When I decided to become a plant-based eater I did not know how difficult it would be for me to get accustomed to the new way that this lifestyle demands of you.
Don’t think for a second that a plant-based diet is just another “diet” people follow to lose some weight and then return to their old habits.
If you want to see results with a plant-based diet, you need to understand that it should not be just a diet it should become your lifestyle.
One of the first things I learned about following a vegan diet (not a lifestyle, I still use animal products in other forms) is that I need to supplement with B12 vitamin because B12 along with Vitamin D is not found in the plant world. I read that you don’t need to start supplementing right away but after three years of a plant-based diet because B12 storage in the body can last for an extended period.
I chose to play it safe, so I did supplement from the start. I did not look into it. Further, I just supplement with a specific vegan brand, and I am getting a pill with 1000mcg of it daily.
I did that for the first two years, and I was delighted with the supplement. It was quick and easy, and I was not worried about having a B12 deficiency. My 2016 blood tests showed that my B12 was 601 pg/ml and the reference values are 181 to 900 which means I am ok and the supplements work just fine.
Search your ass out…
I am always a strong supporter of using as little pills as possible even if they are supplements. Don’t trust doctors too much. Don’t get me wrong I am not against western medicine like many people are. I just take the good things out of it like, diagnostic exams, like pap test for example for women, it’s a western medicine accomplishment, it saved and will save a lot of women in the future from cervical cancer.
Also, western medicine discovered and manufactured chemical drugs to fight cancer. That kind of medicine kills in most cases the patients and not cancer itself.
My philosophies are search, research and apply your findings, keep what is best for you and repeat the whole process as often as possible and whenever your lifestyle allows you.
So that’s what I did, at some point I wasn’t feeling well with myself using a supplement, even if it proved to me that it worked. For me not knowing exactly why I was taking it, just because I read it in a few well respected and with sources vegan WebPages that said you need to make B12 supplementation.
The fact that I had to pop a pill every day was not something that I enjoyed or liked so I made a bet with myself that I will figure out a way to completely remove the B12 supplement from my life, my goal was to supplement the supplement or at least reduce its daily use.
This article is the journey I took to solve the riddle of the B12 vitamin.
Questions lots of them…
The first question I asked myself was “what is vitamin B12 anyway?” and it turns out its only found in bacteria, eggs, and surprise surprise, in foods of animal origin only.
Cobalamins do not occur in plants but are synthesized by certain bacteria, fungi, and algae, which constitute the ultimate source of all cobalamin found in nature.
Now does that mean that we should eat meat, hell no! I am not of those “Vegan” activists that claim that the natural food of humans is only plant-based ones. We evolved eating some meat as a species; archeological evidence supports this. A very good book that deals with the meat history is Meathooked by Marta Zaraska
The question or the dilemma of why should I be a plant-based eater since we are designed or not to consume it. I am a plant-based eater because it’s healthier for me, it’s more robust for the animals – they don’t get slaughtered – and it’s healthier for the planet – it’s not systematically destroyed- and the last reason because I freaking can.
I can be a plant-based eater because the supplement technology allows it, plain and simple!
Next question I asked myself was “Why do we need B12 anyway?” Why do we have to take this specific vitamin?
Well being the little researcher I am- as you can figure out from my first book “Thirsty for Health.” I started looking and reading articles online(1) and also scientific research papers and documents(2) even videos(3) and books(4). In a nutshell, vitamin B12 is essential for our health since it is responsible for proper red blood cell formation and the development of the nervous system.
So if you want to have blood running in your veins and remember what you did 5 seconds ago, you need this nutrient!
Also, studies have shown that a cause and effect relationship has been established between the dietary intake of vitamin B12 and
- contribution to standard neurological and psychological functions.
- Contribution to healthy homocysteine metabolism.
- Reduction of tiredness and fatigue.
My next, next question was “how long I can last without taking any B12 at all?” It turns out that the answer to this depends on the stored B12 you have in your body and keep in mind that our body is not always 100% healthy. The liver also stores extra B12, and even our body does have a recycling process of the vitamin. The bacteria in our colon make vitamin B12. However, the absorption of B12 takes place higher up in the gastrointestinal tract, near the end of the small intestine.
I concluded that it takes an adult that ceased to consume B12 at all 3 to 10 years to develop a deficiency. This fantastic machine that keeps our soul alive the human body stores typically about 1 to 3mg of vitamin B12.
Frequently if no supplementation will occur and no animal products are eaten 1mg of a store would last us for three years, 2mg for five years and 3 mg for six years if the body is working with no health issues. The mentioned periods drop to 2, 3.6, and four years respectively if they have absorption problems.
The next logical question was how B12 is get absorbed?
When I was a student in Greece, I was a heavy smoker of cigarettes, heavy drinker of soda and coffee and also a big consumer of fast junk food and a heavy eater of meat. All this poor nutrition got its toll on my digestive system, and years later I was diagnosed with a stomach ulcer and also duodenum ulcer. You can find more in my book “Thirsty for Health.” my journey towards finding my health and as a result my happiness.
When I had my first stomach inspection at the age of 31, the doctor said that I had old ulcers or ulcers that were healed. That means that from the age of 20 until 31 where I was killing myself internally eating basically what most people eat on the so-called western societies, which was meat and dairy products, and lots of processed food, that’s why I had repeated ulcers in my stomach.
I remember distinctly that I was suffering from depression when I was a student, and I didn’t know why but now learning about B12 deficiency there is substantial evidence that maybe I had a B12 deficiency.
The concentrations suggested for defining vitamin B12 deficiency based on metabolic indicators are: < 150 pmol/L (203 pg/mL) for plasma vitamin B12.
There are mainly three reasons why a person doesn’t get enough B12, reduced dietary intake, malabsorption because of medical problems or both.
Some medical problems that prevent the absorption of the vitamin are gastric atrophy, pernicious anemia, fish tapeworm infection, bacterial overgrowth in the upper intestine, various medications like Proton pump inhibitors and many more.
When I was 31 I was diagnosed with ulcer in the stomach and duodenum as I describe it in my first book “Thirsty for Health” and the cause of the ulcer except for the bad food I was consuming for many years was infection by Helicobacter Pylori which probably resulted in gastric atrophy which is one of the reasons of bad cobalamin (B12) malabsorption.
Maybe that explains the depression and insomnia I had, mood swings, lack concentration and attention. It’s something that I realized because of the new information I found out about B12 deficiency.
People with gastric problems usually have decrease secretion of stomach acid and also a drop in the digestive enzyme pepsin. The result is poor B12 absorption.
Some reasons for B12 poor absorption are :
- Low dietary intake
- Lacto-ovo vegetarianism
- Low animal-source food intake
- Low stores and intake by breastfed infants
- Gastric atrophy and malabsorption from food
- Pernicious anemia
- Ileal disease
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Parasitic infections
Now you noticed on the list that in the reasons above they don’t include omnivores people because they eat adequate quantities of meat and are not considered to have a B12 deficiency.
A hypothesis for you…
Animals like sheep’s and cows eat grass. Now Grass gets cobalt from the ground. Cobalt is used by microorganisms within the rumen (2nd stomach) to make Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is then absorbed in the small intestine and transported throughout the body by the blood, with excess being stored in the liver. Then humans come slaughter the sheeps and cows, and they take the B12 through the meat.
My question is this when the last time you ate a sheep, or a cow that was eating grass from a pasture was? The answer is very rare, most animals these days are raised in CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) the new prisons for animals to be raised and slaughtered as I describe in my book “Thirsty for Health.”
There trust me the animals do not eat grass; they are feeding them soya beans, corn and any other thing you can imagine except the natural food of the animals.
For me the fact that omnivores should not be on the B12 deficiency alert list is wrong.
Dairy products do not have enough B12 and the meat you eat you don’t know if the animals created it in the first place because of the lack of cobalt from the ground.
My advice is if you are a meat eater or not or part-time meat eater check your B12. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, at least you will sleep easy at night knowing that your cells will be divided ok, you will have top enzymatic reactions, proper metabolism of carbohydrates and fatty acids, and good healthy nervous system.
Some test methods to define B12 deficiencies you can use are:
- Mean cell volume and blood film examination
- Serum Cobalamin
- Plasma Total Homocysteine (tHcy)
- Plasma Methylmalonic Acid (MMA)
- Bone marrow examination
My journey on finding out if I could find alternative ways of getting B12 was a complete success because I learned so many things that enabled me to understand and utilize this vitamin better.
Fortified foods like some of the many different brands of breakfast cereals out there is a good source of daily B12 and also nutritional yeast.
I use nutritional yeast on my spaghetti, in my smoothies, on my popcorn, in soups, everywhere I find it handy, so that’s an extra source of B12 getting into my body.
Also, if you want some more products that are B12 fortified check this great article.
The internal functions…
Now a few mathematics, our body can only absorb 1.5 to 2 mcg of B12 at the time, and our receptors of B12 need about 4 to 6 hours to unload its cargo. So it’s a good tactic to have some B12 either as a supplement or from food every 6 hours.
The other thing you can do is take 2500 mcg once a week, and that will give you about 3.5 mcg a day 3000 mcg will provide you with 4.2 mcg a day, and so on, 5000 mcg will provide you with seven mcg a day.
Any more than seven mcg a day you will accomplish nothing as the body can’t absorb any more and you end up peeing the excess B12.
It’s good to get between 4 to 7 mcg a day than the 2.4 mcg that it’s recommended, that number was based on feeble research years ago; recent studies support the 4 to 7 mcg a day. Either Chewable, sublingual or liquid supplement it’s beautiful, and it will work, but there are researchers out there that strongly suggest the use of sublingual ones because of its better absorption. Also always consult your doctor for issues like dosage and other related themes.
What I do now is depending if I am training for a marathon or not is this, if I am training for a marathon, I will supplement with 100mcg daily and take a more prominent supplement three times a week of a 1000 mcg pill each. If I am not training for a marathon, then I just stop doing the daily supplement.
The reason I supplement daily is that when I am training, I need more of everything, more protein, carbs, fat, vitamins minerals and so on.
On a different note, if you are a runner and feel you don’t have enough time to train then I suggest you read Run Less, Run Faster by Bill Pierce and Scott Muhr it was a lifesaver for me.
Math haters turn away…(wink)
100mcg I get every day, 1.5 to 2 mcg is absorbed by the receptors, and the rest 1% is stored in the body which means 100 minus 1.5 equals 98.5 divided by 100 equals to 0.988 mcg, so I get approximately 2.48 to 2.98 mcg daily which is excellent for the daily recommendation. I want to reach the 4 to 7 mcg limit, so I supplement with an extra 3000 mcg a week which if we apply the same math and divide by seven gives me an additional 4.2 daily, so that provides a total in the range 6.68 to 7.18 mcg.
Plus I am getting B12 from nutritional yeast and other fortified foods.
Well, that’s my story as the controversial vitamin B12 is a concern I hope I helped some of you.