B12: Meat is Not the Answer

Most people believe they must eat meat to get their requirement of B12, but that's not true.

Most people believe they must eat meat to get their requirement of B12, but that's not true.

Vitamin B12 is not made by plants or animals, it's made by microorganisms (bacteria). It used to be that we could get B12 from our drinking water, but because our water supply is treated and chlorinated to kill bacteria, it no longer supplies vitamin B12.

Supplementing with B12 is essential, and critical for anyone eating a plant-based diet, as well as elders and those who take certain medications including birth control pills, metformin, and antacids, specifically PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) and H2 (histamine-2 receptor) blockers—think Prilosec, Prevacid, Tagamet, Zantac, Pepcid, etc. It's also important for anyone with compromised gut function, intestinal inflammation, or lack of intrinsic factors. 

It can take several years for symptoms of B12 deficiency to develop, but when they do, they can be devastating. It can lead to paralysis, psychosis, blindness, and even death. Newborns of mothers eating a plant-based diet who fail to supplement are at higher risk of developing deficiency much more rapidly with critical results.

Fortified foods, such as soy milk, almond milk, and some cereals, may provide enough vitamin B12 if eaten daily. However, when you swallow B12, from food or a supplement, it gets metabolized through the gut and by the time it goes through all that internal processing, not much is left to absorb, if it can be absorbed. Deficiency typically is due to poor absorption and not poor intake. As we age, our ability to absorb B12 declines. Plus, in order to get the B12 you need from foods, you’d need to eat three servings daily that provide no less than 25-percent of the Daily Value (found on the Nutrition Facts label), having each serving at least four to six hours after the last. 

Most people believe they must eat meat to get their requirement of B12, but that's not true. Even if you ate meat three times daily with four to six hours between servings, as described above, you'd be doing more harm than good considering the ill effects meat has on the body, not to mention the detrimental effects its consumption has on the environment and animal welfare. The only reason cows have B12 in their meat is because of what they eat (dirty, buggy forages) and how their intestinal tract works. Cows are ruminants, which allows them to benefit from the B12 made by the bacteria in their gut, unlike monogastric beings including humans and apes. 

Apes get all the B12 they need by eating bugs, dirt, and feces. Obviously, we humans are not going to follow suit. And because absorption rate is questionable, the best way for us humans to get the B12 we need is by getting regular intramuscular B12 injections.

A B12 shot bypasses the intestinal tract and is completely absorbed through our muscle tissue. Most of the vitamin will be utilized over the days to follow, and if there's any left over, it may be excreted in the urine or get stored in the body, although not much gets stored. Everybody’s body is different. The rate your body utilizes B12 depends on your lifestyle and diet. If you smoke or drink alcohol, for instance, you’ll power through a B12 shot much faster than someone who doesn’t. 

An oral vitamin supplement has to be broken down by the process of digestion in the intestines. All that "breaking down" doesn't leave much to absorb. And, if there’s any inflammation at the site of absorption, or a lack of intrinsic factors, it may not get through at all and will flow straight to the kidneys for excretion, turning your urine bright yellow.

Whether you like getting a B12 shot weekly to keep a steady stream in the body and enjoy the benefits it provides (B12 has no upper limit or toxicity), or prefer getting a monthly shot, it’s important to get regular injections of B12 … for health’s sake.