Vitamin B12 and the Hallelujah Diet

By Michael Donaldson, Ph.D.

[Note: This article is for everyone on a strict vegan diet, not just for those following the Hallelujah Diet™. When you finish this article, click here to read my article on the long-term dangers of strict vegan diets like the Hallelujah Diet™.-- Chet]

Summary Points
Detailed Information
References

Summary Points

How much do I need?

Vitamin B12 requirement is about 1-4 microgram/week for healthy adults.

What happens if I dont have B12?

Deficiency of vitamin B12 leads to anemia and neurological disorders; deficiency in children can cause profound damage, much of which is reversible. A normal level of serum vitamin B12 does not guarantee adequacy; methylmalonic acid concentrations (either serum or urine) are a much more reliable metabolic measure of vitamin B12 metabolism. People following a pure vegetarian (vegan) diet are at high risk (>50%) for metabolic vitamin B12 deficiency. Metabolic vitamin B12 deficiency can be detected in as little as 22 months on the Hallelujah Diet. It does not take a long time.

Where do I get it in foods?

Vitamin B12 is found in all animal products (liver, muscle flesh, eggs, and dairy products are sources, in order from richest to poorest sources). Plant foods contain little if any active vitamin B12; produce grown in soil fertilized with cow dung may contain more B12 than commercially grown produce. Marine plant life (chlorella, dulse, nori, blue-green algae, spirulina) contain analogues of vitamin B12 which can interfere with normal cobalamin metabolism; to rely on seaweed for vitamin B12 is to lean on a splintered stick. BarleyMax does not supply sufficient amounts of vitamin B12 for healthy adults. Bowel flora does not make enough vitamin B12 for many healthy adults. Probiotic supplements are not a sufficient source of vitamin B12; some products work better than others.

How do I know Im getting enough?

A simple urine assay for methylmalonic acid can determine metabolic cobalamin status.

What is the best supplement to use?

Sublingual methylcobalamin is the best method for a person committed to a pure vegetarian diet to obtain their vitamin B12. 1/2 of a "Bio-Active B12" tablet twice a week should be sufficient for a healthy adult.

Detailed Information

How much do I need?

The amount of vitamin B12 required is very minute. As little as 0.1-0.5 g per day (1-4 g/week) is needed in a healthy adult. Stress, illness (especially involving the central nervous system), pregnancy, lactation, and rapid growth increase needs. The World Health Organization recommends 1 g per day of vitamin B12. The RDA for adults is 2.4 g of vitamin B12 per day, 2.6 g during pregnancy, 2.8 g during lactation, and proportionally less for children. Both have a significant margin of safety built into their recommendations. Unlike other B vitamins, B12 is stored in the liver so daily consumption is not necessary. However, the normal uptake route of vitamin B12 is saturated very quickly so that doses larger than 5 g are poorly absorbed and are not more effective than smaller doses. A second uptake route, diffusion, allows about 1% of any dose to be absorbed.

What happens if I dont consume vitamin B12?

Though the requirements are very low, deficiencies among vegetarians have been noted. There are at least 10 case reports in the medical literature of infants suffering severe neurological damage when solely breast-fed by their totally vegetarian mothers. Most of the damage is reversible by vitamin B12 supplementation. Also, every study of vegan communities or populations has demonstrated low vitamin B12 concentrations in 40-90 percent of the group. Since many of these studies only measured serum cobalamin concentrations, they underestimated the number of people with metabolic deficiencies. This includes macrobiotic communities, natural hygienists, "living food" vegans, vegan Seventh Day Adventists, and followers of the Hallelujah Diet. Our study revealed early signs of vitamin B12 deficiency in 26 of the 54 people tested, after following the Hallelujah Diet for as little as 2 to 4 years.

Two important facts need to be noted. First, many, if not most, vegans have impaired vitamin B12 metabolism. This has been verified time and again in vegan groups. Second, metabolic deficiency of vitamin B12 can be detected after as little as 22 months on the Hallelujah Diet. While serum vitamin B12 levels may still be normal for several more years, the body, especially the central nervous system, may be deficient at the cellular level. 83% of the people in our study with metabolic vitamin B12 deficiency had normal levels of serum vitamin B12. These facts have not been widely appreciated by the vegetarian community.

Based on the published studies and our results, adequate vitamin B12 status of vegans cannot be taken for granted. Pregnant women, nursing mothers, infants, and small children are particularly vulnerable to B12 shortages. Ensuring adequate B12 is critical for normal neurological development and maintenance, with shortages resulting in permanent damage.

Deficiency of vitamin B12 leads to anemia and neurological abnormalities. Vegetarians' abundant dietary intake of folate masks much of the anemia due to vitamin B12 deficiency. So the first signs of vitamin B12 deficiency are neurological symptoms. These symptoms can include parathesia, especially numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, diminution of vibration sense and/or position sense (usually but not always occurring first in the ankles and feet), unsteadiness, poor muscular coordination with ataxia, moodiness, mental slowness, poor memory, confusion, agitation, and depression. Delusions, hallucinations, and even overt psychosis (usually with paranoid ideas) may occur. By the time vitamin B12 deficiency can be detected clinically significant neurological damage has already occurred and an aggressive supplementation program should be begun with methylcobalamin. Symptoms caused by a deficiency can usually be alleviated by vitamin B12 supplementation.

Healthy vegans with a healthy bowel flora should produce B12 in their small intestine. This may be the natural way God intended for us to receive our vitamin B12, but our study showed that this was not a reliable and sufficient source of B12. All people produce B12 in their colon, but this is not available for the body since B12 is absorbed in the small intestine.

Improving the bowel flora by using probiotic supplements (L. acidophilus, B. bifidus, etc.) may be helpful for supplying vitamin B12. However, our study revealed that daily use for 3 months of either of two different brands of probiotics was not sufficient to restore peoples vitamin B12 status to normal.

Where do I get vitamin B12 in foods?

The use of dulse, chlorella, nori, blue-green algae, spirulina, and fermented soy products has been promoted for their plant-based vitamin B12 content. However, when some of these products were analyzed for true cobalamin activity, they were shown to contain almost all analogues of vitamin B12 which are not active in the human body. In fact, some of these analogues interfere with normal cobalamin metabolism by competitive binding, resulting in poorer vitamin B12 status. Serum vitamin B12 levels may improve, while metabolic indicators deteriorate. Nori and spirulina have both been shown to be ineffective at improving vitamin B12 status of children. It is not safe to rely on marine plant life or soy products for vitamin B12.

We see then, that dietary vegan sources of vitamin B12 are very sparse since plant foods do not contain vitamin B12 in appreciable amounts. There is some evidence that plants grown in soil fertilized with cow dung (rich in B12) contain higher levels of B12 within the plant29. Whether the reported B12 was true cobalamin and useful for people needs to be confirmed. Other vegan food sources include fortified breakfast cereals, fortified vegan products, fortified nutritional yeast, and dehydrated cereal grasses (like BarleyMax). The amount of B12 in BarleyMax has been shown not to provide adequate amounts of B12 for mature adults needs. Needs of infants and children are proportionally greater, so BarleyMax alone will not supply sufficient vitamin B12 for a child. Nutritional yeast, (Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula) is fortified with an adequate amount of B12 and is a good source of other B vitamins, trace minerals, and nucleotides as well. Many vegans have found this to be an acceptable and reliable source of vitamin B12.

What is the best supplemental form of vitamin B12?

Sublingual tablets or low dose sprays are the best delivery forms of B12 supplements; swallowed tablets are not as effective. The best, most bio-available form of cobalamin appears to be methylcobalamin30. This form of B12 (methylcobalamin) appears to be taken up by the body and used more efficiently than the more common cyanocobalamin. Cyanocobalamin is typically made by chemical synthesis, or by isolation from animal products or waste. The manufacturer will report the source of the vitamin if asked.

Methylcobalamin is marketed by Enzymatic Therapy as "Bio-Active B-12" and is available from Hallelujah Acres. "Bio-Active B-12" is made from fermented plants and is an inexpensive, vegetarian product. 1/2 of a "Bio-Active B12" tablet twice a week should be sufficient for a healthy adult. If I had consumed very little vitamin B12 in the last couple of years, I would take one tablet a day for ten days and then begin this maintenance program.

How do I know I am getting enough vitamin B12?

A simple urine assay can be done through the mail with the Norman Clinical Laboratory, Inc. (Cincinnati, OH: 1-800-397-7408, www.b12.com, $70). The urinary MMA assay is very specific for B12 and much more reliable than a serum B12 assay31-35. If anyone has doubts about their B12 status this is the lab test to order. Your physician can order this commonly available test for you as well.

Conclusion

There are many ways to get your vitamin B12 but you must get it in your diet or ensure that your body makes it. You will not have excellent health without it.

Note from Chet: My research and experience leads me to conclude that a prudent amount of clean animal foods should be in the human diet to attain B12 and other factors probably not yet identified. Click here for a full explanation of my stance.

References

Abstracts can be accessed on PubMed, the National Library of Medicines' free Medline search page.

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4. Ashkenazi, S., Weitz, R., Varsano, I. and Mimouni, M. 1987. Vitamin B12 deficiency due to a strictly vegetarian diet in adolescence. Clin Pediatr (Phila) 26: 662-3.

5. Cheron, G., Girot, R., Zittoun, J., Mouy, R., Schmitz, J. and Rey, J. 1989. [Severe megaloblastic anemia in 6-month-old girl breast-fed by a vegetarian mother]. Arch Fr Pediatr 46: 205-7.

6. Grattan-Smith, P.J., Wilcken, B., Procopis, P.G. and Wise, G.A. 1997. The neurological syndrome of infantile cobalamin deficiency: developmental regression and involuntary movements. Mov Disord 12: 39-46.

7. Hellebostad, M., Markestad, T. and Seeger Halvorsen, K. 1985. Vitamin D deficiency rickets and vitamin B12 deficiency in vegetarian children. Acta Paediatr Scand 74: 191-5.

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19. Schneede, J., Dagnelie, P.C., van Staveren, W.A., Vollset, S.E., Refsum, H. and Ueland, P.M. 1994. Methylmalonic acid and homocysteine in plasma as indicators of functional cobalamin deficiency in infants on macrobiotic diets. Pediatr Res 36: 194-201.

20. Specker, B.L., Miller, D., Norman, E.J., Greene, H. and Hayes, K.C. 1988. Increased urinary methylmalonic acid excretion in breast-fed infants of vegetarian mothers and identification of an acceptable dietary source of vitamin B-12. Am J Clin Nutr 47: 89-92.

21. Dong, A. and Scott, S.C. 1982. Serum vitamin B12 and blood cell values in vegetarians. Ann Nutr Metab 26: 209-16.

22. Rauma, A.L., Torronen, R., Hanninen, O. and Mykkanen, H. 1995. Vitamin B-12 status of long-term adherents of a strict uncooked vegan diet ("living food diet") is compromised. J Nutr 125: 2511-5.

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32. Matchar, D.B., Feussner, J.R., Millington, D.S., Wilkinson, R.H., Jr., Watson, D.J. and Gale, D. 1987. Isotope-dilution assay for urinary methylmalonic acid in the diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency. A prospective clinical evaluation. Ann Intern Med 106: 707-10.

33. Matchar, D.B., McCrory, D.C., Millington, D.S. and Feussner, J.R. 1994. Performance of the serum cobalamin assay for diagnosis of cobalamin deficiency. Am J Med Sci 308: 276-83.

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