B12, the Wonder Vitamin You Need to be Healthy

B12, the Wonder Vitamin You Need to be Healthy

Photo: Craig Nagy


No, it’s not your latest computer registration password, that’s the complexity of a B12 molecule! For a mighty small molecule, its importance in the body is equally complex.

It is said of B12 that its purpose is “to cheer sad hearts and strengthen faint hearts” (1).

Your vitality spark plug.

A B12 deficiency is more common than people realise, and as its effects are slow and insidious, they are often overlooked or misdiagnosed. B12 is commonly associated with anaemia and low energy; however there are so many other conditions that may develop with deficiency:-

  • poor growth/failure to thrive in infants
  • premature grey hair
  • disturbed carbohydrate metabolism, fatigue, weakness
  • constipation, incontinence
  • infertility, impotence
  • vision problems, lack of balance/abnormal gait
  • loss of hearing/tinnitus
  • psoriasis and other skin problems
  • Emotional disorders
  • Neurological problems  – numbness, pins and needle sensations, shaking, muscle fatigue, sleep disorders, memory loss, irrational anger, impaired mental function and Alzheimer’s
  • Psychological conditions – dementia, depression, psychosis or obsessive-compulsive behaviour.

President Kennedy was quoted as having said he would never have become president without B12 (2).

B12 works with folic acid in many body processes including synthesis of DNA, red blood cells and the insulation sheath (the myelin sheath) that surrounds the nerve cells and facilitates the conduction of signals in the nervous system. Therefore one can logically see a correlation with multiple sclerosis – which is characterized by demyelisation of the central nervous system. Many studies show that even though those with MS may have normal levels of B12 in their blood, there may be a decrease in the binding capacity of B12, which then inhibits the transportation into the cells (3). Having ‘sufficient’ on a blood test – does not necessarily indicate sufficient for health and vitality.

The absorption of B12 works like this:

  • As the food containing it enters the stomach it must be liberated by pepsin and hydrochloric acid.
    • If you have issues with fat digestion, reflux, or IBS, then here’s a challenge.
  • It then attaches to R-protein, which is released from the salivary cells and the parietal cells. To be absorbed efficiently, it must then attach to the protein cell called the intrinsic factor (IF), which is also secreted in the stomach. This cannot happen until the R-protein complexes are broken down by pancreatic enzymes in the small intestine.
    • Hmmm – how functional is your pancreas? Another missing co-factor?
  • B12 then binds with the intrinsic factor and proceeds through the gut to the small intestine, where the intrinsic factor B12 complex attaches to cell receptors, a process that involves calcium.
    • Despite that large quantities of dairy may be consumed, there is another raft of co-factors necessary to absorb calcium. Is your diet abundant in all of the required co-factors?

As you can see, deficiencies in pepsin, hydrochloric acid, R-protein, pancreatic enzymes, intrinsic factor, calcium or cell receptors can all lead to a B12 deficiency. Once in the bloodstream, enzymes are then required to liberate the B12 from its protein complex and convert it into it two coenzyme forms. Deficiency in these enzymes can also block this final conversion.

But wait there’s still more… if after all of that, your body is happily bathing itself in B12, there are many parasites that love to feed on B12. Which incidentally is another reason to be careful with B12 supplementation – as it may be feeding the bugs, rather than nourishing you.

Because the absorption process is so complicated, many people may develop deficiencies even though they are taking in plentiful B12 in their food.

It’s also important to remember that breast feeding infants will only receive B12 from the mother’s current diet – the baby is not able to access it from stores within the mother in the manner that it can access other vitamins that may be deficient in her current diet.

Fortunately the body recognizes the inherent problem in this, and has set up an override method – that is – the body can absorb 1 – 5% of free B12 by a process of passive diffusion.

Using a supplement to supply a boosted dose of B12 might seem a logical solution, however whilst I do use supplements if required (I always prefer food as medicine), if the digestion is under par, it can be challenging to assimilate even the best supplements. Plus, please be careful with your choice of brands – you’ve heard the expression cheap and nasty, it certainly applies here. Victor Herbert, a noted B12 researcher believes that many multivitamin products contain spurious and even dangerous analogues of B12, possibly formed from the interaction with other nutrients in the multivitamin. (4) Quality counts.

My preferred option is to ensure the diet contains foods rich in B12 whilst simultaneously improving the functionality of the digestive system, identification of any foods creating havoc, resolving deficiencies in the co-factors.

Amazing transformations are possible when the true turn key is addressed – resolving the deepest underlying cause is the swiftest way to health.

The story doesn’t end here though…

When looking at traditional cultures, one can observe that regardless of their widely varied diets, there was usually always some form of raw protein. In vegetarian based cultures, this was in the form of raw milk, cultured dairy products and fermented vegetables. In other cultures it was in the form of fermented animal protein, for example the Polynesians had fish in lemon juice and coconut, the Japanese had sushi – traditionally the fish was fermented with soy sauce and rice, the rice was then tossed and only the fermented fish was eaten, the Eskimos fermented their fish under the ground and in Europe there were many methods for fermenting meat – salami was made from a cultured meat process – with no synthetic additives and fish – including fermenting cod’s livers in fish heads until ‘ripe’ (ok sometimes supplements are easier/tastier than food as medicine – not often though!).

Why was it so important to include raw, cultured food in the diet?

B12 is reduced by heat – the length of exposure to the heat and the intensity of the heat. For example in milk pasteurised with a flash of moderately low heat there is only a moderate loss. By itself this may not seem significant; however pasteurization also results in deforming the milk proteins that aid in B12 absorption. If the milk has been ultra pasteurized, the percentage of loss is significantly increased. Modern eating with consumption of extra well cooked steak on the BBQ and over-processed dairy may lead to be considerably deficient in B12 – even in the most carnivorous. It wasn’t that long ago that our milk was raw, our cheese was made from raw milk (it still is in Italy and France) and we consumed raw egg yolks often without even realizing it, in foods like home made mayo. The B12 rich part of the egg is the yolk – that is currently out of fashion. Soft poached organic free range eggs is an excellent source of B12.

Testing – many doctors believe that blood levels are an unreliable indicator of deficiency and also recommend testing for elevated levels of homocysteine (also a more accurate marker for heart disease than cholesterol) and methylmalonic acid (MMA) two precursors to the metabolic reactions controlled by B12. The levels considered ‘normal’ also vary widely from country to country, so ascertaining a deficiency and whether supplementation would be of value can be difficult. One way to resolve this dilemma is to use empirical evidence on an individual basis – improving the digestive system and observing the health improvements. First do no harm – love that maxim.


  1. HL Newbold, Mega-Nutrients, The Body Press 1987
  2. HL Newbold, Mega-Nutrients, The Body Press 1987
  3. Kira J Int Med 1994;33:82-6
  4. www.vegsoc.oeg/info/b12.html
  5. Herbert V and Das KC. Folic acid and vitamin B12. In: Shils ME, Olson JA, Shike M, eds. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, 8th edition, Philadelphia, Lea & Febiger, 1994;402-25.


  1. sue farmer says:

    Wheen buying milk and cheese what are the best types to buy?? This was a very interesting read. Thanks.

    • Julie Phillips says:

      Ideally organic or chemical/spray free. Farmers markets are wonderful – fresh really is best. Whole milk without additives and the least amount of processing. A large majority of milk in the supermarket has ‘fillers’ ie milk solids etc added – these are not always listed. Generally the organic, non-homogenised from independent producers are the best supermarket milk options. If you’re in Brisbane or the Gold Coast, there’s a resource list here http://wisefood.com.au/resources/

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