Friday, October 5, 2012

The Great B12 Debate

Author, speaker, and nutrition expert Vesanto Melina,
looking fabulous at 70!
The Association Vegetarienne de France recently hosted a lecture by respected vegan-health expert and author Vesanto Melina. Vesanto has written and co-authored many books on the subject of eating healthfully on a plant-based diet, including the titles Becoming Vegan and Becoming Vegetarian.

The one-hour presentation--centered on vegan-nutrition fundamentals--was given in English, with two french translators hard at work for the mostly francophone audience. I would guess that there were more than 100 people in attendance. Pretty good for a Wednesday night in Paris!

The B12-curious audience.
Vesanto used her warm and engaging personality to dispel myths and educate us on key issues relating to vegan diets, then turned the mic over to the audience, who had plenty of questions. All. About. B. 12.

B12!

One of the information tables at the Paris event.
There are, apparently, a lot of unanswered questions about B12. Can we get it from nutritional yeast? What about sea vegetables?  I've heard mushrooms have B12. How about spirulina?

NO!

Well, micro-amounts at best, but not enough to meet our bodies' B12 needs. If you're vegan, it's time to face facts, she said, more or less. You need to take a B12 supplement.

Vesanto and her translation team on stage.
In the past, I've taken B12 supplements--sublingual drops and tablets, and regular ol' vitamin-style pellets--but found that whenever I'd take them, I'd get insta-acne. Weird. Vanity triumphed over any health concerns I had, so I stopped taking it and simply increased the already-bountiful quantities of Marmite and nutritional yeast I was eating.

B12 deficiency at its most extreme results in severe damage to the nervous system. Symptoms include numb fingers and toes (I have this a lot, but chalked it up to "poor circulation"), depression, and memory loss. Ouch!

Are you vegan? Do you take a B12 supplement? What's the experience been like for you, before and after starting to supplement?

After introducing myself to Vesanto, she told me she was using
my latest article in VegNews Magazine to help her navigate
the vegan scene in the City of Light. What an honor!

5 comments:

  1. Hi Aurelia , so is it only vegans that need to take B12 , or non vegans too. How do we get it into our systems? I knew about it but not to the extent of how we get it and store it. Take Care Anne x

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    1. Hi, Anne! Vegans are recommended to supplement vitamin B12 only because the most reliable sources are found in animal products. As an omnivore, you should be OK.

      B12 is a micro-organism/bacteria that's necessary for red blood-cell formation, and, honestly, that's about the extent of my knowledge. Since the symptoms of B12 deficiency include weight loss and loss of appetite, I have to assume I'm OK!

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  2. You knew I would have to put my 2 centimes in! ;) See this http://veganhealth.org/articles/everyvegan - an open letter from health professionals and vegan organizations. Important quote from the letter : The risk to these groups alone is reason enough to call on all vegans to give a consistent message as to the importance of B12 and to set a positive example. Every case of B12 deficiency in a vegan infant or an ill informed adult is a tragedy and brings veganism into disrepute.

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    1. Hope you're getting enough from fortified foods, lovely girl, because your mind would be a terrible thing to waste! Biz xxoo

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    2. Susan, you are so right: The media love those "Baby Dies From Vegan Diet" stories, and it's our duty as representatives of this group (officially or otherwise) to be healthy advocates/examples, and to keep a consistent message. I think it's one of the few embarrassments of the vegan movement; that we can't meet all of our nutritional needs from our diets is somehow an acknowledgement of a flawed ethical/dietary ideology. Maybe that's why the B12 message isn't getting out in a unified way.

      But really, every diet--even the standard American diet--has its problems. Too much fat/cholesterol manifests in more health problems than B12 deficiency, if we're looking at the big picture, but the media isn't glomming on to "Man dies of obesity-related heart failure" in quite the same sensationalized way that it does the vegan baby story.

      I think I'm going to buy a B12 supplement today :0)

      That, and eat more Marmite.

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