Whether to be vegetarian, or vegan... I've always been a vacillator, on the fence....Just prior to going raw I was vegan - indeed, I came across a raw food site for the first time 'by accident' when looking for vegan recipes. Then when I went raw I decided to be raw vegetarian, that is, include a little unpasteurised milk/cheese every few weeks or so. Then I had a period in which I just couldn't decide (although ate very little dairy), which culminated in my going for raw vegan, which is the diet I had followed 100% for fifteen months prior to these articles. I'd intended to continue being vegan as long as all seemed well. I hadn't taken any supplements, as, being Natural Hygiene-oriented, my policy had always been broadly anti-supplementation (see Aug 08 article for why), although, where B12 was concerned, I'd always admitted I wasn't sure, and that that could be the one exception.
In Pt 1 here I described how I'd had a couple of 'symptoms' that might have been nothing to do with B12, but, as they had occurred in a week when it was a hot topic (again!) on the 30Bananas forum, I had decided it was time I had my B12 tested.
The test included iron, calcium and folate/B9, and, to my relief (since I have written about the first two!) I was fine on these. But I wasn't fine on B12. It was lower than the lowest end of the normal range. A further test indicated that I was OK for 'intrinsic factor'. My B12 result was a great motivation to spend a little time going through the considerable amount of information I'd collected about B12 over the years, but had always baulked at the time needed to do so!
In Part 1 I discussed B12 in general - what it is, how much we need, where it can be found on various sorts of diet, 'absorption issues', and what can happen if we are deficient. And I decided I was not sufficiently brave (or foolhardy - depending on who you listen to) to write off all the potential perils of B12 deficiency as scaremongering and that I would be taking steps to raise my B12 level.
So what were my options?
1. Stay raw vegan, unsupplemented, and try to raise my B12 level within those parameters.
2. Stay raw vegan, but supplement for B12.
3. Switch to raw vegetarian.
The first part of the article was 'informational'. This part is more personal; it's mostly describing my dilemma between options 2 and 3, what I did, and what I then did.
1. Stay raw vegan, unsupplemented
One way I could raise my B12 level without supplementation is to eat more of my food a) organic and b) unwashed. Here in the UK I grow quite a lot of food in the summer and we have a good fruit harvest in the early Autumn. So for a few months of the year I eat lots of food straight from the garden, mostly unwashed, with bacteria and no doubt minute insect matter clinging to it. But we're talking 50% of the year at most. For the rest of the year I have to rely on shop-bought food. I probably eat 60-70% of my food organic - the snag with loving tropical fruit like papayas and pineapples is that it is difficult to obtain organic locally - certainly in the winter. Also, the organic food I do buy is often washed. Even a water wash would destroy much of the matter on the plant foods that could manufacture B12 for me. (I did read that when fruit bats are brought into captivity and fed store-bought fruit they develop B12 deficiency. No source - can someone supply it?). But, nevertheless, I will be making an effort to increase my organic percentage and eat my food as far as possible in its natural state. (This is helped by the fact that a local organic retailer has just opened shop five minutes down the road from me!). I'll also be thinking about eating more fruit that can be eaten peel-intact, as I can't quite see how fruit such as bananas, melons etc could contribute to our B12, even if organic, as, because they are eaten without peel, they are effectively sterile.
Another possible way of righting my B12 level without supplementation would be to undertake a long-term fast, as Natural Hygiene literature includes case studies of B12 levels righting themselves through fasting, when the body, freed from the onslaught of food, can devote its energies to healing. The problem here is that, although I've undertaken several 24-hour fasts and two 3-day fasts, a longer fast would need supervision, and, right now, I'm not able to justify the time or expense to do that. (Some reading will say that if we really want to do something, we can always find the ways and means. What would I say to that? I would say that you are right.)
Fasting aside, I think it unlikely that I could raise my B12 level significantly just by eating a little more organic food while living in suburban Reading, UK. If I lived in a part of the world where I could live off the land all year round (with a source of drinking water not chemically treated - see Pt 1) I might feel more confident.
Option 2 - Stay raw vegan, but supplement for B12
B12 supplementation is most commonly found in tablet form. There are two types of supplemental B12: methylcobalamin and cyanocobalamin. The 'methyl' type is best, as the 'cyan' type has to be converted by the body into the active form, which is...methylcobalamin!
B12 tablets are best dissolved or at least chewed rather than crunched/swallowed, to increase the percentage absorbed. Some manufacturers call their tablets 'sublingual lozenges'. Having bought some of these on line, I can tell you that this is just a fancy name for....tablets Put them under your tongue and they do eventually dissolve, but it takes a while.
Dosage - I've found it very unsettling that different authorities - mainstream medical and alternative, and different manufacturers, recommend such radically different doses. I've seen 500 mcg a week recommended. I've seen 2000 mcg daily recommended! The tablets/lozenges are generally 1000-5000 mcg a go when the daily RNI is 1.5 mcg - the rationale for such huge doses as compared with the RNI is that only a fraction of what we ingest in supplemental form is absorbed and/or people who are low/deficient need a 'bump start', etc.
The tablets always contain a few things additional to the B12. That's necessary for it to be ingestible in tablet form. For example, they almost all (possibly all) contain magnesium stearate, which is used in the processing to prevent particles from sticking to machinery. Magnesium stearate has been shown in large doses to be toxic to the liver and cause skin damage. We have to ask ourselves if we want that in our body in 'small' doses.
If there are 'absorption issues' (explained in Pt 1), then B12 taken orally won't do much good, if any, as the B12 ingested won't be absorbed from the digestive system into the blood. In these cases, B12 injections could be the answer, as the B12 would then bypass the mechanism of absorption.
However, although these may be the only option for those with B12 deficiency and absorption issues, I'm a little concerned at the current fashion for having B12 shots, especially by those who have not had a low B12 reading, but are taking them simply for the 'rush of energy', the 'high' reported by athletes, opera singers about to go on stage, etc! Now to me this says 'stimulant', and stimulants work because the body is on 'red alert', 'all systems go', marshalling its energies to try to eliminate substances it doesn't want! This could be something in the shots apart from the B12, or it could be the size of the dose. In true cases of deficiency, where every effort has been made by other means to tackle the cause of the absorption problems, it could be that any negatives may be cancelled out, but surely those with a 'normal' B12 count, or even a low B12 count but with no evidence of absorption problems, shouldn't be taking shots?
Option 3 - Switch to raw vegetarian
Many of my arguments here are subjective, and I expect them not to have validity for some readers. For some (whether raw vegetarian or raw vegan), there is no dilemma. For me, there always has been, as, although I am convinced that we should not be murdering animals and feasting on their corpses, I have never been convinced that 'dairy' is always, in every circumstance, wrong.
I expect a few 'unsubscribes' after publication of this article, but hope that the majority of those who disagree with me here will not feel that from this point on nothing else I write can ever be of interest to them again.
Whilst on a vegan diet, I have always said that, if I moved to a Greek island, and lived next to someone who kept goats for milk, and was offered some feta cheese, made from the fresh unpasteurised milk of a happy goat milked by human hands (after she had met her kids' demands), I would switch to raw vegetarian at the drop of a hat. Re full breasts, the discomfort that can result, and 'relief', I have tried twice to write here about my own experiences when breastfeeding, but have deleted as...perhaps too much information!). Goats are not known for doing things they don't want to do, and, provided a goat is hand-milked, it can obviously easily signal its willingness or not to give its milk. The awkward bit came for me when I had to admit that, in Reading, UK, this scenario did not exist, and the raw goats' milk I was buying would be coming from goats attached to milking machines. Such a contraption would not only surely be uncomfortable for the goat, but would make it much less likely that a goat could signal its aquiescence, or otherwise!
One major motivation for my going raw was the Essene diet. This was raw vegetarian rather than vegan. However, in those days, the milk the Teacher referred to as being a good food for us would almost certainly have been collected via hand-milking. As it was described as food for man for just one month of the year, although it wasn't prohibited at other times, this would suggest that we should not be consuming anything like the amount of dairy the average person in the UK consumes. Also, in Essene times it would not have been consumed at the expense of the kids - it would have been surplus only (which perhaps explains the seasonal reference).
Some sources say that the Essenes had fermented dairy, eg yogurt, kefir; in fermented dairy the lactose that gives some digestive problems is pre-digested by the fermentation process (although, unfortunately, according to the Vegetarian Society B12 can be destroyed in fermentation!). Other sources conflict with this by stating that the Essenes never drank 'fermented liquids' (although this could be referring to alcohol). Incidentally, the Essene Gospel of Peace makes it clear that any milk drunk should be fresh, ie unpasteurised/raw - it describes an incident in which a serpent (the devil) was attracted by the smell of heated milk. I've always found this interesting as, when a child, I would not drink pasteurised cows' milk, detested the smell of heated milk (my Dad used to have it 'for his ulcer') and, weirdly, had nightmares about my parents dying in which I could smell heated milk.
Many of the raw fooders/Natural Hygienists that I admire, and that have influenced my thinking, were raw vegetarian rather than raw vegan. One of the most famous Natural Hygienists of last century - Herbert Shelton, and Doctors Norman W Walker ('Becoming Younger') and Ann Wigmore (founder of Hippocrates Institute), all included raw dairy of some sort in their diets, although never advocated the consumption of high amounts of pasteurised cows' milk. Of course that's not to say they couldn't have done better without dairy. That's something we can never know.
No other animal drinks milk after it's been weaned, and no other animal drinks the milk of another species. This is quite true, and an excellent argument for veganism that surely can't be disputed. Or can it? When the human being is described as simply one more species of animal, albeit a more 'developed' one, to justify anything, eg aggression, sexual behaviour, diet, it is just possible that we are falling into a trap, as the human being is unlike 'all other animals' in many respects. To list all of them would require a separate article, but here are a few: we laugh, we cry, we create (not just for reproduction or shelter), we wander all over the globe (we don't stay in one habitat or migrate along pre-determined lines), we symbolise...Whether by evolution, accident or design, the human being is different from 'all other animals' and I won't discount the possibility (and the irony) that big-headed, 'clever', 'powerful' man may actually be reliant, that is, dependent on animals! The 'Anastasia' books (Ringing Cedars Press), although fictional, suggest gently that animals may even want to serve man, and here 'serve' is used in the most positive and beautiful sense, in the way that we might serve our fellow-men. Could it be possible that when we then abuse their trust, their natural love for us, by eg killing them, factory-farming them, (or damaging their milk via pasteurisation) we pay a price, via their aggression, and via disease? (Edit - on a forum recently when I said that human beings are different from 'other animals' I was misunderstood - I am not saying we are 'superior'!! Animals live perfectly in accordance with nature. We often choose not to, and have to bear the responsibility for that.)
Although high consumption of pasteurised dairy is linked with illnesses such as asthma and breast cancer, these diseases are almost unknown in relatively healthy, long-lived communities such as the Abkhasians, Vilcabambans (John Robbins' 'Healthy at 100'), who consume a little, raw, dairy. The dairy consumed by such communities is often goats' which is closer in composition to human milk than cows'; it's more alkaline and, according to Dr Norman W Walker, less acid-forming.
One practical problem with raw milk is that it is quite difficult to obtain. It's sometimes available covertly at farmers' markets, or direct from farms, and a couple of suppliers sell it online. However, some (most?) farms are also sending the animals off to slaughter for meat. So it may be difficult to obtain raw milk without supporting those who are killing animals.
Raw cheese is more widely available. Two problems here (apart from links to the meat industry as above). Firstly, the cheese may not be so raw...I think regulations in the US still require the milk to be heated to 60C - unsure about the situation in UK. Whilst this is not as hot as pasteurisation (almost boiling point), it's way past the 'raw' cut-off point. Also, I believe that unpasteurised cheese has to be 'aged' for two months, which is why raw cheese is so often the stinky kind, making it a (particularly?) unnatural product for us, and of course is usually quite high in sodium chloride used in processing. This sort of cheese, whilst it may be labelled 'raw' or 'unpasteurised', is likely a long way from the fresh cheese consumed by the cultures previously mentioned.
I should at this point briefly mention eggs as a source of B12, as some raw food vegetarians do eat these and some (eg Frederic Patenaude) consume these whilst not consuming dairy. One ethical argument in favour is that hens will lay lots of unfertilised eggs (they do - we used to keep them) and that other creatures will surely eat them if we don't, but...I tend to go by the Natural Hygiene principle that something is food for us if we find it atractive, and raw eggs...just don't do it for me. Also, when hens are bred for egg-laying, what happens to the unwanted male chicks? So, for me, eggs aren't an option.
WHAT I DID
After a few days of 'crisis', taking everything into account, I decided that, at least in 2010, morally, the raw vegan diet trumped the raw vegetarian, and that I would stay raw vegan, but take a B12 supplement. I 'announced' this to 30Bananas, the raw food forum I frequented most. However, I do think that my decision might have been influenced by the fact that my ego rather enjoyed the 'public approval' I received. And it felt good that I could remain a member of 'the vegan club'. When I felt shaky, and felt conflict between principles of Natural Hygiene, my allegiance to Essene principles, and my supplement-taking, I buoyed myself up by reminding myself that there were other raw vegans who-did-not-generally-believe-in-supplements-with-the-exception-of-B12 - it always feels good to have a little 'support' from others for our decisions.
So, I took the supplement, twice a week, for several weeks.
The 'Xylitol', the 'lemon flavor', the magnesium stearate and the rest of them...immaterial of whether the label proclaimed them to be 'of vegetable origin', I just don't want these isolated, unnatural substances in my body (which would also be likely to be the case for powders, potions, 'drops' etc).
Also, I bought the lowest-dosage 'lozenges' I could find - 1000 mcg. The label proudly proclaims I'm taking nearly seventeen thousand times my B12 RNI in one go. Doesn't quite match with my maths on a 1.5 mcg RNI, but seventeen thousand times, seven hundred times,whatever...I'm not reassured that, to date, 'no scientific evidence' has been found to show such doses are harmless. With increasing regularity nowadays we find scientific studies to show that various vitamin tablets people have been encouraged to take in high quantities ('mega' doses) in the past have not been improving their health, but the very opposite.
AND WHAT I'M DOING NOW
So I tried. I wrestled with the issues, I had plumped for vegan, but after a month, I knew there's no way I'm going to be swallowing these things for ever more. Every fibre of my being militates against it.
I'm neither happy with consuming the milk of goats attached to milking machines that may come from a farm rearing animals for meat. But neither am I happy with taking supplementation. But...neither am I happy with (very) 'low' B12. And, of the two options described above, although they're certainly 'a rock and a hard place', I'm 'less unhappy' with dairy than I am with supplementation.
The next step? In two months' time I will retest for B12, to see whether a month of supplementation followed by two months of dairy, has made a difference to the level. If not, I'll investigate factors that might be affecting absorption (although my 'intrinsic factor' test result was OK).
Did I feel any 'better' after a month of B12 supplementation? No, I felt fine before, and still felt fine after. Did I feel any better after having some raw cheese? As with the supplementation, not a jot of difference. And have the 'symptoms' that I described at the beginning of Pt 1 abated? Well, I haven't had any more strange mental turns! But that was just one occurrence, so only the daft would say 'ah, B12 deficiency!' Waking with pins and needles? It's still happening. Perhaps I'd better ease off on the knitting.
After finding one place in the whole of the UK that produced mild raw goats' cheese, and after enjoying it for a few weeks, I decided to stop sticking my neck in the sand and enquire as to what happened to the male kids. I was assured that all their goats led happy lives (of course...) and that the male kids were...killed. One method apparently was to hit them hard against a rock. I am ashamed of myself for not having enquired earlier, and will stop buying the cheese. I'm very, very sorry, and it looks as if my foray (again) into dairy will now be ending. Which means unless I can find some source that doesn't involve killing (highly unlikely) I will be reverting to vegan again! And taking the b_____ supplement! It's the lesser of two evils.
Regular readers, who generally find me confident and resolute (well, most of the time?), will note that I have, to date, been unable to resolve the B12 situation satisfactorily.
And there we will have to leave it!
PPS 24.5.10 (Well, not quite leaving it there...)
As I've mentioned in the articles, I'd had a test for 'intrinsic factor' which indicated to me that I didn't have an absorption problem in that regard. However, I did still worry a little that, being an old hag who had followed a standard digestive-system-abusing diet for many years prior to raw, I might still have 'compromised' my digestion in some way, that is some other 'absorption issue'. HOWEVER...I've now had a follow-up blood test, three months after the reading of 159 that was below the lowest end of the 'acceptable' range. Having ingested B12 via dairy and supplementation, my B12 level has now risen to 220. This supports there not being any absorption issues with me - looks as if the low figure was simply due to not ingesting enough B12, and previous supplies from a diet several years previously had run down - simple as that.
I'll continue to have my blood tested annually. Like many other raw vegans who have been through similar (Dr Doug Graham, Tonya Zavasta etc) I'm hoping that supplementation is something I will only have to do occasionally, when the level dips below that at which I feel comfortable and/or I experience symptoms that could be, might be.... to do with B12...