October 22nd, 2010
What is B12?
The term vitamin B-12 is a generic for a group of compounds known as cobalamins. There are three forms of B12—cyanocobalamin, methylcobalamin, and hydroxycobalamin—found naturally, most often in healthy soils.
Among the most important functions of B12 in the body is that methylcobalamins are necessary to keep homocysteine levels in balance. When these levels become too high, this can be toxic to nerves and blood vessels. Some of the first symptoms of a B-12 deficiency are neurological such as depression, memory loss, tingling in hands and feet, paranoia, even diarrhea and inflamed mucous membranes. Since cobalamins are related structurally to hemoglobin, a B-12 deficiency can also cause certain types of anemia.
What Causes B12 Deficiency?
A low dietary intake of B-12—simply not consuming enough—can be a cause of deficiency. But often the culprit is poor absorption, attributable to insufficient stomach acid. B-12 uptake in the small intestine may be blocked by putrefaction from an unhealthy or high-protein diet.
A person on a standard diet stores about 2000 to 3000 mg of vitamin B-12 a day in the liver and muscles. Our bodies secrete about 2 mg of B-12 a day through the bile into the small intestine. From there, about half is reabsorbed by the body.
The Appendix: Then and Now
That, at least, is the conventional view. There is, however, a different opinion. Dr. Brian Clement, a raw food promoter, studied anatomical diagrams of human intestines, going back as far as 300 years. He discovered some startling facts. Many people were eating a natural, organic and largely plant-based diet through much of this time. The ascending colon was shown to protrude inward in the shape of a boot where it went down near the ileocecal valve. This little boot-shaped pocket was where the digested food, with all its B-12 intact, actually cultured and recreated itself.
Somehow, during the 20th century, diagrams began to show a drastic change. Now, where the little boot-shaped pocket had been, the ascending colon went straight up and down, with nothing but a little, shriveled-up piece labeled the ‘appendix.’ The ‘appendix’ had actually once been a vital part of the digestive and lymph systems. As part of the lymph system, it helped filter out toxins. As part of the digestive system, its secondary function was to secrete a lubricant to assist with moving food along the digestive tract. No one knows why this change in structure happened, but it apparently began from about the year 1700 onwards. According to this theory the body no longer had the means to culture its own source of Vitamin B12, and consequently it is now necessary to either supplement or assure in some other way that a source of B12 is always present and being absorbed by the body.
Some people, however, experience no deficiencies at all on raw food diets. I have met hundreds, all over the country, who do just fine. Indeed, they do better than fine: they thrive! Do their bodies produce enough B-12? Or are they running on stored B-12 remaining from their prior omnivorous diets? No one knows for sure. I wish I had simple, straightforward advice about this matter. But I don’t. Sometimes the truth is more complex, less certain than we’d like it to be, and we simply have to deal with it.
Even though some long term raw foodists seem to stay very healthy on the raw vegan diet without B12 supplementation, they key is that it is only some, so this issue is too serious to ignore. Be sure you get well educated.
What’s the Solution?
One solution is B-12 supplementation. But it’s not without a risk either. One man I know was supplementing with Vitamin B-12 because, after all, it’s a good idea to prevent deficiencies—right? But this man began to experience burning and tingling in his hands and feet, as well as itching skin. A brief internet search for something completely unrelated happened to give him the answer: He was overdosing on Vitamin B-12. When he stopped supplementing, his symptoms vanished.
B-12 supplements are certainly not the answer for everyone. There are other ways. I’ve encountered several raw food aficionados who have managed to cure themselves of certain deficiencies and gain needed weight by incorporating raw eggs into their diets. Raw eggs bring many of the nutrients that some raw vegans seem to have hard time absorbing from raw produce.
Consider Raw Eggs
Eggs might be a possible source of B-12 for you, even if eaten only occasionally. Here’s an option for people opposed to supplementation—just eat a raw egg once in a while to be sure you’re getting your B-12. In this way, you can stay 100% raw and avoid any packaged supplements. But of course, if being 100% vegan is critical for you, this will not be an appropriate choice.
But aren’t raw eggs yucky? Nonsense. The idea’s already familiar, even in conventional culture. Folks of middle age or better may recall that, at the Orange Julius stands once popular in malls, adding a raw egg to your orange juice was a popular option, offered right up there on the menu. And the traditional holiday treat, Egg Nog uses raw egg. Try what I do in the winter months when seasonal fruit is not as abundant: occasionally add a raw egg to your smoothie—you’ll find it adds no objectionable taste, and indeed adds a pleasant creaminess.
Aren’t raw eggs dangerous? Recent salmonella scares bring the question to mind. But the answer is: Exercise good consumer judgment. Buy from a reputable organic foods source you trust, and stick with it.
It’s up to you, of course, to decide what to do about B-12 in your own case. But in any event, you must get one thing straight: As far as B-12 is concerned, better be safe than sorry. You should not be opposed to supplementation and raw eggs at the same time. For some, denying both might prove detrimental. Read Raw Food and Hot Yoga for more information on B-12.