All too often I have come across raw foodists who put forth the idea that if one is living a simple low-fat raw food diet that vitamin b12 deficiency need not be a concern. Look, I’ve been there, and oh if it was only that easy! Since diving into a raw vegan lifestyle in 2004 I have been blessed to connect and learn about b12 from many longer-term raw vegan teachers, doctors, and experts on the subject as well as through consulting hundreds if not over a thousand people applying the lifestyle.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency – Is it a Joke?
In this video, we will go into my personal experiences with b12 as a long-term low-fat raw vegan, how to increase your absorption/exposure to b12, the factors that diminish your absorption/exposure to b12, and what you can do to ensure that your getting all the b12 you need to be optimally healthy.
In short, I simply have found that vitamin b12 deficiency is no laughing matter and is something to learn more about and be aware of, if interested read on.
I now find the viewpoint that b12 deficiency isn’t an issue for vegans or raw vegans, or that there never is a need to supplement, especially when taken to the extreme of judgment toward others who get tests or choose to take a supplement, a very dangerous viewpoint. I have met far too many people who stringently stuck to a “no supplements” ideal, especially with b12, and have ended up with nerve damage and other issues, many permanent! In the case of pregnancy and bringing up healthy children, this is an even bigger issue due to nerve/brain development and the reality that you do not get a second chance. Because of all of this, as well as my personal experience with Vitamin B12 deficiency, I felt the need to share this video going into b12 deficiency symptoms, my personal experiences, how to increase your absorption/exposure to b12, going deeper into the factors that diminish your absorption/exposure and what you can do to ensure your getting all the b12 you need.
Vitamin B12 plays a vital role in the normal functioning of the brain and the nervous system and the formation of red blood cells. It also helps to regulate and synthesize DNA as well as brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine, critical “feel good” hormones. It is needed in the metabolism of every cell in the body, and it plays a part in the synthesis of fatty acids and energy production. Often called the energy vitamin it helps the human body to absorb folic acid which also facilitates the release of energy.
The human body produces millions of red blood cells every minute, but without vitamin B12, cells cannot multiply properly and have a lower oxygen-carrying capacity. The production of red blood cells goes down if a person’s vitamin B12 levels are too low, with that the red blood cell count drops, and anemia results. The most common symptoms of low B12 and anemia are fatigue, tiredness or lightheadedness, shortness of breath and palpitations, irregular heartbeat, a sore mouth or smooth tongue, loss of appetite, weight loss, pale or yellowish skin, diarrhea or constipation, gas / poor digestion, tingling or numbness in the hands or feet, muscle weakness, vision loss, mental / memory problems, depression, confusion, behavioral changes, stress/inability to handle stress, menstrual / fertility problems, and also leaves people more susceptible to infections.
My Personal Story
For my first 9+ years as a raw vegan, I did not take one supplement I will admit I had some pride around this feeling it was a “better” or more enviable way to live. After 6 years on the lifestyle, my mom wanted me to get some blood tests, I did and always got amazing results. The power of blood tests comes in comparing them to multiple tests over time to see trends and where variables are going. Now with 5 yearly/bi-yearly tests over 7 years I could see a trend showing my b12 status going down and down, to a point that I was clinically deficient, although didn’t have elevated homocysteine (more on this later). At the time I wasn’t symptomatic so I didn’t worry, but, slowly and surely some deficiency symptoms started to creep in. I started to become incredibly stressed over very little things, troubles with my computer during “work” for instance made me want to pull my hair out and scream. I felt I needed way more sleep and felt less energy/strength, and symptoms of depression, as well as memory issues, started to creep in, at this point I knew I needed to look at supplementing. After a few rounds of b12 injections and then following up with sublingual these symptoms started to disappear. Since then I have continued supplementation and tried a few different methods including transdermal patches, sublingual Methylcobalamin b12, and Methylcobalamin injections showing my levels to come up.
How to Increase your Absorption / Exposure to B12
Now right off the bat, I want to say that some of these points are controversial but are included due to the point I feel they are relevant as possible cumulative factors for improving our b12 status.
In the past, we were much more connected to our environment, outside in the sun water and soil/dirt, and not afraid to get “dirty”, all of these factors come into play. Natural healthy soil can contain b12, gardening, walking barefoot, foraging wild foods, and not washing food grown in such conditions can / would have helped us get b12 both through investing it as well as through our skin transdermally. Drinking water from streams and natural sources that could have b12 in it as well would have been a natural source, unfortunately in most places today you can not recommend this. Being outside in the sun / our natural environment bacteria can proliferate on our skin feeding off our sweat/nutrients and is slowly absorbed through the skin. If new to the lifestyle a slow increase of greens in green smoothies, salads, and stews to build the HCL as well as Intrinsic factor needed to absorb the nutrients, especially folate, involved in b12 absorption. Mental calm and stability via a spiritual/athletic practice can help reduce stress and lessen needs. A healthy sex life that includes oral sex, both ways, as both sperm and vaginal secretions can be beneficial as it they have been shown to contain b12 which we can absorb through the thin sensitive membranes of our genitals during sex as well as orally during oral sex.
A big one as you know.
Living and eating a well food combined simple low-fat raw food lifestyle with *minimal use of irritants (onions garlic hot peppers) *(this point is not well studied but simply passed on from other hygienists) can help build our digestion as well as healthy flora, HCL and intrinsic factor needed to absorb b12.
Factors that Decrease our Absorption / Exposure to B12
Living in today’s modern world brings many realities that can hinder our absorption as well as reduce our exposure to b12. Germaphobic is a great example, b12 is a naturally occurring bacteria but when one habitually uses antibacterial soaps, creams, and sprays and goes out of their way to avoid “germs” in the natural environment they are both reducing exposure and absorption. In such a case much of the antibacterial substance can sit on the skin preventing absorption there but can also be breathed in and ingested affecting intestinal bacteria, digestion, and absorption of b12. Beyond antibacterials, our exposure and use of chemicals, be they environmental such as chemtrails, fertilizers, car exhaust, or industrial via commercial produce and pollution, all have a role in our gut health and the health of our mucosa lining that also absorbs b12. The common use of antibiotics, heavy drinking, or smoking creates a situation where digestive bacteria ratios become imbalanced creating malabsorption / bacterial over-growth issues. High levels of stress and lack of sleep cause one to burn through more of all the b vitamins, including b12.
Certain conditions and ailments can come into play with b12 absorption, a prime example is an atrophic gastritis where the stomach lining is thinned and absorption is decreased. Pernicious anemia (possibly due to low HCL / intake of green), or a low level of iron, leads to less absorption and utilization of b12. Any surgeries that remove part of the digestive tract result in lower levels of absorption of all nutrients, including b12. Diseases of the digestive tract such as crones, celiac, bacterial growths, and/or parasites can lessen absorption and cause trouble. Immune system disorders such as graves or lupus as well as long-term use of antacid-reducing drugs can also play a role in setting the stage for b12 deficiency.
Lastly, it has been shown that seaweeds and algae such as nori, dulse, chlorella, spirulina, and others that are often consumed by vegans and raw vegans for iodine and other trace minerals contain an analog form of b12 that binds active b12 receptor sites and can actually diminish absorption for a short period of time. Due to this and the reality that quality forms of those seaweeds and algae can be of nutritional benefit, it is most often recommended to take b12 and those foods a day or two apart to negate this issue affecting absorption which I do myself. Speaking of seaweed and how to enjoy it, check out my delicious “the Best Raw Vegan Sushi Recipe” where I share my secret on how to make raw “rice” sticky as well as share my favorite brand of certified organic raw vegan nori!
What Can you Do?
I find it important to recognize that this issue is quite simple, that it requires little thought or stress in reality, and that any that is created results from being stuck on “what should be” rather than what is. By looking over both lists above one can see if they are living a life that avoids the factors that decrease absorption/exposure and if they apply all the points that increase. From there one can more aptly decide if they are a prime candidate for supplementation, in truth I would recommend Everyone, no matter if you checked off everything above in the most favorable way, to get tested at least every 12 months for a few years and then from there if any symptoms start to creep in at all. The fact is 4o – 60% of North America is deficient, regardless of diet, this is based on inaccurate tests, I would wager the actual numbers could be higher. The consequences are too high, I recommend everyone get tested, again with an UMMA test as well as homocysteine as a collaborative test. If your doctor gives you a hard time simply say you are a vegan that also ingests analog forms of B12 in seaweeds and that you have been told that UMMA is the best test when in collaboration with the homocysteine test as well.
If severely deficient I would consider b12 injections (best to order online and ask questions / make sure there are no preservatives like aluminum) and from there supplement with b12 as a sublingual spray, pill or patch. Dr. Gregor of NutritionFacts.org highly recommends Cyanocobalamin b12 supplementation, check out Dr. Greger’s most current b12 recommendations here. I feel it worthwhile noting that many other experts on this subject that I know recommend Methylcobalamin. The reasons Dr. Gregor gives, 1. cyanocobalamin is much cheaper, as low as 2-5 $ a year to supplement with due to it being synthetically made 2. it is more shelf stable and can last that long 3. it can be used once a week as opposed to every day or two with methylcobalamin 4. it has more double-blind studies on it showing near 100% rates of correcting b12 deficiency, as opposed to one study he quoted where methylcobalamin completely failed to correct a deficiency in roughly 30% of the people in the study. At the end of the day if you are testing the efficacy of the vitamin b12 you are taking with periodic/yearly blood tests, and it works, then it’s really up to you.
This all said it must be noted that cyanocobalamin forms are synthetically made by attaching cobalt to a cyanide molecule, this being poisonous and potentially hard on the liver/kidneys, it is not recommended for anyone with past exposure/damage from cyanide, heavy smokers, people with liver/kidney issues or pregnant mothers. I personally would consider trying a Methylcobalamin sublingual spray (my personal favorite) or pill, and then get tested to see if it’s working and if not try cyanocobalamin or any other available options.
I hope this post helps you come to ease with the realities of b12 deficiency so that you can easily answer the question “Vitamin B12 Deficiency – Is it a Joke?”.
I am not trying to scare you in any way but rather hope to empower you to feel relaxed and confident if your raw food lifestyle. To me it’s such a no-brainer issue, realizing that we are in an unnatural world with many unnatural influences, b12 supplementation may in fact be the most “natural” solution to an unnatural situation. I just want to feel the best I possibly can and exhibit the highest levels of health possible…
I want the same for you, the consequences of b12 deficiency are too high IMHO thus I pray you take this message to heart and become proactive and or at the least get some tests over a few years to see trends.
To thriving and growing in ways to continue to do so, as always…
Wishing you much
Wishing You Much