Commonly, most of the strict vegetarians who do not consume even dairy products (or eggs) are warned about the dangers of missing this essential nutrient. North American Vegetarian Society (NAVS) has some good news: According to their research, organic foods contain much more vitamin B12 than their counterpart, chemically fertilized commercial foods. This is one more reason to include as much organic food in our diets as possible. However, they note that further B12 research is needed, and vegans may want to have their blood levels tested and / or consume foods or tablets fortified with B12 until more information is available.
NAVS can be reached at 518-568-7970, or P.O. Box 72, Dolgeville, NY 13329.
Plants -- especially organically grown plants -- have been shown to contain vitamin B12, even though previous research had indicated that plants were not reliable sources of this essential vitamin. B12 is needed in microscopic amounts for new cell growth and maintaining a healthy nervous system.
A summary of the results of the study, by Dr. A. Mozafar in Switzerland, was reported in the November issue of New Century Nutrition by T. Collin Campbell, Ph.D., and Jeff Gates, D.H.Sc.
The Swiss research focussed specifically on three plants (soy beans, barley and spinach). Soils enriched with organic fertilizer (cow manure) resulted in a several-fold increase in the soil's B12 content, as compared to soils worked with conventional inorganic or chemical fertilizers, according to Gates. More importantly, Gates said, the soil's B12 was actually absorbed by the plants tested. Spinach, the most absorptive of the three tested plants, was found to have 17.8 mcg/kg, as compared to 6.9 mcg/kg for the spinach grown in conventional fertilizers. Barley grown in soil fertilized with manure was found to have 9.1 mcg/kg of vitamin B12, as compared to 2.6 mcg/kg for barley grown with inorganic fertilizers. Soybeans grown with manure had 2.9 mcg of B12 as compared to 1.6 mcg with chemical fertilizers.
"When one recalls that the RDA for B12 is only 2 mcg/day, then a quick calculation finds that just a 4-ounce daily portion of spinach is all that is usually necessary for B12 nutrition," Gates wrote in New Century Nutrition. Two micrograms is a minuscule amount, approximately the size of a period at the end of a sentence.
Health professionals have warned vegans for years that they may need to take B12 supplements because there is no reliable plant-based source of the vitamin. B12 is not a true vitamin, but rather a by-product of bacteriological action. Animal flesh, milk, cheese and eggs have been shown to contain B12 -- but previous studies have not consistently found B12 in plant-foods.
"Are vegans really at greater risk of B12 deficiency?" Campbell ponders in New Century Nutrition. "Some evidence says yes; some invites skepticism. Clearly, vegans do generally have lower blood concentrations of B12. A number of studies have shown this. But these low concentrations mean little unless there is a higher incidence of the accompanying blood (megaloblastic anemia) and nerve (parathesia) disorders, for which there seems to be little or no evidence. What should be acknowledged is that the concentrations of other blood factors, such as cholesterol, also are very different among vegans, and for very good health reasons at that. Why should we expect the lower B12 levels to be an exception?"
B12 is actually found in five forms, only some of which are considered active or useful for humans. B12 deficiencies can be masked by the presence of non-useful forms of B12.
2nd World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Uses in the Life Sciences
It was held on October 20-24, 1996, at Utrecht, Netherlands, to provide a useful forum for dialogue, exchange of information, problem resolution and debate between animal protectionists, scientists, industry, regulators, educationalists and others. The basic premise of the Congress was the policy of 'Refinement, Reduction and Replacement' of animal experiments. The next World Congress will be held in 1999.