The Epidemic of Vegan B-12 Deficiencies

I once followed the teachings of an educator who claimed that people did not need to take any supplements. They simply needed to avoid eating spices, salt, garlic, onions, and cooked food and perhaps not wash their vegetables… and their b-12 would be fine.

He said that things like stress depletes b-12 so combining lifestyle techniques with the food regimen would result in safe b-12. He mentioned that the b-12 requirements are artificially higher since people eat so many supplements and so forth. He also claimed that b-12 was “ubiquitous” meaning present everywhere in nature. He said it exists in air, water, saliva, and especially in apple cores.

I believed it.

So did many others who followed him.

It was an important point because part of his whole story was about the physiology of man being ideal for a diet of raw ripe organic fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds eaten in properly combined meals with adherence to a general macronutrient ratio favoring carbohydrates.

Some of the things that he recommended I still enjoy. Food combining makes a big difference. Eating a lot of calories from foods that digest well makes a big difference. I gained a lot of athleticism on the protocol.

I also developed a depletion in my b-12.

For a while, I just thought maybe I was alone in this. It was not something I was proud of. I didn’t really want anyone to know anything was wrong with my health markers in anyway… but there it was on paper. I think I had a 205 score on b-12 which was very close to being deficient.

Overtime, I began to talk to more people that followed this vegan supplement free “natural” lifestyle and discovered that b-12 depletion or deficiency was the rule and not the exception. Nearly every single person that I talked to who had tested their b-12 and followed this supplement free vegan lifestyle had low b-12 and was now supplementing.

So let’s talk logic for a moment.

The guy essentially spoke of the “natural” lifestyle. He spoke of what foods are specific to our species, as though each species has some specific diet that works for them. That makes sense. But apparently what he prescribed was not this diet. And if you look at the other primates… it makes sense that a pure vegan would not be the diet for man; other primates do not practice pure veganism. They eat between 1-5% of calories as animal whether it be insects, bugs, or other larger animals.

Even the supposedly peaceful and friendly orangutans can be seen eating some very very cute small animals. Look up slow loris’s on Youtube and consider that orangutans eat those from time to time.

So what do we do?

Well, the honest thing would be to admit perhaps that veganism is not the natural diet for humans. That perhaps goes too far just based on people following this one man’s raw food vegan protocol, but what do the other health professionals say?

Dr. Greger says that vegans MUST supplement. You can watch his video here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRVrtqy-3NA

In it he references a study which you can read here – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2933506/

What does it conclude? That over half of the vegan men had deficiencies and around a quarter of them were depleted. Deficient is worse than depleted. Deficient means, according to Dr. Greger, that the individual’s body is no longer functioning properly.

That’s serious.

Very serious.

Now keep in mind that most vegans do not believe that non-human animals ought to stop eating animals. They accept that nature has allowed for certain creatures to require the deaths of other creatures in order to maintain their healthy lives… that’s just how things work these days…

So what if the vegans would again accept that humans might otherwise naturally need to eat some animals?

This could be a gain for vegans too!

On the other hand, I am somewhat open to the possibility that supplementation can work, but it seems risky because we know that much of what is contained in food is unknown. Merely extracting the b-12 as though it would be the only nutrient we would get from whichever source we’d naturally derive it from… is too simplistic.

Similarly, I have heard those same vegan advocates say things like you can’t just take a vitamin c pill – you have to eat the oranges, kale, broccoli, or apples (or whatever whole food plant source has vitamin c).

And yet suddenly, when it comes to b-12, perhaps they say yeah well b-12 supplements are the best or they simply won’t consider this notion. But those that do, might admit concern, but perhaps not if their health seems great they will not for a second question whether they have all their ducks in a row.

But how do we know?

I have experienced many different mental states and levels of clarity and health and know for a fact that things can feel a whole lot different than we’re used to. We might think we’re pretty good, but actually we’re far from what could be. I know this for sure when it comes to things like movement. I think I move okay… I can run far. I am stronger than the average person. I am more flexible than the average male…

WAIT

More flexible than AVERAGE??? What does that even mean??? Stronger than average??? What does that mean? Average equals sick these days! We can’t compare ourselves to that if we want to achieve our potential!

So what does true mental health look like? What does true fitness feel like? We simply do not necessarily know.

So when it comes to choosing a supplement for an essential nutrient instead of consuming what we would otherwise need to consume to meet our needs… we run the risk of a silent deficiency. There are no tests for deficiencies of nutrients that haven’t been discovered yet.

Even as it stands we can question our testing accuracy.

I have heard again and again that b-12 deficiencies can take years to develop and that the body stores several years of b-12 internally… but in the study I linked here’s a quote:

“There was no significant association between age or duration of adherence to a vegetarian or a vegan diet and serum vitamin B12. ”

What does this mean? How do we interpret this? I don’t really know. It seems like perhaps b-12 levels stabilize in some way. Perhaps it means that B-12 levels truly reflect the amount of B-12 a person has access too and that the educator we talked about was right to a degree… that b-12 does exist in many places other than in animal products and that it can be utilized to some degree as well.

But it doesn’t look like we can just follow his protocol and expect to not be deficient or depleted – and potentially in a very quick amount of time – not just in a couple years (which isn’t so slow either in my opinion).

Still, this educator’s work spawned others who very loudly promoted these “facts” and it eventually comes full circle where people think these have been firmly established by “Science” (something that doesn’t exist) and so they say things like “b-12 is a waste product of bacteria… it’s not even from animal products… people inject b-12 into animals…”… “if you don’t eat spices and just eat raw fruits and veg and fast then you will have good b-12”. So they somewhat continue to believe in veganism as natural to man.

Now I do not write this to totally discount a vegan diet as unnatural to all people or impossible to follow healthfully.

But in so much as it appears to more likely cause a deficiency than not, it is completely unsatisfying unless rectified. I do not know exactly how people can replace B-12 effectively. Too much might be problematic just like too little can be problematic. These make a huge difference in a person’s life.

Imagine a person who just drinks a little bit too little water. Someone who sleeps just a minute too few every day… he lives in need constantly even though a small thing could fix it all.

B-12 is needed in very small amounts, but if we don’t get it… we are in trouble. Dr. Campbell wrote an informative, interesting, but rather bizarre article where he says, referring to vitamins, “Don’t consume them for awhile, and your health is no more.” (read it here http://nutritionstudies.org/need-vitamin-supplements/ if you like)

Somehow he doesn’t really say anything about B-12 with regards to a plant based diet. He doesn’t say “you must consume a B-12 supplement”. Where does he think people will get B-12 from? What makes the article somewhat odd to me is that he later writes about how supplementing with vitamin A and vitamin D are actually potentially quite dangerous! He makes an interesting clarification about how neither A nor D should even be considered vitamins because we don’t need to consume either of them to be healthy.

Well, you learn something new everyday. How interesting that despite my somewhat disagreement of certain points, I can still pick up some new information.

Still let’s boil down two points he made:

1. if you don’t consume vitamins for a while… you lose your health

2. supplementation can be dangerous

Although he did not specifically say B-12 supplements can be dangerous, and he seems to downplay the amount It seems to me that the reasonable approach then would be… get your vitamins from food. So now we have to figure out where should we get b-12 from.

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