Vegan and Vitamin B12

Table of Contents


There are concerns for people who would like to try vegan diet regarding vitamin B12. Before saying anything else, disease from B12 deficiency in a sensible diet is extremely rare – less than one in a million. This is explained in the section Why Vitamin B12 Deficiency is So Rare.

Why Vitamin B12 is Required

According to Wikipedia, Vitamin B12 is,

    ".. also called cobalamin.
    (It) is a water soluble vitamin with a key role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system, and for the formation of blood. ….
    It is normally involved in the metabolism of every cell of the human body, especially affecting DNA synthesis and regulation, but also fatty acid synthesis and energy production. As the largest (molecularly speaking) and most structurally complicated vitamin, it can be produced industrially only through bacterial fermentation-synthesis. "

So vitamin B12 is required to produce red blood cells. Since red blood cells have high turn over rate – they only live for 3 months so they are produced constantly little by little – it is important to get nutrients that are needed to make red blood cells everyday.

Vitamin B12 also helps to build your immune system. It is also very important nutrient for pregnant and nursing women. Vitamin B12 deficiency can causes types of disorder associated with nervous and mental health.

↑ Back to Table of Contents

Where is Vitamin B12 in Foods

From evolutionary point of view, vegan diet with lots of fruits is diet for human, except this one weakness – vitamin B12. The reason for this apparent inconsistency is because we peel all the vegetable we eat – be it carrot, potato, radish, etc. Root vegetable with stained spots due to contact to soil, are good supply of vitamin B12, but we are stripping all these by fanatical peeling and washing of all vegetables.

Nutritionists say vitamin B12 is only in meat. This is not exactly true. First, live stock animals do not produce vitamin B 12. Vitamin B12 comes from bacteria in soil. Animal tissues store vitamin B12 which is synthesized by bacteria. When these animals become food for human, this vitamin B12 is also passed onto human.

When animals eat vegetable on the ground, they eat a little bit of soil and dirt together. There are also microorganisms located in the animal's intestine that produce Vitamin B12 – this is same for the human.

The human gut contains vitamin B12 synthesizing bacteria. They live all the way from the mouth to the anus. The presence of these bacteria is an important reason that disease from vitamin B12 deficiency occurs very rare, even among those who have been strict vegans all of their lives. The colon has the most bacteria (4 trillion/cc of feces). Here, most of our intestinal B12 is produced. However, vitamin B12 is absorbed in the ileum (end of small intestine), which lies before the colon, this plentiful vitamin B12 is not readily available for absorption. This does not mean that small intestine does not have vitamin B12 producing bacteria. They do, but only in small amount due to stomach acid produced which kills many micro-organisms periodically.

Animal fecal matters contain large amounts of active B12. When these are used as manure for field, the crops grow in it comes in contact with vitamin B12 rich soil. Grass eating herbivores have bacteria in their stomachs that synthesize vitamin B12, which is then passed down and absorbed by their small intestines.

Primitive people who are eating plant based diet and have no vitamin B12 deficiency problem is because they do not clean food as clean as people who live in first world people. These primitives are getting their food directly out of the ground still covered in soil and do not wash thoroughly as people in modern society.

Traditionally, Buddhist monks in Northeast Asia (China, Korea, and Japan) also do not peel the vegetables when they eat. They only wash to the point that food would not be gritty for cooking and eating. When they eat anything they are required to eat everything on the table or at least not waste anything.

This is why all Buddhist monks in Northeast Asia never had vitamin B12 deficiencies despite they do not consume any animal products including dairy (nowadays some monks eat dairy products, but not in old days).

If you want to get vitamin B12 from plant, get organic root vegetables, wash them to get the dirt off, but do not brush the skin, and do not peel – then cook/eat. The dark spots in the plant skin due to contact to soil contains bacteria that has vitamin B12. If you leave your root vegetable in the refrigerator, those dark spots are the most likely spots that would rot first due to bacteria already living there.

Meat and daily industry tell people that animal foods are necessary for obtaining vitamin B12, not so. By the way, vitamin B12 is the only weakness for any well balanced vegan diet.

↑ Back to Table of Contents

Why Vitamin B12 Deficiency is So Rare

Another reason why vitamin B12 is so rare is because human body has highly efficient mechanisms to absorb and recycle this vitamin. Vitamin B12 is the only nutrient that requires a cofactor for efficient absorption. After stomach process food through acidic digestion, stomach cell produce a substance called "intrinsic factor" that combines with the vitamin B12 in the food. Then this "intrinsic factor-B12 complex" travels to the end of the small intestine (ileum) where it is actively absorbed.

There is a second, much less efficient process, called "the passive absorption of B12" which also occurs in the intestine. This mechanism does not use the intrinsic factor. As a result, it is 1000 times less efficient. However, by consuming very large doses of vitamin B12, passive absorption will correct B12 deficiency even for patients with diseases of the stomach and small intestine.

One adult average daily requirement is less than 3 micrograms per day (1 microgram is 1/1,000,000 gram). This means by evolutionary design, human are expected to come in contact with this essential nutrient in the traces of soil in fruits and vegetables surfaces.

On average, for someone who had Western diet, has about 2 to 5 milligrams of B12 stored in their body, mostly in the liver. This is least 3 year vitamin B12 reserve. Additionally, due to conservation of B12 in human physiology adds the lasting period of this supply up to 10 times. After excretion through the bile into the intestines, most of the B12 is reabsorbed at the end of small intestine for future use. So due B12 recycle in our system, it actually takes 20 to 30 years to become deficient after becoming a strict vegan with no vitamin B12 was taken.

However, even on a strict vegan diet, it is impossible to not to consume any amount of vitamin B12, because of bacteria which produce vitamin B12 can be found in a person from mouth to anus, vegetable foods that are not completely washed/peeled of those dark spots where bacteria lives, and in the environment vitamin B12 producing bacteria lives.

As a matter of fact, almost all cases of vitamin B12 deficiency seen in patients today and in the past are due to diseases of the intestine. They are not due to a lack of B12 in their diet. Damage to the parietal cells in stomach lining usually comes from an autoimmune disease.

A stomach surgery can also halt the production of intrinsic factor. Damage to the ileum (end section of small intestine), preventing re-absorption and interrupting recirculation, causes the loss of B12. From these damages over a period of 3 to 6 years the body’s stores of vitamin B12 are depleted.

There is evidence that suggests that during pregnancy and nursing a mother is more dependent on B12 from her diet, because B12 stored in the woman’s body is less available for the baby. Therefore, during these important times, B12 supplementation should be used by a vegan mother.

In sum, intestinal diseases, not dietary deficiency, cause most vitamin B12 deficiency problems.

↑ Back to Table of Contents

How Much Vitamin B12 is Needed

Some people recommend that if you are a vegan and/or you are pregnant or nursing, take 5 micrograms of vitamin B12 every day from pills.

The recommended amount of Vitamin B12 is 2.4 micrograms per day, although to be on the safe side and for optimum nutrition aim for 10 micrograms per day. Yet, as little as 0.3 to 0.65 micrograms per day of vitamin B12 has cured megaloblastic anemia (since B12 is involved in red blood cell production) due to vitamin B12 deficiency. It's such a small amount but important for good health.

Supplements for multivitamin and vitamin B12 contain 500 to 5,000 micrograms of vitamin B12 per pill. These exaggerated concentrations will correct by passive absorption B12 deficiency if there are any diseases in intestinal system. Everyone else who does not have internal digestive organ problem, are being overdosed by 1,000 times – not that it would create any problem.

So if you are a healthy vegan and using typical dosages of B12 (500 micrograms or more per pill), then one weekly dose of this vitamin will be more than sufficient. If you're the type of person who would prefer to take your Vitamin B12 supplement once per week instead of once per day, then you'll need to take 2,000 micrograms per week.

In order to minimize any health problems, human diet should be as recommended in the vegan weight loss page. To avoid the extremely rare chance of becoming a national headline, add a reliable B12 supplement.

↑ Back to Table of Contents

Vitamin B12 Source for Vegan

There have been reports that fermented vegetable foods such as tempeh and miso has vitamin B12. However, this seems only valid if vegetables used is not washed and peeled as thoroughly as 20th century first world standard. So if you want to get vitamin B12 from plant, then get organic root vegetables, wash them to get the dirt off, but do not brush the skin, and do not peel – then cook/eat. The dark spots in the plant skin due to contact to soil contains bacteria that has vitamin B12.

There have been reports that laver and other seaweeds have vitamin B12 in their cell due to bacteria living within porous cells of seaweeds. However, more reliable source is from organic root vegetables. If you want to get vitamin B12 from plant, get organic root vegetables, wash them to get the dirt off, but do not brush the skin, and do not peel – then cook/eat. The dark spots in the plant skin due to contact to soil contains bacteria that has vitamin B12.

Nutritional Yeast can be source of vegan vitamin B12 only if it is fortified with vitamin B12. You can buy it from Whole Foods or other health stores but they tend to be expensive. To get Nutritional Yeast fortified with vitamin B12, with relatively cheap price, click here. About 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast in large flakes is equal to 8 micrograms of B12. So 6 table spoon of nutritional yeasts are needed to meet the 10 micrograms per day requirement.

However, this is not most economical means because nutritional yeast tends to be on the expensive side. Nutritional Yeast is often used as vegan ingredient for making vegan dish taste like cheese. Here are list of nutritional yeasts with good reviews .

Some vegan products are also fortified with vitamin B12. Make sure to check the ingredients. If all these recommendations give you too much headache, just take pills to meet 2,000mg of vitamin B12 a week.

↑ Back to Table of Contents

If you find information in this website helpful, please make a donation. Your contribution would be appreciated.

Contact | Privacy Policy | Disclaimer