Everything You Need to Know About Vitamin B12, But Were Afraid to Ask
At some point or another, perhaps you’ve wondered about vitamin B12. It for sure comes up in media and health news, perhaps causing you to wonder to yourself if you are in fact getting enough of this nutrient.
Vitamin B12 is the most chemically complex of all the vitamins. It is essential for the healthy formation of red blood cells, as well as the healthy functioning of nerve tissue. It helps mitigate the damaging effects of stress, and also helps create strong hair, nails and skin, while helping to reduce fatigue and maintain a healthy digestive system. Also called cobalamin because of the cobalt ion that is common to all forms of B12, it is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a key role in the normal functioning of your brain and nervous system. Wow. I know…quite a lot of super important tasks!
In fact, it is so important that sustained deficiency can cause severe, irreversible damage to both your brain and nervous system! The more typical deficiency in B12, however, is usually characterized by symptoms of fatigue, vision problems and soreness of the mouth. B12 deficiencies are not unlike many other vitamin deficiencies, in that they are most commonly caused by poor diet, though there are certain medical conditions and some medications which are known to prevent the absorption of important nutrients, including this one.
As one of the eight B vitamins (there used to be more, but over time they lost their status as vitamins, which is why there is a B12, but no B11☺), it is literally involved in the metabolism of every single cell of the human body. It not only helps in the production of red blood cells, which carry life-giving oxygen throughout your body, but also in removing homocysteine from the body (known to increase your risk of heart disease), and in lowering the risks of certain types of cancer.
B12 plays an important role in the absorption of folic acid, sometimes called B9, which is crucial for the release of energy, while also aiding in the production, repair and preservation of your DNA and RNA.
B12 and folate work together, like besties :), to perform all of these essential tasks in your body, so it is very important that you maintain a good balance of both of these nutrients. This is even more important for Mamas who are pregnant or nursing, as healthy levels can reduce the risks of severe birth defects. For example, folate supplementation during pregnancy actually reduces an infant’s risk of Spina Bifida by 70%.
Sounds great! Where can I get some of that?
Good question. B12 is not naturally present in humans, plants or animals. Wait. What? So where in the world does it come from? The answer is right under your nose! B12 comes from the soil, or more accurately, it is a byproduct of microbial activity which is left behind in the soil.
Unfortunately, our bodies really are incapable of producing it, since only bacteria and certain other microorganisms have the enzymes needed for its synthesis. Even though B12 actually does come from the soil, it is really not found in land plants either. Interesting, right?!
You see, plants in general just don’t concentrate B12, or use it in the same way as animals do, so there is really no plant-based source other than mushrooms (which are not technically considered to be plants, but that’s a conversation for another day), unless fermentation has taken place, like with tempeh or kimchi.
Interestingly, though animals do not have the ability to synthesize B12 either, the herbivorous ones will naturally pick it up from the soil while grazing, synthesizing it in the gut. They do have the ability to store it in their cells, which is why the most obvious resource for it has traditionally been animal-based.
It should be noted that while animal products do provide convenient sources of B12, eating such foods in large amounts is simply not consistent with the Beauty Detox lifestyle, which focuses on nutrient-dense plant foods that support your overall health and beauty. So even though vitamin B12 is found in most animal-derived foods, including fish and shellfish, meat (especially liver), poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products, us Beauties committed to supporting and preserving our overall health and beauty are better off making the commitment to obtain this important nutrient by alternative means.
A healthy adult needs roughly 3 mcg of B12 per day. As I mentioned, the microorganisms in healthy soil create B12, so you would be right in thinking that a certain amount would be available through the fresh produce we eat. But even if you didn’t wash most of it off, modern soil treatment, along with processing and preparation methods effectively destroy most of it (along with a host of other valuable nutrients), before they ever make it to your dinner plate.
Yes, as a more hygiene conscious culture, we are all very careful about making sure that everything we use, touch or eat is free from bacteria. Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating that we turn back the clock and go back to a time when we were vulnerable to even the slightest hint of infection, but this is another example of how our bodies were created to work symbiotically with many beneficial microorganisms which are eradicated from our foods in modern production and preparation for our main food resource: the grocery store.
I always recommend that my clients and readers shop local and organic for a host of good reasons. Among other things, foods that have been exposed to pesticides and herbicides have to be meticulously cleaned of these toxins prior to consumption, and stores that do not sell organic products routinely market foods that have also been subjected to irradiation.
One of the problems with this is that these practices also eliminate the healthy bacteria which would naturally be found there. Bottom line: our natural reliance upon food from the soil means that soil-based microorganisms are part of our bodies in their most natural state.
Regular use of a reputable SBO probiotic (which mimics the mix of bacterium found in healthy soil that our ancestors used to eat in small amounts, which balanced their gut microbiome) can help to restore and support populations of healthy microorganisms in the gut, thereby aiding in digestion, controlling yeast, preventing disease, maintaining a healthy, glowing complexion and strengthening resistance to allergens.
In my work as a nutritionist — working with people from around the globe— I can say that the importance of gut health and optimal digestion simply cannot be overstated.
However, all probiotics are NOT created equal! I recommend a high quality, class 1 Soil Based Organism probiotic that focuses on essential strains of all natural, healthy microorganisms, just like those you would find in nature.
In my research, I found that there are so many different brands out there, and many of those are of lower quality and contain nonessential or unstable strains, so I decided to introduce my own SBO Probiotic supplement, Probiotics.
I chose to partner with an organic, vegan, non-GMO manufacturer who has discovered a way to take specific beneficial SBO strains found in nature — and then culture/produce them in a very pure way.
As with other B vitamins, your gut can manufacture and synthesize missing components of the complex when your inner ecosystem is balanced with a healthy ratio of high quality probiotics.
Our bodies require a healthy balance of nutrients to maintain optimal function, so including probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich foods are super important to your overall digestive health, which is why they are core components of the Beauty Detox program.
With this in mind, I have also created an easy to make, extremely nutritious, probiotic rich salad recipe (ie raw kraut!) to help support your overall gut health. Combined, they help maintain a healthy digestive environment while increasing your vibrancy and overall health.
This sacred and extremely nutritious salad is just packed with enzymes and flora to increase your natural immunity and to restore you to a basic pH. It doesn’t take that much time to make, and it is the most inexpensive way to get some daily strains of certain probiotics.
Many ask how to eat healthy on a budget, and cabbage is very inexpensive, so there is no excuse to not try my Probiotic and Enzyme Salad. ☺ It’s not a replacement for the SBO probiotics, but is a good regular supplement in a healthy diet.
In addition to buying naturally raised produce, many vegans also rely upon foods like spirulina, some varieties of seaweed, and dried nori, which are good sources of B12, as well as some foods that are fortified with B12 to supply them with their daily 3 mcg, like nutritional yeast. But I still recommend supplementation (keep reading).
*NOTE: Many people think that nutritional yeast is a natural source of this nutrient, and this is a common mistake. You need to be sure that your nutritional yeast is fortified, or you will be wasting your money. Also, many times, you will find it sold in bulk in health food stores, but it should be noted that B12 is light-sensitive, so if it is incorrectly stored in a clear plastic or glass bin or bag and exposed to light, its potency will degrade over time.
Even though eating local and organic foods, supplementing with a good SBO probiotic, and buying other foods that are fortified with B12 is sufficient to avoid deficiency, it is just not realistic for many people to maintain a reliable balance year round.
That is why I still recommend regular supplementation with a good over-the-counter vegan product, namely a whole food-based, non-synthetic multi-vitamin that includes the full spectrum of B vitamins. Of course, your doctor can do a blood test at your annual physical to ensure your levels are consistently within a healthy range. There is just no reason to take unnecessary risks with your health.
Hope this helped you gain a higher understanding of this important nutrient. Wishing you all my best, and hope you have a great day and take good care of yourself.
With love and gratitude,
PS: I’m thrilled and honored to share my new book, Radical Beauty with you, which I co-authored with Deepak Chopra. It is pre-selling now and discusses a lot of new research topics on nutrition, skincare, sleep and more!! Can’t wait for you to have it in your hands and benefit from all the tools we share, very soon. xx
Try to buy local organic fruits and vegetables whenever you can- for overall health and beauty! ;)