Vitamin B12 is one of the nutrients for which it’s highly recommended vegans supplement their diet with. Meat products and to a lesser degree, dairy and eggs are generally a reliable source so how did humans get B12 before meat eating became widespread? Let’s find out …
How Did Humans Get B12 Before Meat?Before meat eating became prevalent among humans, we probably got our B12 through eating dirty vegetables, drinking unfiltered water and doing so having not washed our hands after taking a number 2! Some studies also challenge the accepted wisdom around B12 …
Watch: Mic The Vegan on one plant which does contain B12!
(Just goes to show we still have a lot to learn)
Our ancestors existed on planet Earth as much as 6-7 million years ago, yet it’s fairly widely accepted we didn’t begin eating meat in any quantity until around 2.6 million years ago.
This means that we survived predominantly on plants for at least 4 million years.
You cannot get B12 from most plants so either we had no external requirement for this vitamin, or we obtained it through our diet in some other way.
This study calls into question the assertion that humans do not produce vitamin B12 in the small intestine, which may also go some way to explain how we survived for millions of years with almost no meat and dairy consumption.
Vitamin B12: Essentially a Mystery
It’s designated an ‘essential’ nutrient because the accepted scientific consensus states the human body is unable to synthesise B12 anywhere other than the lower intestine, where it cannot be absorbed.
This means we believe it has to come from our diet, so it is ‘essential’.
… and we do have to have it.
Deficiency in this micronutrient can lead to serious health problems if left untreated. This is because B12 is needed by every single cell in the human body.
Neurological issues are commonly seen in those with a longer term lack of B12 in the diet. It is pivotal in the synthesis of the many fatty acids which protect our neurons.
If B12 is so important, why do other herbivores not have this same dietary requirement as humans?
Call The Plumber – Our Pipework Is Wrong!
B12 is made by bacteria in the gut. By eating, we provide the fuel and the warm conditions in our digestive system create the ideal conditions for this bacteria to thrive.
Problem is, for humans, it is bacteria in the lower intestine which produce vitamin B12 and we can only absorb the nutrient via our upper intestine.
Our (mostly) herbivorous ancestors probably got B12 from a variety of places. Fresh spring water straight from the mountains was one. The dirt on unwashed vegetables was another.
But was that enough? Many nutritionists doubt it.
We can’t be sure, although it does seem plausible that, for millions of years, we were able to absorb at least some of the B12 created by our own intestinal bacteria.
So what changed?
Well, one theory suggests it was actually the increased meat intake at around 2.6 million years ago which eliminated the need for our lower intestine to absorb B12.
Because we now had an abundance of this vital nutrient in our diet, evolution removed that self-sufficiency and slowly we became dependent on dietary sources.
Kind of ironic when you think about it.
Eating more meat made us less versatile in this regard.
Although it should be emphasised this is just a theory and while plausible, the truth is no-one really knows the answer to why our internal plumbing is believed to be mis-configured for B12.
“Supplements Are Unnatural” – huh?
The fact that vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient for humans and it is not available in plant foods makes it an ideal space for the vegan-bashers to inhabit.
Proponents of the ‘carnivore diet’ movement in particular love to latch on to this debate and spout their drivel.
The argument is, of course, that because meat is generally rich in B12 and plants are not then veganism must be wrong.
This particularly extreme brand of meat-eater will convincingly declare if you have to take vitamin supplements to stay healthy then it must be unnatural.
What they conveniently always fail to mention is 95% of the meat consumed by humans was not produced in a ‘natural’ way. You simply can’t feed the world on grass-fed beef.
So most cows destined for the chop are raised not on grass but on feeds consisting of grain, soya and other crops.
In fact, 75-80% of all soya grown on this planet ends up in animal feed!
… and guess what?
Vitamin B12 supplements for livestock have been a thing for decades. If eating meat is so natural, why do the animals need supplements?
So next time some rabid anti-vegan comes at you with that nonsense argument you can put them firmly in their place 🙂
The Evolution Of Nutrition
It seems like every other day the human race makes some new discovery in the field of nutrition science. The importance of healthy eating has never been more widely accepted.
The overwhelming body of evidence on the benefits of plant-based eating for disease mitigation is unquestionable. Meta-study after meta-study confirms this.
Prevention is better than cure.
It is because we have acquired this vast knowledge that we now know how important it is to get your essential vitamins and minerals.
Vitamin B12 is one of the most vital essential nutrients we need to function optimally, along with vitamin D and Omega 3 fatty acids.
The diet of a vegan means it’s highly recommended to supplement with these essential nutrients because they’re difficult (or impossible) to obtain from plants in sufficient quantity.
So whether it’s considered unnatural or otherwise to supplement is entirely irrelevant because vegans take an ethical position on the exploitation of animals.
If our ethical position dictates we need to take the odd supplement or two and we have the scientific knowledge to do so, then that’s just evolution.
I’d argue that killing 80 billion land animals every year to satisfy our taste buds is not exactly natural either.
Veganism Is Perfectly Healthy When Done Right
We live in a very different world to the one we inhabited 3 or 4 million years ago.
So those who claim veganism is unhealthy or unnatural because our ancestors were never vegan are missing the point.
What is natural anyway? We have a pill for everything these days. From a headache to heart disease – there’s a pill for that!
We don’t consider the development of drugs to treat these ailments as unnatural so why should we think taking a dietary supplement is unnatural.
It makes no sense.
While we have the technology, we will use it. Vegans are taking a stand against the abhorrent cruelty in the meat and dairy industries. It’s a worthy cause.
So I’ll carry on taking my daily multi-vits and omega 3’s regardless of the opinion of some carnivore diet fan claiming it’s unnatural.
I think the meat has clouded their minds.
I hope this article has helped you see the issue more clearly and has answered your question. Please go ahead and share with your friends. Leave me a comment below. I always reply 🙂
Thanks for reading and have a compassionate day!