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To B11, B12 or Not to B? That is the Question……

Posted 12-13-2008 at 10:32 PM by shastastar
Updated 12-13-2008 at 10:40 PM by shastastar
There has been such a lively discussion on this topic that I felt it was worth its own blog entry. While we are all working very hard toward good health and vitality either within the context of a macrobiotic diet or outside that context, the question of whether to supplement or not to supplement is an important one. Wherever you fall philosophically on that spectrum, the next question is what supplements you may or may not need.

Now since blood tests can certainly root out many deficiencies and (so I don’t get sued) it is always a good idea to check with a medical professional before beginning any supplements. If you do make the decision then to use vitamin and mineral supplements then there is the question of the quality of the supplement you are using, whether it is synthetically generated / meat derived / or plant derived and of course then also how it is processed.

Kushi comments before his entry into the supplement market and infomercials that, “ Synthetic vitamins produce a wide range of effects depending on the source of the vitamins, the processing method and type of capsule used. On the surface, vitamin and mineral supplements can boost vitality and produce a glowing look, but deep within they can disturb natural digestive, circulatory, and nervous functions. Endocrine functions can easily be disrupted, as hormones are secreted in quantities that are too great or too little” (38 The Macrobiotic Path To Total Health)

Many times making the decision to use a supplement versus trying to get all of your vitamins and minerals from food is based on trying to correct a deficiency quickly in the short term. That is using a supplement for a few weeks / months to get your body in balance and corrected while bringing your diet up to speed to maintain the correction. To do this alone with food would usually be a much slower process and would in some cases require consuming large amounts of certain foods that throw off the macrobiotic balance as a whole. This is especially true if you have difficulties with absorption of vitamins and minerals which most of us in fact do. Remember that with each substance we put in our bodies, the great chemical reaction that is the human body changes and the stasis balance is maintained in a different way.

While the general consensus is that in the world of macrobiotics supplements are generally not thought to be necessary, it appears that recently there has been some movement on this issue ( See Previous Blog Entry “ Another One Bites The Dust”). Now I am not one to promote the nutritional supplement industry in any way shape or form. They seem to almost be as bad as the pharmaceutical companies, many managed by big business and developing what insiders call “neutraceutical” products that are basically plant derived drugs such as ephedra, ginseng, guarana, hoodia, etc that because they are naturally grown do not receive the same scrutiny, safety testing etc ( in the US) as pharmaceuticals, and also fall under a separate set of guidelines in terms of ingredient labeling etc than what normal food products do.

That being said, macrobiotic practices frown on the use of drugs in general as drugs are said to be extremely yin and not good in terms of a balanced dietary / intake approach. Many of the plant derived substances I mentioned above are promoted for metabolism, energy boosts, dieting etc but in my humble opinion would fall into the classification in macrobiotics as drugs. There are really not any nutritional / energetic necessities that can be obtained from these substances to prevent disease
So then there is a difference between taking a supplement for what I am going to coin as “vanity” purposes ( ie to speed weight loss or gain short term energy) and taking a supplement for “health” purposes ( ie to make up for a dietary insufficiency or some pre-existing condition that inhibits digestion of the proper amount of vitamins and minerals and herbs).

Since macrobiotics frowns on the use of drugs ( again consult your doctor before stopping or starting any medications or supplementation), from this point forward I will only be addressing the question of supplementation for “health” purposes. Bear in mind that those of us following macrobiotics are eating what would qualify as “unfortified food” meaning food that is not artificially vitamin fortified and therefore our exposure to these extra vitamin sources is much lower than the general population.

There was an interesting experiment that a professor of mine did at university where he took “Total” brand cereal and chemically extracted the iron that had been added to it and created metal iron filings right in front of our eyes. Yes small almost microscopic dust like pieces of metal had been sprayed on the cereal for its vitamin fortification process. And it isn’t just “Total”, almost all cereals are fortified using a similar micro powder coating process. I found a You Tube video that actually proves “Total” cereal is magnetic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9s8CbP7ExY

So many if not the majority of health practitioners pass out supplements to their patients for everything from iron deficiency, to weight loss assistance, to lower cholesterol, and numerous other health complaints. In the US when you become pregnant doctors are all too keen to pass out a large bag on your first pregnancy appointment full of samples of different pre-natal vitamins so that you can choose the one that you are the most keen on for your prescription. You can also get numerous different prenatal vitamin formulas over the counter ( without doctor permission) at your local market. I am not going to even get into the idea of whether or not to use prenatal vitamins while you are pregnant or nursing. I am not opening up that can of worms. There are many good reasons to take supplements during pregnancy as a preventative measure against deficiency. Folic Acid deficiencies in pregnancy are directly linked to birth defects including spina bifida and are in most cases prevented with supplementation. Adequate fatty acids such as Fish / Flax / Evening Primrose Oil are said to help with pre-natal brain development. Selenium deficiency in pregnancy has been linked to lung problems / asthma after birth.
Not to mention the fact that it is well known that your body will take everything it needs for the baby preferentially over the mother’s needs. Meaning that if your vitamin / nutrient intake is insufficient, the mother’s body will find what it needs for the baby and leave the mother deficient, which of course then leaves the mother in poor shape to nurse the baby after he or she is born. Good prenatal nutrition and diet is very important and supplements can assist a mother to be in staying healthy and nutritionally balanced during pregnancy and nursing.

From my experience most doctors are egregiously mis-informed or uninformed on how to recommend vitamins and supplements. They either are unaware, go with whatever the pharmaceutical rep that gave them the samples told them in their marketing companies pre-packaged literature or they recommend whichever brand is going to provide them with a free vacation somewhere to learn about the merits of their product.
In the US these practices are quite common for over the counter nutritional products ( such as Ensure which is handed out to doctors that treat cancer to give to their patients as a liquid food that helps combat nausea, and baby formula samples which are given along with a bunch of similar goodies to new moms at the hospital in the United States) as it is thought that because people respect their doctors, the recommendation carries more weight. Many doctors when questioned about supplements at least in the United States are either unaware or dismissive of concerns.

Most patients won’t think twice about something that their doctor recommends. We as followers of the grain in a macrobiotic context always question if there is not perhaps a better way. We find our own path, but how exactly do we go about charting a path that is outlined as mostly forbidden and not addressed in macrobiotic literature?

In my mind the most important thing when venturing down the path of supplementation is moderation. It is easy to get carried away with lots of different herbs or huge multivitamins that are difficult to swallow. In terms of yin and yang, supplements are similar in the body to eating an egg. Part of way eggs are considered an extreme food is because they contain an entire chicken. Eggs flood your system with all of that raw yang animal energy. Supplements have a similar effect even if they are vegetable based. They are a concentrated form of a vitamin or mineral that would normally slowly trickle out of your food and into your system, but instead the supplement floods your system with a concentrated yin ( in the case of vegetable herbal supplements). So moderation is definitely key.

Perhaps within the confines of a macrobiotic diet start with much less than what is recommended, see if the problem is solved, or if your system truly needs more. If you have digestive difficulties or are incapable of digesting certain substances, then you need to be extra careful with supplements. Also take care to balance the supplement against another energy in your diet by examining the source of the supplement ( vegetable or animal) and the other ingredients to find which foods you need to add to your diet to balance the supplement out energetically.

If you are following the macrobiotic diet then make sure that your supplements are vegan in origin. If at all possible, use the herbal plant source ( buy or grow in your yard) and brew your own tea rather than taking a pill. If you are going to use liquid herbs, look at the alcohol content as many herbal formulas are distilled in alcohol ( usually around 20%) and weigh this in terms of your macrobiotic energies / intake.

So now on to the named topic at hand, B 11 / B12 supplementation

While kelp / seaweed can be a natural source of B12, the vitamin and mineral content of sea vegetables in general is very dependent upon the ocean environment and what minerals are available in the water around the sea vegetables as they are growing.

Obviously then if you are eating farm raised even organic farm raised sea vegetables they are more limited in terms of their natural mineral exposure. If you are eating wild sea vegetables while the mineral content may be more diverse, it is kind of a roulette what you are getting. In the US to create food labels samples of food product are taken randomly and then analyzed in a lab which determines vitamin / caloric / mineral content. Based on an average of what they see in the sample.

Then at regular intervals new samples are tested and the labels are changed. In between who knows what the mineral / vitamin contents are. I checked all my seaweed packages this morning. None of them show any percentage of B 12 or B 11 because they are not required to for the most part in the US as follows in this quoted source


“The ability of a strict vegetarian diet to supply adequate amounts of B12 remains controversial, despite increasing evidence in support of vegetarianism and its nutritional adequacy. The controversy is fueled by two somewhat divergent schools of thought. One school emphasizes the fact that most animals, including humans, are capable of storing long-term supplies of B12.
In humans, these stores may last for twenty years or longer. Given this potential for storage, a daily requirement for B12 is regarded as highly unlikely.
A second school of thought, however, points to the unreliability of plants as sources of B12. For strict vegetarians who eat no animal products whatsoever, this unreliability may pose a problem. Since no plant is capable of making B-12, the amount of B12 in plant food depends upon the relationship of the plant to soil and root-level microorganisms (bacteria, yeasts, molds, and fungi) which make the vitamin. Cultured and fermented bean products like tofu, tempeh, miso, tamari and shoyu may or may not contain significant amounts of B12, depending upon the bacteria, molds, and fungi used to produce them. The B12 content of sea vegetables also varies according to the distribution of microorganisms in the surrounding sea environment.
Unfortunately, reliable nutrient analyses are often unavailable for consumers of these products, and labeling for B12 content is not required. In general, tofus, tempehs, and sea vegetables tend to be more consistent sources of B12 than misos, tamaris, and shoyus. Depending upon the medium in which they are grown, brewer's and nutritional yeast can also be significant sources of B12 in a strict vegetarian diet."

So there you are, the B Vitamin level in plants is completely dependent on the soil in which it is grown. So I guess we can do the ultimate macrobiotic thing and grow our own food in soil that is richly fertilized with a natural form of B12 to make sure that the vitamin is readily available for the plants to absorb from the soil. Or count on your bodies ability to make and store B12 for long periods of time.

Bottom line is that there is almost always a choice to supplement or not to supplement, and that is a question that you need to use your own macrobiotic compass to answer. If you do supplement it’s best from a macrobiotic perspective to supplement sparingly and short term with vegan sources.
Total Comments 30


  • Old Comment
    Just a quick note - I haven't seen in our discussions (that I recall ) any mention of fish in the B12 equation. Not only do shellfish and many finfish provide more than adequate amounts of B12, but - as has been discussed on the forum - fish also provide Omega-3 fatty acids and protein.
    Posted 12-14-2008 at 05:53 AM by ostarella ostarella is offline
  • Old Comment
    My compliments Shastastar! Very good blog!

    True Ostarella, fish offer us very good nutritional value in several important areas. However, the kinds of fish which contain the highest amounts of, in this case, B12 are as I recall the least favoured in MB.

    But it's certainly an option worth trying; eating more fish might just do the trick for a lot of people. (Unless you don't like fish, of course, .... )
    Posted 12-14-2008 at 06:33 AM by asmay asmay is offline
  • Old Comment
    True - but when one considers the DRI for B12 - less than 3 micrograms - it shouldn't be difficult to get it through "MB-approved" fish Actually, when you consider that amount - it's odd to think that there's concern at all if one is eating any kind of balanced diet.
    Posted 12-14-2008 at 07:47 AM by ostarella ostarella is offline
  • Old Comment

    Depends on your definition of "balanced diet". MB approved fish ie cod / whitefish has about 4-6 mcg per 8 oz serving. Fish is not recommended more than once weekly which would make someone following an MB diet deficient depending on all of the variables with vegetables I discussed. Many individuals on a macrobiotic diet do not eat fish at all ( I am in this category) as they are vegetarian. Also there is the question of absorption, as many people are unable to absorb all of the vitamins in the foods that they eat. Hopefully in my pre-MB life I ate enough salmon etc and still have B12 stored in what fat is left on my frame, that I should be good for a while LOL. However many who have been vegetarian MB for a long time may not be so fortunate. That's the concern.

    Peace Love and Bancha
    Posted 12-14-2008 at 08:24 AM by shastastar shastastar is offline
  • Old Comment
    "Fish is not recommended more than once weekly"

    I hadn't heard of that - in fact, some of the MB sites I've looked at say we should be eating fish "at least" twice a week.
    Posted 12-14-2008 at 08:30 AM by ostarella ostarella is offline
  • Old Comment
    In "The Macrobiotic Path to Total Health" it is written of anumal food that " Animal Food is Optional and not necessary for daily health or vitality." (386) It does fall into the occasional use category which is once / twice a week ususally. Kushi further states specifically about fish that in the diet for those in good general health "For those who wish animal food, white meat fish may be eaten once every 7-10 days in small volume" (393) Same with the healing diets they state that in the yin conditions and disorders diet "white meat fish may be eaten once every week or 2 weeks in small volume if craved" (398) and the yang condition healing diet is "a small volume of white meat fish may be eaten every 10 to 14 days if desired" (401) and the Yang and Yin condition diet is the same 10-14 day recommendation.

    On the surface because fish is categorized as " occasional use" I can see why it would be confusing, but the specific guidelines really tell the tale, never is fish suggested for consumption more than once per week.
    Peace Hope Love and Bancha
    Posted 12-14-2008 at 09:08 AM by shastastar shastastar is offline
  • Old Comment
    So it's basically a disagreement among "experts" again because as I stated, the MB sites I've looked at consider "occasional" 1 to 3 times per week. I guess I look at the traditional Asian diet which MB is based heavily on and that is not nearly as restrictive on fish. I admit I also recoil a bit at the specificity of the "guidelines". Again, it sounds like a "one size fits all" type of thing. I think one has to look at the nutritional benefits and then incorporate that into the overall effect - how it balances one's "whole" health.
    Posted 12-14-2008 at 02:30 PM by ostarella ostarella is offline
  • Old Comment
    I think it may be that a lot of these other sites don't take the time to carefully read the guidelines. There is a lot of slack in the guidelines for some things, but fish is definitely well explained by both Kushi and Oshawa. I think it may be a case of other sites trying to make macro more palliatable to the masses by allowing a wider range of food. It's like being kosher... how kosher do you want to be? just on shabbat? Only on Jewish high holy days? All the time? When it is convenient? Macrobiotics is kind of the same thing.... There are a lot of people in transition or who eat predominantly in a macrobiotic manner but incorporate extreme foods. Macrobiotics is about choice... all I was trying to do was present a choice about supplements.
    I agree about balance though, Jessica Porter does a great job of outlining the balance thing in Hip Chicks especially for women. It is about the big picture and the balancing of yin and yang.

    Peace love and my last cup of bancha so I am not awake all night

    Posted 12-14-2008 at 03:58 PM by shastastar shastastar is offline
  • Old Comment
    It's possible they're trying to make it more palatable - at the same time, I think we have to look at Kushi's view on fish with the same "open eyes" that we're looking at his views on menstruation and supplements. We have to look at the information available, weigh it based on our own knowledge and experience and go from there. As Dirk has said - become our own expert.
    Posted 12-14-2008 at 04:11 PM by ostarella ostarella is offline
  • Old Comment
    I agree with you Shastastar, that a lot of vegetarians and, of course, all the vegans do not eat fish at all. They should seriously think about a way to get that badly needed B11 and B12 (and the other vit and min as well) into their system.

    When on the more Asian oriented MB, like you say Ostarella, you can just increase your fish intake if needed and that would probably be more than enough.

    Btw in the orthomolecular branch (at least over here) the RDI is regarded as being the absolute minimum one should take ... especially when in the ´danger zone´ of being veggie/vegan, sick, old or in general lacking certain vits and/or minerals. (Governmental health departments tend to be on the conservative/safe side with these kinds of recommendations.)

    So let´s indeed be experts of our own bodies and pay close attention to this topic. The more you know, the better you can anticipate and address problems (if any) in this area, and that´s all that matters. Knowledge is power!
    Posted 12-15-2008 at 03:10 AM by asmay asmay is offline
  • Old Comment
    It's clear then (I think?) that vegans/vegitarians and MB dieters should regularly eat sea vegetables and fermented bean products to get their B12?

    I love marmite and vegimite (like brewer's yeast), so I eat that a lot whilst I get used to the sea veggies. I think Kushi frowns on that though - too much yeast? :?
    Posted 12-15-2008 at 04:01 AM by deebeelicious deebeelicious is offline
  • Old Comment
    edit - it is 'yeast extract' not brewer's yeast!
    Posted 12-15-2008 at 04:32 AM by deebeelicious deebeelicious is offline
  • Old Comment
    Not to further complicate things, but it is called nutritional yeast here in the states and since vegemite and marmite are not really present here in the states I am not going to say anything there due to lack of familiarity with the food products. (Me not having an opinion shocking!!)

    Here is a really excellent article that summarizes the B12 question quite well it attempts to draw on a lot of the previous studies / literature.


    And brewers yeast / nutritional yeast yes it is on the "foods to avoid" list.

    I think that there is no clear answer on the question of B12. I tried to leave the arguement open ended so that followers of the grain could be aware and make up their own minds. Guidelines are just that, guidelines. And if you are in good health the guidelines for MB eating are much different than if you are trying to ward off cancer or some other serious disease.

    B12 is necessary for DNA replication right? So perhaps supplementation is not such a good idea if we are looking to cure a disease like cancer. I am not an oncologist or a cancer specialist so again consult your doctor don't sue me. That is not part of my macrobiotic journey currently. But logically if you are looking to eliminate a cancer and not help it grow / replicate than it would not be a good idea to take a B12 supplement.

    I am going to throw one other thing out here. Maybe the yardsticks that are used to measure lack of B12 are inherently flawed. That is yes cognitive difficulties, shorter in stature but really so what. Maybe part of the point of lack of B12 compared to a standard diet is to slow yourself down ( slow down your DNA replication) to a higher state of meditation practice as a monk practicing buddism would do. Perhaps this cognitive impairment or whatever they are measuring is not really a mental lapse but a chosen alternate state of being. And who really cares if you aren't 6 ft or 2m tall?

    That is all I have to say.
    For now anyway...

    Peace Love Faith and bancha
    Posted 12-15-2008 at 06:10 AM by shastastar shastastar is offline
    Updated 12-15-2008 at 06:16 AM by shastastar
  • Old Comment
    Thanks for that article. I'm afraid I only got half-way through it so far. I see that shellfish (mussels/clams), trout and salmon are good sources of B12 according to that article, as well as liver. I had a quick shoofty (look!) on wiki and found that although eggs have a high B12 content, they also apparently contain something which blocks B12 absorption in the gut, so eggs may not be a good source of B12.

    Re: marmite, there is another product from Switzerland, Cenovis, which is a dark yeast extract paste, that is similar.

    Natto also has similar (probably more diluted?) properties, and that is certainly acceptable in the MB community? Do I recall Tracy saying once that Natto was one of Dirk's favourite soy products?
    Posted 12-15-2008 at 07:14 AM by deebeelicious deebeelicious is offline
  • Old Comment
    "Btw in the orthomolecular branch (at least over here) the RDI is regarded as being the absolute minimum one should take"

    From what I read (and frankly, I didn't know they'd switched to RDI until I started checking things out ) there are 4 different measurements that are grouped under RDI - the minimum recommended amounts and also what are considered toxic amounts (there were two others but I'm just home from work and too beat to look them up ). So one has to be careful on either end - find the right balance (does that seem to be a recurring theme? )

    " Maybe the yardsticks that are used to measure lack of B12 are inherently flawed."

    That reminds me of the "problem" of being left-handed - for years kids were forced to use their right hand instead of their left. Why? Because that was "normal". Lefties were considered somehow deficient and this had to be corrected. Once again - the "experts" trying make one size fit all.

    One other item to take note of - one often overlooked reason for B12 deficiency is parasites. Parasites will compete with our own bodies for the nutrients (including B12) that we need and can live in our bodies for years if not detected. Parasites (worms) can come from undercooked or raw meat/fish, water, pets, poor cleaning of vegetables, etc. Very seldom will a doctor even think about checking for that, and many people would actually be offended if it was suggested. Parasitic infestations can mimic many symptoms of other illnesses, and treating for those other illnesses does nothing to alleviate the real problem.
    Posted 12-15-2008 at 07:36 AM by ostarella ostarella is offline
  • Old Comment
    So true! Balance is a tough job to find sometimes! But we are definitely trying to get to the yin and yang of this issue ...

    And you're right about parasites, often overlooked but unfortunately still present in our modern society. In Europe people often 'import' all kinds of nasty bugs from holidays in tropical areas either because of the water or of the food. Is that also the case in the US?
    Posted 12-16-2008 at 02:08 AM by asmay asmay is offline
  • Old Comment
    Yes, it's true here as well. Travelers bring back a lot of unexpected "souvenirs"
    Posted 12-16-2008 at 07:55 AM by ostarella ostarella is offline
  • Old Comment
    You guys aren't disuading me from a tropical trip of my own - I think worms might really help me!

    It'd be my own kind of 'Bush Tucker Trial' - (it's when the IAC have to eat all sorts of bugs and 'bits'/organs - v funny to watch in a sadistic sort of way! YT it! )
    Posted 12-16-2008 at 08:38 AM by deebeelicious deebeelicious is offline
  • Old Comment
    Well, there's bugs and then there's ...bugs Kinda like mushrooms, maybe - some you can make a meal out of - and some will kill you. Just make sure you get the right ones
    Posted 12-16-2008 at 08:41 AM by ostarella ostarella is offline
  • Old Comment
    Can anyone point me to any good MB literature on this parasite issue? There has been some on candida / yeast overgrowth, but I have not seen much else in this arena, but I haven't had cause to look really either. Any pointers would be appreciated
    DeeBee natto is both sold as a condiment ( similar to marmite etc ) and Natto the traditional Japanese way which is a type of fermented soybeans. I think you were referring to the condiment but I wasn't sure. Both the fermented soy beans and Natto Miso the condiment as it is called (A delicious sweet and spicy condiment or chutney made of fermented whole soybeans, barley, and koji enzyme starter mixed with ginger root, slivers of kombu sea vegetable, barley malt syrup, pure water, and sea salt. Traditionally fermented. A great condiment on top of cooked grains and as a spread. ) from www.edenfoods.com
    are very good macrobiotically speaking.
    Posted 12-16-2008 at 01:29 PM by shastastar shastastar is offline
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