There are so many questions about B12, probably more than any other vitamin. Questions such as: Do you need to supplement your diet and vitamin B12? What is vitamin B12? What does it do? Where does it come from? Why do meat eaters need it as much as vegan plant based eaters? How much do we need? What happens if you don’t get enough B12? and Where can you get B12 from?
When I completed my Food for Life (FFL) instructors course in Washington DC, it was brilliant meeting so many like minded people and having fascinating discussions on a variety of subjects. One of which was taking supplements. If we follow a vegan plant based diet do we need to?
The short answer is unless you’re prescribed by a doctor you should never supplement, with one exception – B12. This applies to meat eaters as well as people who follow vegan plant based plans.
What is vitamin B12?
We need 13 different vitamins to help us stay alive and healthy. Our body can’t make vitamins by itself so we have to eat foods that contain these vitamins. Some of these vitamins can be stored by our body, some, like vitamin B12 can’t be, so we have to restock with vitamin B12 each day. It’s also the only one that contains a trace element – cobalt (cobalamin is the scientific name).
What does it do?
It’s essential for keeping our body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. It’s also used to release energy from the food we eat and helps to prevent a type of anaemia called megaloblastic anaemia that makes people tired and weak.
Where does vitamin B12 come from?
It’s produced by soil microbes that live in symbiotic relationships with plant roots. Unfortunately as our soil is destroyed with chemicals and over farmed, these soil microbes are destroyed so can’t produce B12.
Why do meat eaters need it as much as vegan plant based eaters?
For one simple reason: research clearly demonstrates that eating animals will no longer help a B12 deficient person as animals today are themselves B12 deficient. They are supplemented themselves by farmers as the soil lacks the B12 it once had.
How much do we need each day?
Our needs are relatively small. According to the Institute of Medicine all adults 19 plus need 2.4 micrograms per day.
What happens if you don’t get enough B12?
Well there’s a number of symptoms that can occur including: pernicious anaemia; neuro–logic manifestations (sensory disturbances in the extremities; motor disturbances, including abnormalities of gait); cognitive changes (loss of concentration; memory loss, disorientation and frank dementia); visual disturbances, insomnia, impotency, and impaired bowel and bladder control to name but a few as cited by the Institute of Medicine.
Where can we get B12 from?
A lot of foods are supplemented with B12 but to get the recommended daily allowance we all need to take a supplement, especially people over the age of 50.
Because our ability to absorb B12 decreases with age. We have a decrease in intrinsic factor in the gut. This is a protein that makes its way into our intestines and binds to vitamin B12, allowing absorption of the vitamin by intestinal cells. In pernicious anaemia, an autoimmune disorder, autoantibodies are formed against intrinsic factor leading to its deficiency.
So the short answer is, take a B12 supplement whether you’re a meat eater or a vegan plant based eater. You need and your body will thank you for it.
You’ll be amazed at the difference you’ll see and feel.
If you’re interested in reading more I’d highly recommend the book called: Could it be B12? An epidemic of misdiagnoses by Sally M. Pacholok, R.N., B.S.N. and Jeffrey J. Stuart, D.O.
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