Vitamin B12: Critical Nutrient Found Only in Animal Foods
Deficiency of B12 is extremely dangerous to health and can lead to dementia and even death if not rectified. While early symptoms include paleness and overall weakness and fatigue, as the anemia caused by B12 deficiency progresses, symptoms can mimic the signs of aging and so can easily be dismissed as a somehow natural or “normal” occurrence: shaky hands or spastic movement in general, sleeping disorders, unsteady gait, easy bruising, incontinence, and memory loss.
Nervous system, reproductive, and digestive problems such as depression, tingling hands/feet, stomach upset, constipation (or diarrhea), and infertility are also warning signs of low B12 status.
Children with B12 deficiency are particularly at risk with permanent damage to development a very real possibility. Growth retardation, delay in motor skill development, and significantly reduced problem solving, spatial ability, and overall ability to learn are the consequences of low B12 in the developing years.
The real culprit in the B12 deficiency epidemic (by some estimates, about 40% of people are deficient and most are completely unaware of the situation), is the demonization and consequent avoidance of B12 rich foods by a duped public.
B12 Rich Foods ALL of Animal Origin
The very foods highest in B12 – particularly organ meats and eggs, are the very same ones erroneously labeled as unhealthy by conventional nutritional circles. Ironically, these very same foods were revered and regarded as sacred by Traditional Societies as they imparted vibrant health, vitality, fertility and healthy babies and children to those that consumed them:
- meat (cooking meat only destroys B12 on the surface, not interior of the meat)
- dairy products (raw dairy has more B12 than pasteurized dairy and the milk proteins that assist with absorbing the B12 are not denatured like happens when milk is pasteurized)
- egg yolks
Gut Bacteria Do Not Produce a Usable Form of B12
Because the original source of B12 in nature is bacteria, some nutritional sources confuse the issue by maintaining that beneficial B12 is synthesized by gut flora in the colon of humans.
While this may be true, the B12 that is produced this way is not in a usable form as very little if any of this B12 is able to be absorbed across the walls of the large intestine or colon. The reason is that the bacteria produced B12 in the gut is not attached to the “intrinsic factor” (IF), a special protein that is secreted in the stomach.
B12 must attach to an intrinsic factor protein to be absorbed effectively. This happens when B12 that is consumed binds with the intrinsic factor that has been broken down by pancreatic enzymes in the small intestine. The tightly bound B12-intrinsic factor complex then moves through the gut to the Ileum or lower portion of the small intestine and attaches to cell receptors for absorption.
B12 Not Available in ANY Plant Foods
Contrary to claims by the vegan community, usable B12 is not available in algae like spirulina or tempeh (a fermented soy product). The B12 found in these foods is similar to true B12 but not exactly the same thing. The B12 in brewers yeast, also called nutritional yeast, is due to factory fortification. In other words, it is a synthetic source and not naturally occurring in the food.
Studies have indicated that the B12 analogues in algae and tempeh are not bioavailable to the human body – blood levels of the nutrient did not change even after algae or tempeh were added to the diet.
Even worse, these B12 imposters can actually inhibit the absorption of true vitamin B12 as the result of a competitive situation in the digestive system. This puts those that avoid animal foods at an even greater risk for deficiency!
What About Hindu Vegans Who Have No B12 Deficiency?
Proponents of the B12 in plant foods myth like to point out that Hindus from India do not seem to suffer from any B12 deficiency despite their diet which includes no animal foods.
However, what is conveniently left out of the discussion is that vegan Hindus that move to England quickly develop B12 deficiency symptoms with no change in diet.
This is because in India, the plant foods consumed by vegans include many insects and insect larvae due to the lack of pesticide use and and inefficient cleaning methods. In England, insects and their residues are completely removed from plant foods before they are consumed, thus removing the tiny and yet plentiful animal foods that were serving to preserve the Hindu vegans’ health in their homeland.
What About B12 Supplements?
It is always best to seek nutrients from whole food sources first. However, in the case of B12, there are many ways absorption can be inhibited and so sometimes supplementation becomes necessary.
The pathways for uptake of this critical nutrient are very complicated and very common physical issues such as reduced stomach acid, compromised protein digestion, lack of pancreatic enzymes and autoimmune disorders can cause disruption in the absorption process.
Supplementation with either the crystalline form of B12 or even better, plentiful servings of foods rich in B12 such as liver and eggs can typically resolve the situation.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Sources: Myths of Vegetarianism
Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Sarah was awarded Activist of the Year at the International Wise Traditions Conference in 2010.
Sarah earned a Bachelor of Arts (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) in Economics from Furman University and a Master’s degree in Government (Financial Management) from the University of Pennsylvania.
Mother to three healthy children, blogger, and best-selling author, she writes about the practical application of Traditional Diet and evidence-based wellness within the modern household. Her work has been featured by USA Today, The New York Times, National Review, ABC, NBC, and many others.