How is Vitamin B12 Produced?

Article by: Ashlen Weddington, Certified Health Coach

If you follow a plant-based diet, someone has probably been concerned about your B12 intake. It is a widely accepted concern that those who are vegan, vegetarian, or plant-based might be deficient in iron, B12, or protein.

B12 is synthesized by bacteria and certain archaeon found in soil, and then transfers and accumulates into animal tissue, as well as certain plants and mushroom species.

Ruminant animals are typically considered to be high in B12. These animals include cattle, sheep, buffalo, goats, elk, and deer; all of which have several stomach compartments. These animals are able to break down fibrous plant compounds like grass through microorganisms and bacteria that live in one of their stomach compartments. 

If you watch a cow eating for example, she munches on grass. Not only does she munch on grass, but tears the grass from the earth, eating the roots and dirt. The cow does not delicately pick apart the grass from the roots and dirt; it devours it whole. The cow is ingesting the bacteria that will help synthesize B12 in her stomach.

Ruminant milk and meat is high in B12 because certain bacteria synthesizes it in the stomach. The B12 is then transferred to the intestine, released in the blood, and then stored in fat and muscle tissue.

In modern animal agriculture, sadly, many animals are never actually exposed to soil in their natural environment. They don’t eat natural foods (like grass), and therefore farm animals must also be supplemented with vitamins.

Even if a ruminant animal is grass fed, the synthesis of B12 in a ruminant’s stomach depends on the level of cobalt in the soil. Not enough cobalt in the soil is a common issue in the US due to overuse of chemicals in agriculture, leading to depletion of soil biodiversity.

Therefore, even a grass fed animal is at risk for B12 deficiency.

It is common practice for cattle, sheep, and goats to be fed a B12 supplement. Even though ruminants are thought of to be a rich source of B12, many factory farmed animals artificially contain B12. 

Most fruits and vegetables do not contain B12, and if they do, it is a small amount. B12 is typically found in the root or skin of the fruit of the vegetable, which is commonly tossed. Predominantly, B12 is found on unwashed fruits and vegetables with traces of soil on the outside.

Humans previously ingested B12 from unwashed produce, and untreated drinking water from rivers. Even though these practices are considered “natural”, these practices are now unsafe. Not washing produce and drinking straight from a river could put you at risk for contracting E.coli, Listeria, Salmonella, Giardia, and parasites.

Even if it was safe to consume unwashed produce, as stated before, much of the soil in the U.S. is now low in cobalt and B12 synthesizing bacteria.

How to get B12 on a Plant-Based Diet

The safest way for someone who follows a plant-based or vegan diet to consume B12 is through a B12 supplement. There are several foods that are supplemented with B12 or naturally contain higher concentrations of it, and you can read about that here.

It is worth noting that there is a natural food supplement that contains B12, amongst other important vitamins and macros. Lentil powder! This is a high protein, high fiber, and nearly flavorless supplement that can be mixed into smoothies or baked goods.

Check it out below

About the Author - Ashlen Weddington

ashlen weddington health coach

My education and certification is through the UCSD Extension Integrative Nutrition Program. Through this program I was taught foundations of science-based nutrition, as well as using concepts from Ayurveda, Macrobiotics, and Chinese medicine for healing. I believe in bio individuality; there is no ideal diet for everyone. The best way for you to eat will be different from myself and your best friend; YOU are unique.

I incorporate my knowledge of yoga, breath work and meditation, into health coaching. I received my 200hr yoga teacher certificate in Vinyasa/Hatha yoga through Yandara Yoga Institute, and 21 hour restorative yoga training through Yoga Garden SF.

Resources:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29216732/

https://www.cattle.ca/assets/Uploads/232d540861/ruminants.pdf

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