Vegans and B12: Why Brain-Destroying Deficiency Is NOT A Myth Plus Everything Else You Need To Know

This is another one of the Nutrition Essentials series of articles, which I have committed to publishing here on the site at least once a week. I find that often vegans, who have converted because of ethical reasons tend to initially ignore the nutritional requirements that come with a plant-based diet, which can lead to some serious health issues in the future.

I observe a trend that vegans would do anything to prove a point that a plant-based diet is sound enough without any supplementation, and would often ignore any advice that contradicts this view until it becomes too late. I used to be this kind of person!

This is why I would like to remind all vegans that admitting the fact that plant-based eating has a few shortfalls that need to be overcome does not make you less ethical, nor it makes you less of a vegan, nor does it make you ‘lose the argument’ with carnivores who claim that we were ‘made’ to eat meat. Any sensible person would understand that we are evolving as a race and the choice to not eat meat is part of this evolution – and so are supplements!

I do believe that

Any vegan must study the following information about B12

And make an informed decision about supplementation.

I would like to start with a quote from Dr. Gabriel Cousens, who is a devoted live-food vegan himself

“Consistent research over the last decade has shown that vegans and live food people of all ages and sexes have a much higher risk of becoming B-12 deficient …

This deficiency is particularly true with newborn babies …

The good news that one major study … showed, in studying 37 vegan children was that there was normal growth and development in children who were breastfed for 6 months at a minimum, when there was B-12 supplementation …

It is my medical opinion, as a vegan since 1973 and live fooder since 1983, and as a person committed to supporting all those who choose to become healthy live food vegans, that it would be wise to incorporate some B-12 supplementation in your diet.”

As you can see these words are coming from a long-term, devoted vegan and doctor, who is speaking not only from in-depth research of various medical studies, but also from his own experience as a vegan and medical practitioner.

Why a B12 deficiency can be dangerous and even deadly for some individuals?

B-12 helps change homocysteine into methionine.

When this does not happen, homocysteine levels increase, which recent research has associated with heart disease and deterioration of the arteries and nerves.

Even though vitamin B12 is water-soluble, it doesn’t exit your body quickly in your urine like other water-soluble vitamins. Instead, B12 is stored in your liver, kidneys and other body tissues, and as a result, a deficiency may not show itself for a number of years.

This is a serious concern, because after about seven years of B12 deficiency, irreversible brain damage and other problems can result. (The exception is infants and children, in which extensive B12 reserves have not yet been established, so deficiency signs and symptoms tend to become apparent more rapidly.)

Few people are aware that Vitamin B12 is vital for a number of key body functions, including:

Proper digestion, food absorption, iron use, carbohydrate and fat metabolism Healthy nervous system function Promotion of normal nerve growth and development
Help with regulation of the formation of red blood cells Cell formation and longevity Proper circulation
Adrenal hormone production Healthy immune system function Support of female reproductive health and pregnancy
Feelings of well-being and mood regulation Mental clarity, concentration, memory function Physical, emotional and mental energy

In the beginning, B12 deficiency may prompt changes in your mood, such as lack of motivation or feelings of apathy. It can lead to mental fogginess, memory troubles, muscle weakness and – one of the hallmark signs – fatigue.

Over time, if long-term, chronic B12 deficiency develops it can lead to serious, irreversible conditions including:

Depression Dementia and Alzheimer’s Anemia
Neurological and neuropsychiatric conditions Female fertility and childbearing problems Heart disease and cancer

Among pregnant women, nursing women and infants, the effects of vitamin B12 deficiency can be particularly devastating. Pregnant women with B12 deficiency carry an increased risk of having a baby born with neural tube defects, a class of birth defects affecting the infant’s brain and spinal cord. Spina bifida, which can cause paralysis, is a type of neural tube defect, as is anencephaly, which is fatal. A B12 deficiency has also been linked to infertility and repeated miscarriages

If your diet doesn’t include animal products and you’re breastfeeding, your baby could also develop brain abnormalities due to a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Also check out Calcium For Vegans: The Complete Lowdown Plus 5 Whole Foods With More Calcium Than A Cup Of Milk

Why Can’t You Get B12 from Plant Foods?

If you’re a vegan, you may be thinking you can just eat a selection of plant foods that contain B12 — such as sea vegetables, fermented foods like tempeh and algae like spirulina — and be just fine. But this is not the case because these foods contain B12 analogs along with active B12. The result is that eating these foods may ultimately make your B12 levels worse.

As Dr. Cousens explained:

“Up until this time, many of us have felt that additional supplementation for live fooders with sea vegetables or probiotic formulas was sufficient for protection against B-12 deficiency. This does not seem to be the case. In macrobiotics, who primarily cook their food, we see a very high percentage of children actually having growth retardation due to low B-12 intake. Many of us have felt that spirulina, Klamath Lake Algae, all the sea vegetables had enough active B-12 to avoid a B-12 deficiency.

Although the research is not fully in, we do know that … these substances do have human active B-12. The problem is they also have a significant amount of analog B-12 that competes with the human active B-12 … Using the methyl malonic acid reduction approach, which is now the gold standard, research showed that when people used dry and raw nori from Japan, the dried nori actually made the methyl malonic acid (MMA) status worse, which means it actually reduced the B-12 status.

Therefore it could possibly worsen a B-12 deficiency. Raw nori seemed to keep the methyl malonic acid at the same level, meaning it did not harm the B-12 status, but the research showed it did not particularly help it either. No food in Europe or the U.S. has been tested for lowering methyl malonic acid.”

The other argument often used by vegans is that your body produces vitamin B12 from bacteria in the large intestine, so additional sources are not necessary. While it’s true that your body does produce B12 in this way, your body will not be able to absorb it. As Dr. Cousens stated:

“There is one exception to this lack of vegetarian B-12 active food, which is that we do produce B-12 from bacteria in our large intestine, but since this B-12 is produced in the area below where B-12 is reabsorbed, it is really not available for absorption.”

What should you do as a vegan?

The answer is simple – take a high quality B12 supplement.

Also, be aware that even meat eaters may need to supplement with B12, because often, the body’s ability to absorb this vitamin is compromised. When you get older, the lining of your stomach gradually loses its ability to produce hydrochloric acid, which releases vitamin B12 from your food. If you’re over 50, it’s safe to assume you are not absorbing vitamin B12 at an optimal level.

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