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Vitamin B12: You May Not Want to Get It the Way Nature Intended

When it comes to vitamins, you only need small doses

Dr Padma Garvey/Plant-Based Doctor Mom

Vitamin B12:   You May Not Want to Get It the Way Nature Intended

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One of the biggest concerns people bring up about a plant-based diet is where to get vitamin B12.  Fifty years ago, vitamin B12 deficiency would have been rare in people eating meat or animal dairy.  That is because vitamin B12 comes from the bacteria that typically contaminates these foods.  Vitamin B12 is produced by the bacteria in an animal’s large intestines.  That is where your feces are stored before being expelled.  The odd thing is that animals have tons of bacteria in their large intestines loaded with vitamin B12, but most mammals and certainly humans cannot absorb vitamin B12 from their large intestines.  Humans absorb vitamin B12 from their small intestines and need the help of an intact stomach as well, so the absorption of vitamin B12 occurs upstream to where it is.   You would think Mother Nature did something horribly wrong here.  But you would be wrong.

To understand vitamin B12, you have to go back in time.  Imagine you are living with a band of cave people.  No one is washing their hands, including after having a bowel movement.  This guarantees that everyone is getting a dose of large intestinal bacteria, their meat's, their own and their cave mate’s.  That is how nature planned for us to get our vitamin B12.  No need to waste valuable time and energy making it ourselves when we all have helpful bacteria that can do the job.  Now go ahead to the 1900s.  Many places had indoor plumbing by then and sanitation was a growing public health concern.  As the amount of fecal contamination decreased from animal and human waste exposure, the remaining source of vitamin B12 was the fecal contamination in meat and dairy.  There is ALWAYS as small amount of fecal contamination with meat and dairy.  This is a sufficient source to meet our vitamin B12 needs.  Remember like all vitamins, you only need a small amount. 

However, nowadays, vitamin B12 deficiency is a big problem in meat eaters!!  This is because more and more people are suffering from acid reflux and taking acid blockers, more and more people are having gastric surgery, more and more people are suffering from inflammatory bowel disease with altered gut bacteria and leaky gut syndrome, and more and more people are eating highly processed food.  Many of the medications used to treat acid reflux and gastric surgery disrupt our ability to absorb many vitamins.  People with inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn's disease are unable to absorb many vitamins.  There are many foods that are fortified with vitamin B12 such as cereals and my favorite nutritional yeast flakes.  However, if your stomach is off or altered then you won’t be able to take advantage of it.  You may need vitamin B12 shots that bypass your gut entirely.  For those of us that are not on medications for acid reflux and who have not had gastric surgery, then you can get vitamin B12 through a plant-based diet.  Great sources include vitamin B12 fortified breads and cereals and nutritional yeast flakes. 

Make sure you purchase a brand of nutritional yeast flakes that are fortified with vitamin B12.  I use nutritional yeast in many of my dishes that might normally call for Parmesan cheese.  I sprinkle nutritional yeast on my pastas dishes, pizza, etc.    Yeast is not a good thing to use if you have Crohn's disease though.  While yeast does not CAUSE Crohn's disease, once you have Crohn's disease and the leaky gut that goes with it, yeast can exacerbate the disease.

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