. Vitamins, minerals, hormones, etc. do not work in isolation, they work symbiotically. They work with other nutrients in order for their work to be carried out. When these highly complex substances are disturbed, their overall effectiveness can be reduced. However, too much of a nutrient is draining on our vital energy as the human (or non-human) organism may have to expel a nutrient overload. Also, it is doubtful whether, even if you do have a B12 deficiency, you have only a B12 deficiency. A healthier diet and living conditions, as well as a fast may be in order.

According to Dr Douglas Graham, in his book 'Nutrition and Athletic Performance', supplementation has proven to be an inadequate and incomplete method of supplying nutrients as scientists cannot match nature's refined balances. He says that since an estimated ninety per cent of all nutrients are as yet undiscovered, why would we want to start adding nutrients into our diet one at a time rather than eating whole foods? Most nutrients are known to interact symbiotically with at least eight other nutrients and considering this, the odds of healthfully supplying any nutrients in its necessary component package becomes 'infinitesimally minute'. More to the point he adds, 'there has never been a successful attempt to keep an animal or human healthy, or even alive, on a diet composed strictly of nutritional supplements'.

Dan Reeter, at Bio-Systems Laboratories in Colorado is creating one of the world's most comprehensive computer facilities for soil biology testing. He says that, from his extensive tests, plants grown in organically-managed soil make significantly higher levels of usable vitamin B12. It has also been reported that vitamin B12 is present in wild fruits and wild and home-grown plant foods.

The author contends that animal and dairy produce is a poor source of Vitamin B12 since the vitamin is contained in nutrient-deranged foodstuffs which will inevitably destroy the usability of the vitamin. Studies show that those following a typical animal-based diet require more vitamin B12 than those who do not. This is because the typical diet leads to digestive atrophy. Because B12 is peptide-bound in animal products and must be enzymatically cleaved from the peptide bonds to be absorbed, a weakened gastric acid and gastric enzyme secretions (due to a cooked food diet) causes an inability to efficiently extract vitamin B12 from external food. Nevertheless, raw food vegans who have a more powerful digestion actually get more B12 by reabsorption from the bile than they do from external food. Wolfe argues that the natural soil microbes and bacteria found on wild plant foods and unwashed garden plants are typically adequate to supply our B12 requirements. The natural microbes in the soil need to be duplicated and to colonise in our digestive tract, without fermentation or putrefaction.

Another point worth considering is that vitamin B12 Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA's) are based upon the average cooked food (meat and two veg), smoking, drinking person. Commercial interests have indeed grossly exaggerated our needs for many nutrients. These studies tell us nothing of the requirements for a healthy vegetarian. It is very difficult to determine precise individual needs of any vitamin or nutrient, and an overload of any vitamin or other nutrient creates an unnecessary burden on our vital domain. Factors such as rate of metabolism, stress, etc. can determine our differing and often changing needs. Dr Victor Herbert reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1998, Volume 48) that only 0.00000035 ounces (1 microgram) of vitamin B12 is required per day. These minimum vitamin requirements may be inadequate to explain the needs of a healthy raw food vegan, for example, who may require less B12 due to an improved gastric ability and a high ability to recycle vitamin B12. (Cooking destroys microbes and a highly sterilised, cooked vegan diet may not provide the intestines with enough good quality flora). Absorption rates of B12 are higher in healthy individuals than in unhealthy individuals. Studies, based on healthy Indian vegetarian villagers, showed that none of them exhibited symptoms of B12 deficiency, despite levels of .3-.5 micrograms of B12.

Dr Gabriel Cousens argues that vitamin B12 deficiency is typically caused by lack of absorption in the intestinal tract rather than a lack of this vitamin in the diet. Annie and Dr David Jubb argue that people have lived in such a sterile, antiseptic environment for so long that these necessary symbiotic organisms have been less than present in our diet. They argue that by ingesting soil-born organisms you can maintain an enormous reservoir of uncoded antibodies ready to transform specific pathogens, the way nature intended - by eating a little dirt!

If a person is healthy and on a healthy vegan, high-percentage raw food diet and does not habitually over-eat, wrongly combine their foods and abuse their bodies generally, and utilises fasting on occasion, it is unlikely that they will develop B12 deficiency symptoms providing their intestinal flora was not previously deranged. Vitamin B12 deficiency is usually symptomatic of a larger problem i.e. poor intestinal flora, poor absorption and also lack of sunlight.

Harvey Diamond argues that the entire nutrient issue has been made so confusing with contradictory information that it is no wonder that people are bewildered about where to obtain sufficient nutrients. Unfortunately, some people have been so totally misguided and scared that no amount of common-sense reasoning of even factual data can rescue them from the meat, dairy and petrochemical (synthetic food 'supplement' suppliers) multi-million pound industries. The truth is that whatever nutrients the body needs will be contained in its natural foods (for human beings, raw plant foods). Mother Nature knows how to provide for her own. Why would it be that we are created in such a way as to make us a natural plant-eater and hey presto, there is no vitamin B12 provided for us by plants? If you can't get it from raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds or sprouts then WE DON'T NEED IT! Just because a wild fruit or organic foodstuff contains only a small amount, this does not mean it is deficient. It means that we only need a small amount!

The pill pushers are quick to say that our soil is deficient, but according to Diamond and others, if a seed does not receive the elements it needs IT WILL NOT GROW (OR WILL GROW POORLY - author). Also, plants obtain nutrients from other sources in greater amounts: the sun, water and the air. Plants actually obtain only about 1% of nutrients from the soil.

If you do develop a B12 deficiency, certain urgent dietary adjustments may need to be made, and there is a possibility that fasting is in order. In any case, on switching to a healthier diet, be it vegetarian, vegan or raw food (for optimum health), we should go back to nature as much as possible and pay little attention to germ phobics who advise us to scrub our vegetables and fruits. Buy organic and eat home-grown or wild foods and do not clean them too scrupulously! Just as nature intended!.

Please note that it is not recommended for anyone to go on a fast of longer duration than 1˝ days wihtout competent supervision, as prolonged fasts must be monitored by a qualified fasting supervisor.

1. 'Fit for Life', Diamond, H. and M., 1987

2. 'The Life Science Institute Course in Natural Health' - 1986

3. 'Nutrition and Athletic Performance', Dr D. Graham, 1999

4. 'Female Balance' article 2001 -K Perrero

5. Human Anatomy and Phyisology - Marieb - 1999

6. Correspondence with Dr Vetrano and family 2001

7. 'The Sunfood Diet Success Story' by David Wolfe

8. B12 article by the Vegan Society

9 . B12 article by the Vegetarian Society

10. 1990 'Solstice Magazine' article


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