B12 – How Did I Go So Low?

We’ve been a bit lethargic in our blogging lately, lost the pep from our step, fuggy headed and generally laid low.

Nutritionists don’t generally believe that a vitamin deficiency is something that can ever happen to them – but it did to me!  With hindsight, it isn’t so surprising that I’m deficient in B12, it isn’t particularly uncommon, I just didn’t see it coming.

How do people get to be deficient in B12? 

It happens gradually.

You can be vegan and get none from your diet – it’s only present in foods of animal origin.

You can have coeliac disease or inflammatory bowel disease and not absorb nutrients from part of the intestine

You can be on medication like Metformin for diabetes or antacids which reduce stomach acidity and these can limit your absorption of B12

Or, like me, your stomach acid is lacking.

B12 naturally occurring in food, exists bound to protein, which the acid in the stomach should release allowing the free cobalamin or vitamin B12, to be absorbed in the small intestine.

Poor Absorption can be exacerbated by a diet low in B12

I never thought that this was me – but I was probably wrong.

How much B12 do we need?

Recommendations vary but around 2.4micrograms/day

Where do we find it?

Shell fish is massive –  a portion of clams or oysters comes top with a huge 84mcg, salmon per portion is 4.8mcg, canned tuna 2.5mcg.

Meat is pretty good at 1.4mcg for a portion of beef, paler meats do less well with chicken at 0.3mcg.

Dairy is great, a cup of milk has 1.2mcg and an egg  0.6mcg

Food supplemented with B12

Many foods are supplemented with B12 and this is an interesting proposition.  The synthetic B12 isn’t bound to a protein and is more easily absorbed.

It’s not naturally present in Vegemite but is added to the low salt version and also added to Marmite.  Packaged breakfast cereals have it added.

I thought that the soya milk I use for porridge was fortified, but found that I’d switched brands and the new one isn’t – I’ve gone back to the old brand and get 1mcg B12 per cup.



Guts and Bugs

B12 is intricately involved with our microbiome. Our gut bacteria can be helping themselves to our slim intake of B12 and leave little for us, or make plenty themselves, or in susceptible individuals taking supplements, allowing acne producing bacteria to flourish.

If you are concerned about your B12 status, your GP can check it with a simple blood test. Like most deficient people, I’ve had the intramuscular B12 injection and take a supplement sprayed under the tongue to avoid digestion and happily have the pep back in my step!


Probiotics – what are the best bugs for our guts?

Probiotics are live microorganisms.  Consumed in suitable quantities, they are beneficial to our health.

It’s an exciting area of research.  Food and beverage manufacturers are competing to impress us with the health enhancing qualities of their products.  Possible health benefits from the consumption of probiotics include:

  • Restored microbiotica.
  • Metabolism of fatty acids.
  • Modulation of the immune system through peptides produced by bacteria.
  • Improvement of symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, in some studies, but not all.
  • Relief from constipation, in some studies, but not all.

The lack of a specific nutritional advice on the use of probiotics is due to:

  • The massive complexity of bacteria, differing strains of a single species don’t produce the same effects.
  • Our own microbiotica is unique, a probiotic which is beneficial to one person may be useless to another.
  • Our microbiotica is a dynamic system, its state will alter with multiple factors such as our diet, travel, stress or antibiotics. A probiotic which works wonders at one time might have little or no effect at another.
  • Research from different populations, with different lifestyles, on different diets, consuming different probiotics, doesn’t produce a clear picture. The EU so far has rejected all health claims by food manufacturers for probiotics due to the questionable quality of the research.


What to do!?!

Cover our bases by choosing a quality product with at least three or four bacteria strains.  For instance, one well known range of ‘bio live yoghurts’ contains Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophiles, Lactococcus lactis and Bifidobacterium lactis.  Quite a cocktail, they might not all do great things, but they might and they’ll certainly do no harm.

Be our own expert.  If we take an expensive probiotic and don’t see any benefit, then it isn’t the one for us.  However if we do find a product that maybe in certain circumstances feels beneficial to our health, well maybe it is.

With time, more quality research is bound to immerge. This is a vibrant area of nutrition and it will be great to have more knowledge on which probiotics are most useful for which situations. Watch this space.


Prebiotics: Feeding Our Gut Bugs


Our gut microbiome can be ‘poetry in motion’ or a horror story. It needs to be fed with care.

The system is dynamic.  Residues of our digestion, including complex carbohydrates, soluble fibres and cell walls arrive in the large intestine to be fermented by a host of bacteria.  This active environment of anaerobic fermentation exists in a fine balance. When all goes well, the right mix of bacteria receiving the right prebiotics, will produce a benevolent microbiome.

The Poetry

A happy microbiome will:

  • Hundreds of species of bacteria continue the process of digestion, both of food products and cells rubbed off from the gut wall.
  • Feed on excess mucous to keep the gut epithelial wall peachy. This icky sounding feature is the key to enabling the gut lining to transport nutrients into the blood stream, while blocking access to anything harmful.
  • Synthesize vitamins, particularly the B vitamin Biotin and two thirds of our intake of vitamin K.
  • Short chain fatty acid synthesis. Omega-6 fatty acids are converted to omega-3 fatty acids which are associated with a reduced vulnerability to inflammatory bowel disease.

The Motion

Extremely important for a healthy biome is keeping the system moving. Our gut needs lots fibrous food and fluid to produce the malleable substrate that can be happily moved along.

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The Horror Story

We can feed our gut bugs a junk food diet and expect a refuse pit microbiome.  We can also be unlucky and have a system that doesn’t easily tolerate some fairly common foods.  Many of us know that if we eat certain foods, maybe gluten, or complex sugars in raw onions, or inulin, the commonly added pre-biotic in ‘health’ foods and drinks, certain bacteria over-react.  Bloating or excess gas production is uncomfortable, but worse is possible.  It’s unlikely that bacteria cause irritable bowel syndrome but they can certainly exacerbate it.  A reduction in the diversity of bacteria in the microbiome is associated with a diseased colon.

The problem with solving horrors is that our bacteria population is unique to ourselves and even within ourselves, is constantly changing. Added to this, bacteria are extremely complex, a variety of bacteria will have many strains.  A quality probiotic supplement, with zillions of bacteria of a few varieties, can have a beneficial effect if our biome has been compromised, but there is no guarantee.

Eat Fibre, Drink Fluid, Keep Active

The best we can do is encourage a microbiome of pure poetry.


Eat whole foods, grains, fruit and veg, oats and linseeds are brilliant prebiotics.  A low to moderate intake of caffeine and alcohol helps, plus avoiding foods high in salt, fat and sugar.

The pectin in apples is an excellent prebiotic

Prevent dehydration by including water in our choice of beverages.


Encourage gut motility (the ability of an organism to move independently, using metabolic energy) by being active.


Happy gut, happy mood!