We have all heard about Vitamin B12 and have possibly asked someone following a vegan diet where they get their B12 from. However, many people don’t actually know where B12 is made, how we obtain B12, and how much we should consume based on the scientific consensus. Thus, I have decided to write a blog on a few key points on this very important vitamin.
What is Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 also known as Cobalamin is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a very important role in many bodily functions. Vitamin B12 is one of eight B vitamins, and is involved in keeping the body’s nerves & red blood cells healthy and even helps in making DNA. This vitamin is only produced by a few organisms such as bacteria and archaea (single celled organisms similar to bacteria).
These organisms were commonly found in grass, soil, and water streams. Usually the B12 producing bacteria are eaten by cows and other animals grazing on the fresh grass. Once eaten, the bacteria resides in the cow’s digestive system (specifically in the gut, or stomach) and produces vitamin B12 as a by-product from its metabolism. This molecule is essential for cows and other grazing animals. However, this beautiful and natural process is not very common anymore.
Industrialization and factory farming have completely changed this natural process in order to maximize profit, and dominate the food market. So, the tiny little organisms previously mentioned, are not part of this process anymore, the fresh grass and pure water are also not in the picture anymore either.
B12 And Supplementation in Livestock
In order to sustain the dietary need for Vitamin B12, a new process needed to be created called supplementation. The majority of animal products purchased today are now supplemented with B12 in their animal feed, and/or through injectable B12. Crazy right?
Supplementation is now required because animals used for food do not have access to fresh air, grass or water. Even if livestock is “free-range” or raised outside, there is a lack of Cobalt in the soil which is crucial for the tiny little organisms to survive. Fields that contain less than 2ppm of Cobalt are deemed unfit for grazing and therefore Vitamin B12 is supplemented into animal feed or injected directly.
It is crucial for people to understand that everyone who consumes animal products is indirectly supplementing with B12, without even knowing it!
There is nothing wrong with supplementation of B12. In fact, the Institution of Medicine has recommended anyone who is vegan, vegetarian or over 50 to directly supplement with B vitamins. However, this does not mean that you should recycle all of the stuff added into animal feed in your body to enjoy the benefits of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 derived from animal products also comes with all of the harmful factors found in meat. Therefore, you can limit your intake of animal products containing added B12, and instead you can add fortified foods like soy milk (full of phystoestrogens) or nutritional yeast to your diet which are more pure ways to get your daily dose.
Vitamin B12 is crucial for us, this tiny little molecule helps red blood cell formation, aids in neurological functions, DNA production, and many other physiological processes. Thus, we need B12 to be present in our diets and everyday lives in order to achieve optimal health.
Nutritional Yeast: A Natural & Healthy Way to obtain B12
Nutritional yeast is a great way to naturally get your daily dose of B12. Nutritional yeast is a kind of yeast that’s grown specifically to be used in food products and has a cheesy, nutty flavour. I personally love it and use it on everything! Not only does it add flavour to foods & sauces, it also has many health benefits:
- It contains so many B vitamins! One tablespoon of nutritional yeast contains 30-80% of the RDI (reference daily intake) for B vitamins.
- It’s a complete protein. That’s right- just one tablespoon has 2 grams of protein and all nine essential amino acids!
- It contains lots of trace minerals. Trace minerals are important because they aid in gene regulation, growth, immunity & metabolism. One tablespoon contains 2-30% RDI of trace minerals such as zinc, selenium and manganese.
I usually get nutritional yeast from a bulk food store such as bulk barn because that’s where it’s the cheapest!
Recommended Daily Intake
The National Institute of Health recommends that adults (over 14) should consume about 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12, pregnant woman 2.6 mcg, and breastfeeding woman 2.8 mcg.
However, Dietary B12 supplements usually in the form of Cyanocobalamin are not totally absorbed when consumed, for example only 10-mcg of a 500-mcg oral supplement is actually absorbed by our bodies. So don’t get spooked out by the large dosages advertised on the tablets because Vitamin B12 is water soluble, meaning that any extra B12 in your body will be excreted through urination.
However, vitamin deficiencies are very common and many of us may be deficient without even knowing it.
Vitamin B12 deficiencies are commonly associated with anemia, fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite and weight loss. Other side effects of B12 deficiencies may be numbness and tingling in feet, depression, confusion, poor memory, and various others. However, People deficient of B12 can be treated with B12 injections in order to increase the vitamin absorption in the body.
The main reason why people become Vitamin B12 deficient is because of inadequate absorption. Older adults who suffer from digestive conditions such as Atrophic Gastritis typically have difficulty absorbing vitamins & nutrients due to a lack of stomach acid, thus, B12 deficiencies are more common amongst older individuals. People who have been diagnosed with intestinal conditions such as Crohn’s and Celiac disease also have difficulties absorbing vitamin B12 from their diets. That’s why direct supplementation of B12 from fortified foods and B12 oral supplements are the best remedies for a diet with low levels of B12 absorption.
Bernhardt, C., Zhu, X., Schütz, D., Fischer, M., & Bisping, B. (2019). Cobalamin is produced by Acetobacter pasteurianus DSM 3509. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology,103(9), 3875-3885. doi:10.1007/s00253-019-09704-3
Rizzo, G., Laganà, A., Rapisarda, A., Ferrera, G. L., Buscema, M., Rossetti, P., . . . Vitale, S. (2016). Vitamin B12 among Vegetarians: Status, Assessment and Supplementation. Nutrients,8(12), 767. doi:10.3390/nu8120767
Herbert, V. (1988). Vitamin B-12: Plant sources, requirements, and assay. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,48(3), 852-858. doi:10.1093/ajcn/48.3.852
Vitamin B-12. (2017, October 17). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-vitamin-b12/art-20363663
Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes: Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1998.
Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin B12. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/#en12
Vitamin B12. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.dsm.com/markets/anh/en_US/Compendium/ruminants/vitamin_B12.html