Since foods are effectively a package deal, what is the best way to get vitamin B12 (cobalamin)?
What's the best way to get vitamin B12? Well B12 is not made by plants; not made by animals either. It's made by certain bacteria, some of which line the guts of animals, of which people eat and drink. But that's not the best source, because of the baggage that comes along with it.
Just like we can't get the iron in beef without the saturated fat, the protein in pork without lard, the calcium in dairy without hormones; we can't get the B12 in animals without also consuming stuff we don't want, like cholesterol. For example, to get 47 micrograms of B12 from eggs, because the absorption is so low, we'd have to literally eat hundreds of scrambled eggs a day. 200 to 400 eggs a day! Do you know how much cholesterol that would be? If you got all your B12 from scrambled eggs, you'd consume 69,000 milligrams of cholesterol -- practically your entire year's worth every day.
So, yes, chickens harbor bacteria; the bacteria make B12; some of that B12 makes it into the chicken, and then into the egg, but so does the cholesterol. There has to be a better way!
Why don't the bacteria in our colon make B12? They do actually. It's just too far downstream to be absorbed. In one of the less appetizing but more brilliant experiments in the field, a Dr. Callender delineated that human colon bacteria make large amounts of B12. Although the B12 is not absorbed through the colon, it is active. How do we know? She found some vegan volunteers with B12 deficiency, collected their stools for 24 hours, and then, you guessed it, bon appetit! And it worked! They were cured. Those are some hard-core vegans. There has to be a better way!
And thankfully, there is: fortified foods and supplements. Not only the safest, but also the most effective. In the US Framingham Offspring Study, 1 in 6 meat eaters, between ages 26 to 83, were B12 deficient. The folks with the highest B12 levels weren't the ones eating the most animal products, but the ones taking supplements and eating the most fortified breakfast cereal.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is transcript contributed by Bruce A. Hamilton.
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I make a similar "baggage" argument about meat in my video Food Is a Package Deal and about dairy in Plant vs. Cow Calcium. Tomorrow I'm going to get into the nitty-gritty on how much one needs on a weekly basis, and Wednesday's video-of-the-day will cover daily dosing. Or you can skip to Vitamin B12: How Much, How Often? and for background, see my blog post Vegan B12 Deficiency: Putting It into Perspective. For more on how many eggs would be required for other nutrients, see Egg Industry Blind Spot. And those with a thing for vegan bowel movement studies, see Bristol Stool Scale, Bowels of the Earth, Food Mass Transit, and Bowel Movement Frequency. And there are videos on a thousand or so other topics so please feel free to dig in!
For more context, check out my associated blog posts: How to Enhance Mineral Absorption, Preventing and Treating Kidney Failure With Diet, Stool Size and Breast Cancer Risk, and What Is the Healthiest Meat?