Vitamin B12 and the Protein Conspiracy

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If you’re a vegetarian/vegan, you’ve probably been asked this question approximately eight million and ten times: “Where do you get your protein?”

 

If you’re not, allow me to ease your mind: Vegetarians/vegans do not spend all their time hopelessly seeking out sources of protein. Stuff is everywhere. EVERYWHERE.

Here are just a few examples:

I don’t know where everyone got the idea that humans need gallons and gallons of protein. The recommended daily amount is 56 g for men, 46 g for women – if sedentary. It goes up from there. A slice of whole grain bread is 5 g, a cup of cooked pasta is 8 g, a cup of quinoa is 8 g,  a cup of oats is 26 g [wow. I mean that’s a LOT of oats for one sitting, but still!] Anyway, although you won’t get your ENTIRE amount from one of these sources, the key to plant-based protein is to get variety, and there’s protein in all grains, many vegetables, and most dairy replacements. And I didn’t even touch on the legume family here, which has even more protein content.

I won’t waste any more time on the non-issue that is protein. Honestly, protein deficiency isn’t even a thing. Have you ever heard of someone having that? [If you have do let me know.] Today I want to talk about something WAY more important to everything ever:

Vitamin B12.

Vitamin B-what?

I hadn’t heard of B12 until my doctor recommended that erm take it, perhaps 2 or 3 years into her vegetarianism. So what is B12?

Vitamin B12’s main functions include normal function of the nervous system, brain function, and creation of red blood cells.

Natural sources of B12 include, and are limited to: meat, eggs, and trace amounts in dairy.

Welp.

There are also trace amounts in some plants, but every legitimate source I’ve checked agrees that those sources are not bioavailable – and also, simply not enough.

I did a lot of reading about this tricksy little vitamin. A LOT. Here’s some of the stuff I found:

  • Recommended daily amount is 2.5 micrograms – and it’s usually sold in 500-5,000 per cap. Huh.
  • The only people who experience B12 deficiency are (a) vegans after 2 or 3 years off animal products, and (b) people with chronic digestive conditions like IBS (who don’t properly absorb it).
  • B12 deficiency is a type of anemia – like iron deficiency, and it causes many of the same symptoms, including fatigue, clouded head, memory loss, numbness and tingling, and more
  • Unlike iron deficiency anemia, B12 deficiency can cause permanent damage. Permanent!!
  • You can’t overdose on B12 (or at least, no one ever has)

The reason I did this obsessive research was because I was experiencing some weirdness last year, long-term – daily numbness of my left hand and foot, usually around the wrist/ankle joint, which extended up the limb further every day. Upon reading, I noticed that, too, my head did seem pretty clouded and no, I couldn’t really think straight. It seemed like an easy answer. [That, or stroke. It was probably stroke.]

My doctor agreed at first [about B12], but my blood work came back with B12 normal. He shrugged it off and put me on iron instead, which did nothing but give me chronic heartburn. Yeugh. My naturopath had a different thought – when she looked at my blood work, she was horrified that I’d scored what I did while on supplements, and said she wanted it to be five times that. She also said it seemed like I’d been deficient even before going veggie – which actually made sense, given my horrific pre-veg digestive situation. [Not saying it’s that way for everyone, for the record. My body can’t digest fat. It’s annoying.]

Look, I mistrust healthcare like crazy, and this didn’t help my paranoia, but I have to say that my ND won this round. For 6 weeks I took 1,000 micrograms of B12 per day, annoyed that I was going SO far above the DRV, and the numbness lingered. Next time, I bought 5,000 micrograms [by accident], and the numbness literally went away overnight. Probably the 1,000s paved the way for that breakthrough, for the record, but it proved to me that B12 was indeed the problem.

I do wonder about the permanent damage, because despite my B12 binge for around 6 months now I do occasionally still feel the numbness in my hand and foot [I feel it now, now that I mention it] – but at least I feel reassured that I’m not having a simultaneous heart attack and stroke, which was my diagnosis. [And a well-researched one at that. The internet is the worst.]

What’s the Takeaway?

My particular brand of hypochondria makes me very suspicious of supplements, medication, basically anything with a side effect list. So when I say you should feel safe supplementing B12… that’s a well-earned endorsement.

Look, veggies – I was skeptical as hell when it came to supplementing my diet. I wanted to believe that I could get it right based on food sources. And they are out there – enriched non-dairy milks, enriched nutritional yeast… but just this one time, with this one vitamin, I’d recommend not risking it and taking a supplement, to keep your nervous system safe. It’s important, and having felt the deficiency, I can promise that you won’t enjoy it.

If you  have any symptoms commonly found with B12 deficiency, and any reason to believe you might be deficient, it won’t hurt to try taking it. There are no negative side effects to overdosing, which is awesome! If you have gut troubles, take it with food at a lower dose because it could upset your stomach a tad. Or if you’re not like me and you actually trust real medical opinions, ask your doctor, get some blood work, and do the responsible thing – if that’s your jam.

 

Picking a Supplement

You can buy tablets at stores that have B12 in them. Whatever ones you pick up should keep you going. My naturopath suggests that for my near-vegan diet, I should be on 500-1,000 micrograms per day just to maintain (remember, plant sources suck, which is why these are so high). Multivitamins don’t offer that level of vitamin B12 (that I’ve seen, anyway).

If you’ve got it bad, like I did, you’ll want the most bioavailable form possible.

The best option is shots – they usually only do those if you struggle with the tablets, and also, who wants to live in a doctor’s office all the time? But if your stomach doesn’t like the tablets, know that there is this option.

Next best option: Sub-lingual Methylcobalamin. I use the below ones, which taste like Maalox only worse but got the job DONE:

NFS-01247-3

Otherwise, Jamieson makes strips and sprays. If it dissolves in your mouth rather than your gut, it’s better.

These are brands sold in Canada, by the way. If you’re elsewhere, you may have more options. Plus there’s always Amazon.

The other popular form of B12 is Cyanocobalamin, which is not so available. Aim for the M word when you do your shopping.

Go Forth and Supplement

This is the one supplement I will ever actively endorse, I promise.

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3 comments

  1. Yes, being asked where you get protein is SO old😑 I love the way you’re unapologetic about B12 – I always feel quite shamefaced about it, like its the Achilles’ heel of justifying being vegan. Out and proud, I like it!

    Like

    • I felt that way too for a while. I try not to waste time thinking about what prehistoric humans might have done – or not done. What we do now matters more! Anyway, even if we can’t get B12 from natural means… nothing else we do is from natural means either. Say, factory farming, for example. 😉

      Like

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