Do you feel sluggish in the afternoons? Light-headed or suffer with brain fog and fatigue? If your health if generally good, you might be confused by this.
You may just need a B12 boost. Our bodies crave B12 to keep our nerves and cells healthy, among other things.
Vitamin B-12 (cobalamin) is a water-soluble vitamin that plays essential roles in red blood cell formation, cell metabolism, nerve function and the production of DNA.
You can, of course, obtain vitamin B-12 from food as long as your diet includes poultry, meat, fish and dairy products. However, even omnivores may not be getting enough if this essential vitamin. With factory farming and other compromises to food production, this naturally-occurring nutrient is not as naturally-occurring anymore, making supplementation of Vitamin B12 more important than ever. If you live a plant-based vegan lifestyle, you have no food sources for Vitamin B12 since it doesn’t exist in plant foods, with one exception, purple laver or nori.
But wait. If Vitamin B12 can be obtained from animal foods, don’t we manufacture what we need? One would think so, but in reality, we don’t produce enough in our bodies. A flaw of design? That’s a topic I’m not taking on right now, but the reality is that most, if not all of us, need to supplement this essential vitamin.
Many herbivorous mammals, including cattle and sheep, absorb B12 produced by bacteria in their own digestive system. B12 is found to some extent in soil and plants and have led some vegans to believe that B12 was an issue requiring no special attention. I was one of them. Others have proposed specific foods, including spirulina, tempeh, and barley grass, as suitable non-animal sources of B12. Such claims have not stood the test of time since the version of B12 associated with plant-based foods is not readily absorbed by the human body. I believed this for a long time, until I got into trouble because of a B12 deficiency. There’s one exception: nori or purple laver seems to be showing promise that it contains active B12 that the human body can assimilate. What remains to be seen is just how much nori we would need to consume to reach and maintain the levels of B12 we need to be healthy and robust. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4042564/)
Called the primordial molecule responsible for the health of the DNA in all of our cells, our bodies are designed to store several years’ worth of B12 (3 to 5 years to be exact) in the liver, so it takes some time to become deficient, but why wait? Low levels of B12 result in fatigue and brain fog at the very least and anemia, muscle weakness, intestinal issues, nerve damage, heart issues, increased stroke risk and serious mood disturbances at its worst.
Vitamin B12 is often added to some fortified foods and is available as an oral supplement. Vitamin B-12 injections (I love, love, love mine) or nasal spray might be prescribed to treat vitamin B-12 deficiency.
And now we can vape B12.
A recent study revealed that just about half of those surveyed who experienced fatigue, sluggishness, normal memory loss, etc. were found to have normal B12 levels, meaning that half of us are deficient. Sounds like the results are not so bad, right? These results reveal something interesting: even if you’re suffering from fatigue, sluggishness in the afternoons, memory loss, brain fog and just a severe lack in energy, you may still be told that your B12 levels are ok, because most doctors only suggest you take more vitamin B12 if your level is below 150. Recent research suggests adequate levels of B12 should be much higher.
When your levels are where they should be, you feel incredible. Yes, this tiny nutrient, Vitamin B12, of which we need trace amounts, when depleted really messes with our wellness! Adequate B12 is like pouring water on a thirsty plant. It revives, replenishes and revitalizes your entire body... all your organs, all your tissues. Everything begins to function as it should.
It gets better. Vitamin B12 does more than give us energy and shiny hair and strong nails. Research on the effectiveness of Vitamin B-12 for specific conditions is pretty revealing.
In combination with vitamin B-6 and folate (vitamin B-9), B12 has been shown to control high levels of homocysteine in the blood. (Elevated homocysteine might increase your risk of diseases of the heart and blood vessels and resulting stroke.)
Vitamin B-12 deficiency is associated with dementia and low cognitive function and while the impact of B2 supplementation isn’t clear, studies reveal promising results when it comes to dementia.
While there's no research-based evidence that vitamin B-12 supplements will boost your energy or make you a better athlete, many physically active people (me included) will be quick to tell you that we see a major improvement in performance when our B12 levels are normal and balanced.
Vitamin B12 is also highly recommended for nursing mothers to help with brain development in infants.
How do you discover your levels of Vitamin B12? A blood B12 level measurement is a very unreliable test for vegans, particularly for vegans using any form of algae as these and some other plant foods that contain B12-analogs also known as false B12 (foods like tempeh, nutritional yeast, spirulina and some sea plants). These can imitate true B12 in blood tests while actually interfering with B12 metabolism. Blood homocysteine testing is the most reliable, with levels less than 10 micromol/liter being best. The most specific test for B12 status is methylmalonic acid (MMA) testing. If this is in the normal range in blood (<370 nmol/L) or urine (less than 4 mcg /mg creatinine) then your body has enough B12. Many doctors still rely on blood B12 levels and blood counts. These are not adequate, especially in vegans, so ask your doctor to perform an MMA test for the most reliable results.
How do you know how much Vitamin B12 to take? Can you take too much? Are there side effects? Our bodies absorb only the B12 we need and the rest passes through our urine, so it’s really tough to take in an excess of this essential nutrient. However, should you feel anxious, jittery or develop a mild headache (like you have had too much coffee); you might want to cut back on your B12 intake for a few days until you settle back into balance.
In my research and in discussions with medical experts, the following recommendations seem to work best for most of us. It seems that we all, vegans, omnivores and carnivores could benefit from B12 supplementation. Daily supplements of 10 mcg, a dose of 2000 mcg or fortified foods eaten regularly works best for most of us. (If you decide to rely on fortified foods, please read the labels carefully to make sure you are getting enough B12, at least 3 mcg daily.)
For me, the best option for keeping my levels balanced is to take an injection twice monthly. I lack a protein called “intrinsic factor” that prohibits me from storing this essential vitamin. Tests revealed that I must inject every two weeks to maintain healthy levels of B12. But for most of us, this isn’t a worry and if you choose injections, your need will be quite infrequent.
Outside injections, I have found that inhaling or vaping B12 is nothing short of amazing. Second only to injections in efficient absorption, there’s something fun and cool in vaping B12. So you’ll actually do it! I use it when I am traveling and am unable to inject or as a boost to my energy in between injections. And with each vaping cylinder being the equivalent of 14 injections, it’s a perfectly affordable way to get B12, whether as a fill-in between injections or as your primary source of this essential vitamin. We also consume nori in our house several times a week to keep our mineral intake, as well as B12, balanced.
I’ll end this little piece with a plea to adopt a plant-based diet for human wellness and the future of our planet and the generations who will live on it. To be truly healthy, our diet must be best not just for us individually, but must allow all people in the world to thrive and achieve a sustainable coexistence with the many other species that share our fragile planet. The natural adaptation for most (possibly all) humans in the modern world is a plant-based diet. Think about it. There’s nothing natural about the abomination known as factory farming as it reduces living, feeling beings to bits and pieces given benign names to disguise what they really are. In choosing to use fortified foods or B12 supplements, vegans are taking this essential vitamin from the same source as every other animal on the planet - micro-organisms - without causing suffering to any sentient being or causing environmental damage. That’s enormous.
So if the only downside to plant-based eating is that we need to supplement one essential vitamin, I’m in! I’ll go so far to suggest that we all begin to move in the direction of plant-passionate eating, starting with one day a week. I’ll wager that you’ll find the food delicious and satisfying. That one day will quickly grow to seven days and with all of the options for supplementing the one essential vitamin we can’t get from glorious plants, you’ll never worry as you go through your days looking and feeling great…and knowing you’re doing the best for your health, human health, animals and our planet.