Do I Need A B12 Supplement?
Here’s a Common scenario with my Clients…
Client… “I’ve just started taking a B12 Supplement every day”
Client… “Because I’ve just cut out animal products, so want to make sure I don’t get a deficiency”
Me… Ok… grab a cuppa, put your feet up and listen to this…
The Role It Plays…
B12 is a vital component of the Myelin Sheath which surrounds some nerve cells. It is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system, normal blood function, metabolism of protein, energy production, plays a role in DNA synthesis and the production of neurotransmitters. A lack of B12 can result in brain fog, memory loss, lethargy, light-headedness, shortness of breath, flatulence, constipation and/or diarrhea, muscle weakness, numbness, tingling and mental issues such as depression.
Now before you rush off and get a B12 supplement because you think — “I have some of those symptoms” — ANY of these symptoms could be related to a multitude of other health conditions. So IF you are having ANY of these symptoms you should be seeing a health professional for further investigations ASAP.
But let’s keep talking about B12 in the meantime…
Where it can be found…
Vitamin B12 is synthesized from bacteria found in the soil and naturally occurs in microorganisms that live in our intestines. It is found almost exclusively in Animal products (more about this later). You can find trace amounts in some plant-based sources, such as certain algae and plants exposed to bacterial action, but they are not always easily absorbed. You can also find it in fortified plant-based foods.
Where it’s stored in the body…
B12 is stored in the liver for 3–5 years, other storage sites are the kidneys and the adrenal glands. So, it is highly unusual for a healthy individual, with no medical conditions, to become deficient suddenly, just because they swapped to a vegetarian or vegan diet. But keep reading as other factors are involved..
How Much You Need…
For optimal health, depending on your age, gender or whether you have a medical condition… you’ll require anywhere from 0.4mcg to 2.8 mcg a day. However, only a maximum of 1.5 mcg is absorbed in a meal. A little more (a minuscule amount) is absorbed in the large intestines through passive diffusion. So if taking B12 don’t make the mistake of taking too much as it just gets excreted.
What decreases its absorption…
Ironically, those that pop a B12 pill or eat animal products may still be deficient in B12. And that goes for all other supplements you may be taking.
Here are some possible reasons for Vitamin B12 deficiency…
- Low stomach acid… There are a number of reasons why low stomach acid occurs, however, one very common reason is the fact that many do NOT take the time to sit and eat slowly. This is a vital action in the role of stomach acid production. Eating on the run, working while eating and gulping down food all work against the absorption of vitamins and minerals.
- Gastrointesintal Mucosal Hyperpermeability (aka Leaky Gut)… is when damage to the cells’ tight junctions makes the lining of the Gastrointestinal tract permeable. This can be brought on by Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), low stomach acid, yeast overgrowth, previous infections, antibiotic and medication use, parasites and/or stress. This can damage the parietal cells where Instrinsic Factor, a transport protein is needed to transport B12 into the blood.
- Medications… taken for indigestion and acid reflux reduce stomach acid and can reduce the release of gastric acids which reduce the absorption of B12 E.g Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI) and Gastric Acid Inhibitors such as Mylanta and QuickEze
- Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD)… such as Ulcerative Colitis and Crohnsoften have impaired release and production of Intrinsic Factor.
- Increasing age… 10 to 30% of people 60yrs and over malabsorb B12. This is largely due to low stomach acid production.
- Excess Alcohol consumption… decreases absorption.
- The oral contraceptive pill… decreases absorption.
- Large doses of Vitamin C… may decrease absorption.
- High heat when cooking… may decrease absorption of B12 as it is sensitive to heat.
- Pernicious anemia… a medical condition where there is damage and a loss of the parietal cells in the stomach.
- Autoimmune Conditions… whereby the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the parietal cells that produce Instrinsic Factor.
- Worms and parasites… can damage the intestinal wall and reduce Intrinsic factor which is needed for the absorption of B12.
How to increase B12 absorption…
Make your gastrointestinal (gut) health your TOP priority. Stop eating crap – sorry if that sounds harsh but it is true. Focus on eating whole plant-based foods. Cut out the sugars, salts, preservatives, emulsifiers and additives that kill off your good gut flora — the gut flora that work around the clock to fix your stomach lining (parietal cells) keeping them in tip top condition so you can absorb B12 and other vitamins and minerals for that matter! And very important… Take the time to eat SLOWLY so the process of digestion can function correctly.
So should I take a B12 supplement just in case?…
NO – You should always get a blood test and if needed, further investigations, before taking any vitamin supplements. The “More is Better” or “Just in Case” attitude to popping supplements can be detrimental to long-term health and can cause more harm than good. The body is complex and, as individuals, we all have different requirements. Get tested before self-medicating.
If you are TOTALLY plant-based then you should be tested regularly (and not just for B12 but iron too). You may need to take a supplement if levels are low however for most people the ‘food method’ can maintain good B12 levels and is always preferable due to the other synergistic vitamins and minerals that are present in the food e.g. Nutritional Yeast fortified with B12. And if blood test results show low levels I always recommend a sublingual spray over a tablet, and not a cheap over the counter one!
And please… don’t forget about all the other factors I mentioned.
Now having said ALL of that… one more thing I point out to my clients. A lack of Vitamin B12, or a deficiency, is not exclusively the realm of a plant-based eater. In recent years due to large-scale animal production more animals are being fed grains rather than grazing on grass and studies show that animal products are now low in B12. Even chickens often don’t have the opportunity to peck in the dirt as they used to result in some eggs shown to have NO B12 component.
And even when animals do eat grass unfortunately heavy antibiotic use in the farming industry kills B12 producing bacteria in the guts of these animals. Many meat eaters have marginal vitamin B12 status.
There’s so much more to talk about with B12 but I think you may have finished that cuppa and have things to do.
Hope this info helps.
Yours in Health, Natalie xx
Medical Disclaimer: Information provided in this article is for information purposes only, it is NOT intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Neither is it intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. Do not use the information provided in this article for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing medication or other treatment. Always speak with your physician/healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, or need urgent care, contact emergency services promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read in this email.