I’ve talked about Vit B12 before in this post, but I thought I’d highlight it a little this week, because it really is one of those vitamins that is so vital and is so commonly deficient in many people.
Not a lot of people realize this, but apparently 40% of people between the ages of 26 and 83 have plasma B12 levels in the low normal range – a range at which many experience neurological symptoms (1). Another study (2) shows that up to 62% of pregnant women, 86% of children and 90% of elderly are B12 deficient. And The highest of these deficiencies is amongst vegetarians and vegans, with up to 68% of vegetarians and 83% of vegans being deficient, compared to just 5% of omnivores. (3).
Most people will shrug that off and say “big deal”, until you understand what that one vitamin is responsible for in the body.
Here are some of the conditions linked with a Vit B12 deficiency:
So yes, it’s a pretty big deal.
Why are so many people deficient in this vitamin?
Firstly, a lot of people just simply do not get enough from their food. If you are a vegetarian or, even more so, a vegan, chances are you will be deficient, and this is because there are no plant forms of bio-available Vit B12. It is one of those vitamins that is ONLY available from animal foods.
Unfortunately, a lot of vegetarians hold on to the myth that it is possible to get B12 from plant sources like seaweed, fermented soy, spirulina and brewers yeast. But plant foods said to contain B12 actually contain B12 analogs called cobamides that actually block the uptake of the vitamin and increase the need for true Vit B12.
Secondly, even if you are getting plenty of animal foods in your diet, you may not be absorbing vit B12 due to various issues such as leaky gut, intestinal dysbiosis, low stomach acid, exposure to certain medications, and the over consumption of alcohol.
What do I do about it if I have a deficiency?
As always, if the gut is not healthy, absorption of any nutrients will be inefficient, if not impossible. The first port of call would be to ensure your gut is healthy. This is done through eating a diet of whole unprocessed foods and eliminating inflammatory foods (like grains, sugar, dairy and industrial seed oils). Usually it takes at least a month, but up to a couple years to completely heal a damaged gut. Which is why I would recommend starting with a gut-healing protocol such as a Whole 30, but then making this way of eating your norm, as much as possible.
In terms of the Vit B12 deficiency itself, I would always strongly recommend addressing it through diet first. Sure, we can take vitamin supplements, but there is no true substitute for real food. Supplements are taken in isolation without all the millions of enzymes and other compounds that make food nourishing to our bodies. Taking vitamins in this state will never truly mimic how those from real food will work in the body, and may cause imbalances, absorption issues, etc – some of which can be pretty serious.
According to Dr. Campbell-McBride, “many nutrients compete for absorption sites in the gut. So, if we supplement too much calcium, for example, it may impair absorption of other nutrients: magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, some amino acids and others, creating deficiencies in those nutrients.” This problem doesn’t happen with real food, where the balances are naturally already in place.
As if that wasn’t enough, about 98% of vitamins sold in the United States are made with synthetic materials, which are basically useless to the body.[source]
So, instead, focus on eating a diet rich in animal foods, such as liver, clams, oysters, mussels, fish eggs, octopus, fish, crab and lobster, beef, lamb, cheese and eggs. Or whichever of those you prefer! Keep in mind that liver and shellfish are the richest sources, and dairy and eggs the poorest. You would need to eat 16 eggs a day to get enough Vit B12 if you were not consuming the other items in this list.
If you have reservations about eating animal products, read the following articles before dismissing the idea:
Meat – An Important Part of a Healthy Diet?
How is Advising People to Eat Meat Environmentally Sustainable?
And if you really still can’t get your head around it, then consider supplementing with something like Jarrow Formulas Methyl-B12 along with cofactors such as folate (Solgar Folate 800 Mcg 1x/d), potassium (Natures Way Potassium 99mg 3x/d) and trimethylglycine/TMG (Jarrow 500mg 1x/d).
I would still never recommend this as an optimum way to get your vitamins, but it is better than nothing!
Whatever you do, please do not believe you can get any nutrients or vitamins through “fortified” foods (and I use the term ‘foods’ very loosely here), like this: