It’s hard to write about vitamin B12 without talking about all the B’s. We all know families like this. They are strong individually but together they are near perfect.
As a group, the eight B vitamins are referred to as a complex. Individually they are known by their names. You probably recognize most of them.
Vitamin B1 (thiamin) Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) Vitamin B3 (niacin or niacinamide) Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine, pyridoxal, pyridoxamine) Vitamin B7 (biotin) Vitamin B9 (folic acid) Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Together the complex supports the immune and nervous systems, metabolism, skin and muscles.
The B vitamins are water soluble, which means they pass quickly through our bodies and are not stored. There is the exception of vitamin B12 though, which is stored in the liver (and several other places). Over time, without adequately replenishing, the stockpile gets diminished and can result in health issues, not just for vegans, for everyone.
If you have ever noticed dark yellow pee (assuming you aren’t dehydrated,) this can be the result of a harmless excess of B vitamins.
The B’s are commonly found together in foods and have similar coenzyme functions. In other words, more often than not, they need one and other to perform their best.
A cool thing to note is that, in nature, no B vitamin is found alone. A reminder that when we isolate single nutrients or modify a whole food, we are messing with near perfect nutrition. Messing with nature!
According to one of my ‘go to’ textbooks, Staying Healthy with Nutrition by Elson M. Haas, MD. The richest natural source containing the largest number of B vitamins is nutritional yeast. Great news, as this is a staple in many vegan kitchens.
Other sources include the germ and bran of cereal grains, soy beans, almonds, brown rice, black beans, spirulina, beets, carrots, walnuts, kale, spinach, citrus fruits….and on and on and on……
I have been taking a daily B complex, in tincture form, for years, and now that I am vegan, am very grateful I have been doing so. Hopefully my stores are adequate. One of the biggest nutritional challenges for vegans is looking after our vitamin B12 requirement. B12, it would seem, is the one nutrient that there are no reliable, unfortified plant sources of.
This does not mean we need to eat animal products to get it. In fact, my favorite explanation so far is in the book The Forks Over Knives Plan (also a documentary). Please see excerpt below…
“Vitamin B12 is important for the development and protection of nerve cells and red blood cells and helps in the production of DNA. Insufficient B12 can lead to many health issues, including weakness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, increased irritability, gastrointestinal distress, anemia, and nervous system dysfunction. B12 is the one nutrient that cannot be obtained sufficiently from today’s plant-based diet. This is not because we need to eat animal products to obtain it. In fact, animal products themselves don’t always contain enough B12. 1 The reason for this is that neither plants nor animals naturally synthesize B12. It is made from bacteria. Animals consume dirt, which is full of bacteria, through the unwashed plants and non-chlorinated water they consume. B12 accumulates in the animals’ tissues, which becomes a source of the vitamin for humans when we eat the animal.
We humans, on the other hand, rarely eat anything unwashed. In our quest to be clean, we remove the dirt that contains B12-producing bacteria from our foods. This sanitary approach certainly has its benefits, as it has decreased our exposure to parasites and other pathogens. As a result, we believe that when you eat a whole-food, plant-based diet, taking a B12 supplement is the best way to ensure adequate amounts of the nutrient. There is enough research about supplementing B12 that, when taken appropriately, we trust it is beneficial”.
By Alona Pulde, MD and Matthew Lederman, MD
1Marijke van Dusseldorp, Jorn Schneede, Helga Refsum, et al., “Risk of Persistent Cobalamin Deficiency in Adolescents Fed a Macrobiotic Diet in Early Life,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 69 (April 1999): 664–71.
So to finish up, while I am transitioning to a 100% plant based diet it would be irresponsible of me not to examine the few nutritional shortcomings of this choice that come up along the way. I believe that I can obtain almost all of my nutritional needs from the food I eat but will consciously supplement when I have to.
Coming up next up is a look at Iron…..
For recommended dosages of any supplement please seek the advice of your trusted health practitioner. As with all my posts, this is meant as informative food for thought.