Crazy Deficiency Stories and Some Thoughts on B12

Friday Aug 9 | BY |
| Comments (21)


One day, at the age of 18, after reading John Robbin’s book Diet for a New America, I decided to become a vegetarian.

Probably the first day I announced my decision to go veg, I was told by some worried friends that I should be careful with vitamin B12. That’s, of course, after they asked me “how will you get your protein?”

Although I haven’t remained a vegetarian in the almost 20 years that have passed since, I have had lots of real life experience with vegetarian and vegan diets, as well as B12.

Although I was told to pay attention to B12 when I first became a vegetarian, the advice didn’t really sink in. I was certain that supplements were unnatural and unnecessary, so I chose to wait.

I knew that the body typically has a store of B12 that can last up to 5 years, so I thought I could probably delay the moment when I had to come to a decision about my B12 intake.

I probably went pretty close to 5 years without eating animal products nor taking supplemental B12, but eventually, reason prevailed and I started taking the supplements.

When I got tested, my B12 levels were low but not enough to experience symptoms of deficiency. I was cutting it close, but I made it. Raising B12 levels took some time and I had to experiment with a few methods: tablets, shots, and sub-lingual supplements. Unfortunately B12 patches were not available in those days.

But other friends I met along the way weren’t so lucky with B12. Here are a few stories that really got my attention.

Found Naked Singing at a Bus Stop in Costa Rica

Around 2006, I was living in Costa Rica. The country is a mini retirement haven for Americans, Canadians and Europeans who want to escape the rat race, as well as an attractive new home for raw foodists who want to live in the tropic but can’t afford living in Hawaii.

Back in those days, you could still buy a large piece of land in Costa Rica for a reasonable price and start growing your own fruit. Because the visa requirements are extremely lax, it’s fairly easy for someone to become a perpetual tourist in this country.

I was living on the Pacific coast, and several of my neighbors were foreigners like myself. About 10 miles away in a small town lived a German man who owned a few acres, with coconut trees and a house. I met the guy a couple of times, and he seemed nice enough. He was certainly a quiet individual who loved nature and living in the tropics.

Turns out that a few months later, Patrick (not his real name) had left the country and wasn’t seemed poised to come back. A rumor was circulating that he was found naked, singing at a bus station and was sent back to his country.

Upon closer examination, the rumor turned out to be true! The man had been found naked, at a local bus station, singing to himself. The authorities found him to be extremely emaciated and sick, and put him on a plane to Germany after contacting his family.

Then I found out that Patrick had decided to go on a coconut water fast for several months. Seems like all of this coconut water fasting had depleted him, but also caused a B12 deficiency. Maybe because he was already a long term raw vegan that his B12 stores were already very low, and the coconut water fast was what finally emptied his reserves.

B12 deficiencies can cause mental confusion as well as psychosis and hallucinations. This is typically a symptom that only occurs in very advanced cases of total depletion.

Back in Germany, they pumped him full of B12 shots and fed him cooked foods. After a few months, he came back to Costa Rica a plump and hearty-looking man, only to go back to his former raw food regimen and lifestyle. This time however, he intended to be much more careful. Hopefully he has, because we didn’t stay in touch.

Falsely Diagnosed and Put on Anti-Depressants

A few years ago, I was back in Canada, and met an acquaintance who told me an interesting story. The guy had just recovered from a serious B12 deficiency. He wasn’t a vegetarian. Sometimes, B12 deficiencies can occur from malabsorption problems, even when B12 is present in the diet.

Through his ordeal, he was misdiagnosed by several doctors with a mental illness, including paranoia and depression. He was put on anti-depressants, which made him gain weight and did nothing to alleviate his symptoms. After a few weeks he finally found the right doctor who diagnosed his B12 deficiency. He had levels is the low 20s (normal should be over 200 pg/ml).

Finally the doctor ordered B12 shots and the situation was resolved. But undeniably, his brain probably suffered some permanent neurological damage through this extended period of B12 deficiency.

The Doctor Who Advises to “Wait Until You Have Symptoms”

There’s someone that I’ve respected for a long time, but whose advice regarding B12 just drives me nuts. And still does.

So every single doctor involved in any way in the vegan movement, from John Robbins to McDougall to Dr. Klaper, Fuhrman and others — all recommend a B12 supplement.

But there is one lone ranger who has a different point of view on this. It’s also someone with a lot of influence in the raw vegan world, therefore I believe it’s appropriate to call him on this issue.

The advice from this doctor is simple: wait until you show deficiency symptoms to supplement. If you want to see if B12 can help you, take the supplement. If you are not showing improvements, then you need to look somewhere else.

What drives me nuts with this advice is the assumption that most people, except a few rare individuals, don’t need supplemental B12.

I respect what this doctor says in other areas, but when it comes to supplementation, I believe this advice will hurt people.

If you wait until you have symptoms, there’s a chance that you’re already experiencing neurological damage by the time you defice to supplement.

Also, most people don’t know what those symptoms are. They may confuse the symptoms with something else. For example, they might attribute the fatigue they’ve been experiencing for a while to stress or lack of sleep, when it could be the beginning of a B12 deficiency.

Taking B12 is Not Admitting That Your Diet is Inferior

It’s true that if you consume animal products on a regular basis, your risks of developing a B12 deficiency are much, much lower. Is this a sign that human beings are not supposed to eat a vegan diet?

The vegan diet can have huge health benefits, but it’s not necessarily a “natural” diet for humans. By that, I simply mean that for as long as we’ve been on this planet, we’ve consumed some form of animal products. And maybe this is where a lot of our B12 has come from all this time.

At this point, we don’t know for sure if there are other ways to get a reliable source of B12 without consuming animal products or supplements. Maybe there are, but in our modern world, where everything has been cleaned and stripped of bacteria, it’s unlikely going to work for most people.

Even though veganism might not be “natural,” it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it or use it to improve your health. However, you just have to be aware of the B12 issue and supplement accordingly.

Certainly, everyone should consider getting their B12 levels tested and consider taking supplemental B12 as an insurance policy.

Editor’s Update: Our special on the B12 Patches has been extended until tonight at midnight. B12 Patches are the best way to get absorbable B12 besides shots. Get them at:

Question of the day: do you have any stories to share about B12?

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.


Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Fredr there is something I don’t understand. If one can get B12 from animal food, once again, like protein, where do they get it from? It must be readily available for them somewhere why can’t we go there? I do B12 shots for myself because being high raw vegan quite a while, and vegetarian before that for many years I did test low. methylcbalamin was recommended weekly for 2 months but I could only find cyano which was a real compromise but better than nothing I think. I am careful to work to detox from the cyano part. I do sleep better and have lots and lots of energy, which may be just from my diet. I exerise 4x aweek = 4 hours, and that probably helps too. At 71, I feel great but have very brittle thin nails which I haven’t been able to change with calcium, B vitamins or rice protein, green drinks or raw greens or sprouts so dunno what’s up with that. But where do animals get their b12?
    Thanks for all you do and how straightforward you are. It is refreshing to watch you evolve into and out of various experiments in search for more and more valid health approaches.

    • Marge says:

      The animals get it from bacteria that is in the soil when they eat the grass. In factory farms today, since the cows don’t eat grass with dirt in it, they are often supplemented with B12 added to their feed.

      • Gorillas get it from eating their own feces… essentially our environment is a little too clean to rely on those sources of B12…

        • I used spirulina and tempeh and nutritional yeast for years and was sure I was covered until I got tested last year. Will go for another test soon but I read Kevin G. somewhere that the test I had was not the best one. Can you tell us the definitive type of blood test for this?

          • Michelle says:

            I would also like to know what the best test for B12 is. 🙂 I think it’s been discussed before by Kevin? A link to the original article would be super helpful Thank you guys for all the fantastic info!

    • Jack Glottman says:

      From what I remember reading, some bacteria (cobalt or something), is present on the surface of unwashed plants. When it comes into contact with the substance known as ‘intrinsic factor’, in the body, b-12 is produced. That is why cows can make it from eating grass-nobody washes the grass. I our world a lot of people have trouble making intrinsic factor for various modern-world related reasons. In addition, we don’t eat unwashed plants with dirt on them, at least not anyone I know, so as far as I know, that’s why we can’t get b-12 from plants in a ‘natural’ way…

  2. Christine says:

    I have to argue w/you on one point where you say
    “The vegan diet can have huge health benefits, but it’s not necessarily a “natural” diet for humans. By that, I simply mean that for as long as we’ve been on this planet, we’ve consumed some form of animal products. And maybe this is where a lot of our B12 has come from all this time.”
    If you will read the book of Genesis (old testament of the Bible) you will see that God designed our bodies to be vegetarian and He provided man (Adam & Eve) the garden of Eden for all their food requirements. Once sin entered the world things changed – but what did not change was how God designed the human body – to be vegetarian. Yes, God did provide meat from time to time but meat was not intended for humans to consume on a regular basis. Of course, its all up to personal choice and self-education. And of course, as you have said, this world that we live in today is a totally different one and requires supplementation due lifestyle and environmental factors. I do supplement B12 and would like research where B12 comes from – animals must get it from what they eat?

    • Using the Bible to support a raw diet is like using the “insanity plea” to support criminal activity. Will it work? Maybe, but’s it’s still f’n crazy.

      • lovingearth says:

        “WOW” Thinx2DamnMuch, to call someone insane for mentioning the Bible, you clearly have issues. Don’t belittle others just because your not a happy person and frustrated.

  3. Deloris Del Rio says:

    Bonjour Fredéric.

    I am just north of you in Québec city. 🙂 I’ve bounced around from vegetarian to vegan and back over the last 14 (15?) years, and while I’ve never had my b12 levels checked, I do check in with the symptoms of deficiency. I personally stopped meats because they made me sick, physically. It was after being vegetarian for a few years that I became more aware of animal treatment and went vegan. I was sooooo unaware of factory farms even existence! Hard to believe, but where I grew up, all animals were outside, free-range, eating grass etc. By all, I mean every animal domesticated in Canada that I crossed. Chickens, pigs, cows, goats, sheep, oxen, turkeys, all of them were on “traditional” farms.

    At first I felt way better, and I had more energy, but now, no matter how many green smoothies I consume, or juices, I just don’t get the energy I need. I’m fatigued constantly and the fog is quite discouraging.

    In your experience, what brands of supplements could you recomend that could be found HERE that I could take of b12? I’m going to do a profile on me to out if I have leaky gut, or any other digestive issue that would prevent me from absorbing it. (I’m going to be a Holistic Nutritionist)

    Thank you for any correspondence. Merci beaucoup et bonne journée.


  4. Melissa says:

    Thanks, Christine for bringing in what is probably the strongest research – i.e. Genesis for a raw food diet. I found after researching the kashrut laws that they are quite similar to food combining laws – don’t consume milk with meat – 6 hrs in between, for instance. this is primarily for the healthy functioning of your digestive tract. All before GE food issues, and a host of other modern lifestyle issues.

    After a certain time according to the further books of Moses, mankind were allowed to eat grains, (vegan) and only after Noah and the (worldwide) flood were permitted to eat meat. Clearly, it seems G-d was trying to enable humanity to have the strength to rebuild the world after noah and the floods, etc. so therefor the kashrut laws were extended there (& subsequent laws on how to humanely slaughter, less agony to the animal, etc.); However, being that many vegetarians would adhere to the buddhist notions of why not to kill an animal – that animals have souls – something also mentioned in old testment – the answer there is a yes – but a certain amt of mitigation is allowed by G-d according to the tasks that man has to accomplish, very specifically. (i.e. rebuild the entire world after a flood -) This event changed the lawas of consumption quite drastically — Further in Ezekiel, it is given a repetition of the scripture given 1st in Genesis, “The fruit of the tree is for man’s meat, and the leaves for man’s medicine” Ezekiel 47:12.

    So clearly, the proof is in the pudding, per se: the most progressive pt. of view of this issue that i’ve perceived was given in a scienticially leaning assessment – that man in Genesis simply didn’t need to eat meat because they could ingest ‘manna’ from the heavens, i.e. they were the life bearing seed of the heavenly tree, the Etz Chaim, that could participate in a fuller light spectrum of consciousness that was still co-shared with huamnity in its Divine origin – this being ‘manna from the heavens’ … and yes, we still have the same ‘signature’ … the same DNA/RNA strand that should be able to carry this mantle, per se, … but its ultimately the lifestyle and labor factors that dictate our needs/wants … & nutritional perameters.

    So the personal choices abound – and the crazy stories ‘bloom’.

    Thanks, Fred for all the great data!!

    • Liz says:

      Sorry to be so picky but this particular mistake drives me batty – the proof of the pudding is in the EATING………

  5. TRUTHER says:

    It is interesting how hypocritical most Christians are! They “pluck out” certain scriptures to justify their own “viewpoints” about nutrition, yet in their own personal lives they ignore most other scriptures. Furthermore, the scriptures have been so dramatically altered overtime that one has to dig much deeper than superficially “plucking out” their favorite quotations. It is truly pathetic how ignorant and foolish most so-called Christians really are! They are great at “plucking out” scriptures to justify their own prideful beliefs, but quickly dismiss any other viewpoints that do not line up with their own “bigoted and biased” points of view.

  6. Aussie Paul says:

    Why turn this discussion into a religious one… or political for that matter. Maybe we should try to focus on the issue here which is do we supplement for B12 and if so what form of B12 is the best.

    • TRUTHER says:

      Yes, I completely agree with you. The purpose of this website is to inform people who are interested in receiving nutritional advice. This website is not a religious forum for zealots to espouse their own personal religious beliefs….which may be considered offensive to those who do not agree with their religious viewpoints. So, yes, let’s please be considerate toward others and keep our comments to nutrition only which is the purpose of this website.

  7. harley says:

    I use, promote and give out b12 shots. I wouldnt waste time, money or health on b12 patches that are not even FDA approved.

    I even give them to some of my meat eating cyclist friends that want to ensure high healthy b12 levels.

  8. Joelle says:

    I only eat raw foods and I started making my own sauerkraut which if you consume on a regular basis actually enables your body to produce it’s own b12

  9. Tonya says:

    Great article …I love the honesty at the end…Veganism is a complete lifestyle plan to be monitored through life….I too have seen people I love so against any Animal product/supplements at all that they suffer needlessly…

  10. Donald says:

    Sauerkraut improves gut flora and therefore strengthens the immune system. My understanding is that the body does not make B12…..that B12 is dirt/bacteria related….and so needs to be consumed.

  11. Maya says:

    My family and I are on vegan diet for the past 6 months. We haven’t been taking B12 supplements so far. I was wondering what would be the best way to supplement kids (5 and 3 yrs old) with B12. Patches, spray?
    Thank you!

    Worried mother 😉

  12. Gillian says:

    Some of the comments mention lack of energy. Apart from lack of B12, lack of energy can be caused by a lack of Magnesium, which is essential for every cell in the body, and is particularly important for the heart. Many people lack a large range of trace elements that are vital for energy and health, due to several reasons: Since agriculture converted to the use of artificial fertilizers, the soil bacteria and fungi have declined and this decline in the soil food web results in less minerals being available to farm animals and vegetables grown on land where artificial fertilizers are used. It has been estimated that foods now contain around 50 per cent less minerals and vitamins than in the days when growers used natural methods for enriching the soil. In order to provide a wide range of minerals, it is possible to grow extra greens for additional consumption of vitamin and mineral-rich greens for a salad and green smoothy every single day; this is possible even when one only has access to around a meter or two of ground, or only room for a few pots. It is important that the vegetables are grown in compost and uncontaminated soil, and fed regularly with seaweed solution and mineral dust. Two books that I have recently read describe how to so this, and achieve food security into the bargain. These books are: “The Magic Square”, and “Beyond the Magic Square”, both written by Lolo Houbein. They also contain some lovely suggestions for use of the foods we can grow so easily on such a small amount of soil. A large salad of dark greens, with other vegetables, and daily green smoothies are essential for health and for fighting cancer. Without daily salads and green smoothies, the body becomes acidic and an acid environment is conducive to developing cancer and other problems. It is also important to supplement your diet with a range of trace elements: I take a powdered Magnesium supplement that also contains trace elements, proteins and vitamins. I also avoid drinking fluoridated water, as fluoride binds with beneficial elements and carries them out of the body; fluoride also binds with harmful elements such as aluminium and carries them into places where they would not normally go, such as the brain. Catching rainwater for drinking purposes, even with a small rainwater tank, and investment in a good quality water filter, are also essential if you want to avoid the energy-sapping and brain-fogging effects of fluoride. For more information on this subject, please refer to the book The Case Against ‘Fluoride, How Hazardous Waste Ended Up in Our Drinking Water and the Bad Science and Powerful Politics That Keep It There, by Professor Paul Connett, PhD, James Beck, MD, PhD, and H.S. Micklem, DPhil, or refer to the website

    Comments are closed for this post.