Switching to a whole food plant based diet is one of the best things that you can do for your overall health but there are deficiencies that can derail a raw vegan or vegan diet. Today we will discuss how to avoid B12 deficiency, but this will be a continuing series on various deficiencies to be aware of and watch out for. Like most, you might have gone into this lifestyle thinking that it was as simple as eating fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. But we have to educate ourselves and possibly supplement in certain situations to make sure that our bodies are getting everything they need for optimal health. How to avoid B12 deficiency is actually a subject that should be of interest to all. While a B12 deficiency is usually attributed to the diet when it is a vegan, there are many that are deficient that are consuming meat and dairy.
These possible deficiencies can have serious health consequences and I encourage you to look into and do your own research after reading this and the following articles. This is an introduction to the subject with the hopes that you will see the seriousness of it and research further yourself to decide what course of action is right for you. There have been so many people that have adopted a vegan or raw vegan lifestyle, only to fail and claim they “have to” go back to using animal products. The blame tends to fall on the diet/ lifestyle while there are things we can do to protect our health and make sure that we are getting all the vital nutrients necessary every day. I must advise the reader to beware! Learning about and working to avoid potential deficiencies takes you way down the rabbit hole and with each new thing you learn it just gets deeper and deeper.
What is B12 and why is it important?
The scientific name for B12 is cobalamin and it is water soluble. Most vitamins that are water soluble leave the body fairly quickly through urination. However, vitamin B12 is stored in your kidneys, liver and other tissue of the body. This means that it can take several years before a deficiency manifests symptoms depending on how efficiently your body absorbs B12 and also on your diet. B12 is necessary for healthy function of the nervous system, good circulation, proper digestion, absorption of food, a healthy immune system, iron use, helping to regulate the formation of red blood cells and overall energy. It is also important for the production of adrenal hormone, mental clarity, memory function and promoting normal nerve growth and development.
What are the symptoms of a B12 defiency?
A lack of vitamin B12 can lead to vitamin B12 deficiency anemia. This can result in symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, pale complexion, rapid heartbeat and breathing, mental fogginess, mood swings, sore tongue, muscle weakness, lack of energy and numbness or tingling in the extremities. If you think you have symptoms of a B12 deficiency you definitely want to have this checked out and your levels tested. If left untreated this can lead to conditions that are irreversible and much more serious.
What are the consequences of a B12 deficiency?
Vitamin B12 is vital for the brain and the nerve cells to develop and function properly. When a deficiency is not detected and left untreated it can shrink the brain and demyelinate the nerves. B12 is important for maintaining the sheaths that cover the nerves of the central and peripheral nervous system. Myelin, a fatty substance, is necessary to form these sheaths. Neurological problems are caused due to damage to the myelin sheath. A B12 deficiency can many times mimic and be diagnosed as MS, Alzheimer’s disease, autism or Parkinson’s disease.
It can also cause psychiatric problems such as memory loss, depression, delusions, dementia and hallucinations. There is also evidence to suggest a possible relationship between B12 deficiency and vascular injury or disease. Who knew that a lack of this little known “vitamin” could wreak such havoc on the body if deficient? I keep using the word “deficiency” but the truth is that you should be aware of and take care of a B12 insufficiency before it can turn into a more serious deficiency.
What causes a B12 deficiency or insufficiency?
It is not just vegans and vegetarians who get B12 deficiencies although they should certainly be aware of the possible concerns, which are more common in these two groups. A B12 deficiency can be caused by conditions such as pernicious anemia, which makes it difficult for your body to absorb vitamin B12. Diseases such as celiac and Crohn’s can also rob the body of necessary B12 as can immune disorders like Graves’ disease and lupus. Heavy drinking and long term use of acid-reducing drugs can also be a danger. And of course for vegans it can be a problem as we are not taking in any meat or dairy. Also at risk are babies born to mothers with a lack of B12. One of the biggest causes of a B12 deficiency is lack of a substance called intrinsic factor. This intrinsic factor is a protein which the stomach secretes that joins with B12 in the stomach and takes it through the small intestine where and is absorbed into the bloodstream. Without this intrinsic factor the B12 can’t be absorbed and exits the body as waste. This is called pernicious anemia and is caused by a lack of this intrinsic factor.
Should you take a supplement?
Only you can answer this question, after researching for yourself and educating further on the subject. All I can tell you is that after researching this subject by watching countless YouTube videos and reading articles and blog posts I will definitely be getting a good supplement. You can get supplements in the form of an injection, pills and sprays. Though I have research to do on what particular brand I buy, the best recommendations I see advise a sublingual pill. You place them under the tongue and the B12 is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. The best advice I find says to get methylcobalamin instead of the cheaper cyanocobalamin. The “methyl” form is the active form of B12 and works immediately when reaching the body. There are some cases where the sublingual will not work but it is not very common. In these cases a B12 injection is your best bet.
As I mentioned at the beginning this is an introduction to the subject of B12 deficiencies. The best advice I can give is to take this information and run with it. Get different opinions, do the research and decide for yourself. Don’t blindly follow the advice of a “guru”, or any one expert telling you that everything you need is in the food. It can take a long time for a deficiency to develop and in many cases severe, irreversible damage can be done by the time a person is exhibiting symptoms. If you feel you are at risk or have any doubt that your B12 levels are where they should be, simply get an MMA test. The MMA stands for Methylmalonic Acid and the level in your body reflects how well you are utilizing B12. A B12 blood test is what is normally used in the United States but is not as accurate as testing MMA.
I told you we were going deep into the rabbit hole and it will only get deeper. B12 deficiency can have very serious and devastating consequences. I implore you not to bury your head in the sand and ignore facts. There are deficiencies that can cause serious health concerns and if we are truly seekers of health and well being we must continually educate ourselves and fill in the gaps that our diet doesn’t take care of.