Vegan B12 deficiency: putting it into perspective
When CNN’s documentary The Last Heart Attack premiered—documenting Bill Clinton’s attempt to reverse his heart disease through diet—pundits were eager to point out the downsides. Yes, eating a healthy plant-based diet may make us “heart attack proof“—but, some ask, what about vitamin B12?
So on one hand, there’s the possibility of eliminating the greatest killer in our country, which decimates the lives and families of more than 100,000 Americans every year, at an annual cost in the hundreds of billions. But, on the other hand, we risk vitamin what deficiency? Are the defenders of the status quo seriously trying to stack a documented cure for heart disease (not to mention the reversal of diabetes, obesity, and hypertension) against some obscure B vitamin?
It’s true, plants don’t make B12. Animals don’t make it either. B12 is made by microbes that blanket the earth. These bacteria grow in the guts of animals, which is why their bodies and products can be a source of this vitamin. Our herbivore primate cousins get all they need ingesting bugs, dirt, and feces, and we may once have gotten all we needed by drinking out of mountain streams or well water. But now we chlorinate our water supply to kill off any bugs. So we don’t get a lot of B12 in our water anymore, but we don’t get a lot of cholera either—that’s a good thing!
So in our modern, sanitized world those eating plant-based diets must ensure a regular, reliable source of vitamin B12. I talk about the potential consequences of not doing so in my videos here, here, and here. In fact, I’m going to spend the next three days (starting today) rolling out precautionary-tale videos highlighting the importance of B12 supplementation for those eating otherwise optimally healthy diets.
Make no mistake: vitamin B12 is important. But so is keeping our perspective, given the millions who are crippled and die from the onslaught of chronic disease that could be prevented, stopped, and reversed with a B12-fortified, plant-based diet.
-Michael Greger, M.D.
Image credit: SMI Eye Tracking / Flickr