The Case of the Distressed Vegan
Blue Green Algae and Spirulina Block B-12 Absorption
By Anita Sands Hernandez
Note: Responses are invited. Please submit to
A fellow poster at my favorite Homestead List asked our chat circle for help for a woman who was not capable of sleeping more than an hour at a time. She was hysterical, depressed, panicky. Well, who of us wouldn't be without a good night's sleep?
Without any other stress in her life, the woman had begun to have this insomnia, and then to lose weight, until she was weighing in at around 95 pounds. Think BIRD-like.
Her doctor had given her anti-depressants yet she continued to wake from fitful naps in an hysterical and sleep-deprived state. She was of basically sound mind, not insane, and not having other "life problems." The first assumption was that it was just a lack of sleep which was making her feel ragged.
Now, here is the scary part. The woman was totally Vegan. Reading this post, I turned as always, to an expert, my friend Bill, the holistic researcher; a guy who sits on the Net for 20 hours at a time, downloading files from holistic websites. I asked him for some herbal sleep/anxiety and depression aids. Bill answered by email:
"A Prescription drug called 'Klonopin' (clonazepam) might be indicated. Klonopin is a benzodiazepine -- prescribed for generalized anxiety disorder -- and stormy brainwaves in general. It works well -- and has minimal side effects at low doses.
It sounds like she has a clinical grade "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" -- and Klonopin is often prescribed for this condition.
Klonopin's half-life is up to 50 hrs as compared to 27 for Xanax and even less for Valium so you might want to go with a 'lite' pill. Klonopin also has one of the highest dependence liabilities of all of the benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety drugs). Zoloft might be a good choice but some people become depressed on it. Nonetheless, Zoloft is called 'an anti-depressant' and it is being used for depression. So, if her doctor is a paperhanger, she can play around with these avenues.
But what if the woman is not basically depressed but just has a panic anxiety sleep disorder? On the non-prescription front there is Kava Kava, St. John's Wort and valerian, for anti-anxiety. (Anxiety can make you depressed because it takes your energy.) Some people report that St. John's Wort can CAUSE agitation, so one might want to take it only after a sleep problem is solved. Also, after major trauma in the person's life passes away.
Bear in mind that many anti-depressants CREATE insomnia when they are pulled, so one would want to be cautious about starting up with them.
For that reason, if one wanted a non-chemical approach, also effective, and possibly long-term, try EMDR -- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. (Article excerpt:) Re: EMDR -- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing from the Mind, The Brain, Memory, and Trauma -- by David A. Lee "The Trauma Resolution Technique EMDR (Butler, K., 1993; Shapiro, 1995) appears to support the theory that interhemispheric communication deficits are a component of PTSD. In EMDR, the client is instructed to hold an image of the traumatic event in their mind and make their eyes move rapidly back and forth rapidly. As they do this, they experience changes in their emotions, beliefs about the trauma and themselves, and the visual representation of the memory.
Although the underlying neurobiological process is still unknown, it is hard not to note its similarity to REM eye movement exhibited during dreaming. It has long been held that dreaming is involved in learning and memory consolidation. Perhaps during both dreaming and EMDR, each hemisphere is activated through the eye movements. Saccadic eye movement alternates hemispheric activation. This may result in the accessing of memory components stored in each hemisphere and then the transferring of this information across the corpus callosum. This would allow for integration and resolution. Although this is still within the realm of speculation, it fits with the theory that alexithymia and post-traumatic stress disorder are related and involve interhemispheric communication deficits."
Bill also cited some URLS: < <
Apparently, he then spotted the part of my letter where I described how the Vegan reported that her face, fingers, and toes were numb. This clue provoked another email:
"Hyperventilation causes "tetany" -- and tetany is experienced as "peripheral numbness". Tetany results from metabolic alkalosis -- AKA: respiratory alkalosis. Carbon Dioxide is acidic. If we hyper-breathe, we get high in oxygen and get the distaff side; we get alkalosis. If she has an unconscious, low-grade "hyperventilation syndrome" -- as an anxiety reaction to her stressful life situations -- she could be experiencing "tetany numbness".
Hyperventilation: According to the standard Western medical work on hyperventilation, The Hyperventilation Syndrome: Research and Clinical Treatment, (Robert Fried, 1987, The Johns Hopkins University Press), hyperventilation is not defined in terms of "bellows" breathing or any other outwardly obvious form of breathing, but rather by parameters of blood gases:
'While acute hyperventilation is readily observable in most persons, chronic hyperventilation may be quite subtle, and its effects may not invariably be obvious.... My clinical experience has been that it is much more likely that a person with no overt dyspnea [labored breathing] may be hyperventilating than that a person with typical signs [the symptoms below] is, in fact, not doing so.... When this increased ventilation results in a change in the level of carbon dioxide in the blood, the person is said to hyperventilate. Hyperventilation may be accompanied by physical and/or mental symptoms due to changes in the oxygen transport system, changes in circulation to the brain, and neural and cardiovascular adjustments to low carbon dioxide (hypcapnia)." pps.6-8 Signs or symptoms of hyperventilation syndrome [either advanced or chronic hyperventilation] include:
* "initially, there is a slight transient tremor of the eyelids and facial
musculature -- usually one side only (and typically the right side);
* tremors are replaced by muscular rigidity in the face and hands -- the
lips form a circle, close against the teeth, thumb and fingers are
extended; the width of the hand is reduced to the 'obstetrician's hand'
configuration [claw-like];
* if hyperpnea [overbreathing] is discontinued at this point, no rigidity
is noted in other parts of the body;
* lightheadedness, giddiness
* fainting, syncope [blackout] * headache [including onset of migraine]
* blurred vision
* tremors, twitching [including tetany, powerful spasmodic contractions of
tonic muscles, and epileptic-like seizures]
* numbness, tingling, prickling (paresthesia)
* chest pain, discomfort
* nausea
* vomiting
* abdominal pain
* lump in the throat
* dry mouth
* difficulty breathing
* weakness, exhaustion
* apprehension, nervousness" (op. cit., pps. 58-60).'
The symptoms appear to mimic aspects of both epilepsy and panic attacks. ---- from: <
The Solution: (1) Stop hyperventilating! This may not be easy -- but Klonopin might do the job... , or: (2) she should reverse the over-alkalinity in her blood. Her doctors may be working on this -- if they've thought of it (don't bet on it). Calcium and/or magnesium and/or potassium may be required. The best absorbed minerals are the "orotate" forms, recently made available (again) in the U.S. by LifeLink Company -- call toll-free 1-888-433-5266. They have lithium, zinc, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and "Osteo" Orotates."
He then cited another URL: <"
I was copying these URLs in my notebook when the next email came. Bill had already noticed other clues in my text. His Rx continued:
"Being a vegan, your friend may already be a "borderline alkalosis" case. One possible remedy -- Vinegar and Honey tea -- or Vinegar and black-strap Molasses. The local Santa Monica CO-OP has certified-organic-grade "Sucanat brand" molasses. They also have organic-grade apple cider vinegar."
Researchers say that alkalosis balance must be established by testing. If someone were desperate and didn't want to pay a lab costly fees, one safe and easy way to test the body's acid/ alkali balance is to take a shot of bicarbonate of soda, no more than one tsp., a dose which wouldn't hurt a fly, unless that fly had high blood pressure as it does have sodium... but drop that sodium in water, drink it down and see how one feels. She'll know in ten minutes if that hit of an alkalii soothes her. This is an empirical experiment, a do it yourself experiment.
If one felt no different, the opposite test would be to take two teaspons of vinegar in a cup of water and see how they felt. One will surely make them feel better, the other worse.
That will establish the body's PH balance. If her health is then restored, she wouldn't have to worry with any other tests."
"What other tests," I shot him back. The answer zipped back to me.
"There are two other possibilities: Her stressful life situation could have also uncovered an underlying vitamin B-12 deficiency -- which causes "peripheral neuropathy". This can be perceived as numb face, fingers, and toes.
Or,, as she is a total vegan, remember, Vegans (people who don't even drink milk or use cheese) are at risk for a B-12 deficiency -- especially if they eat algae such as spirulina."
I waited for the other shoe to drop. Silence. I hunched over my keyboard and typed, "what the heck are you saying? Spirulina is God's gift to man, isn't it?" I punched 'SEND.'
"Not necessarily," came the reply. " Spirulina (and some seaweeds, including nori) contain vitamin B-12 'analogues' which clog the body's B-12 receptors and block most of the body's absorbtion of the real vitamin B-12 molecule. This is an established and verified scientific fact. An ocassional, very low-cost B-12 injection would prevent this algae-diet problem (!) from becoming a disease.
"The liver can store several year's worth of B-12 -- but if the supply of B-12 is cut off -- such as by frequent Spirulina ingestion -- eventually nerve damage slowly appears. This nerve damage is reversable if caught in time -- by the re-establishment of B-12 levels in the body. This is not always the same as "re-establishment of (alleged) availability in the diet".
Did you know -- Vitamin B-12 is a natural MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) and therefore a natural "psychiatric" remedy. However, B-12 has a very low profit margin -- so don't wait for your doctor to offer it for lifting your mood. Too much of that type of prescribing, and the Prozac salesmen would blacklist him damned quick, and he knows it. There are "sublingual" forms of vitamin B-12. The very best B-12 is the very new 'Bioactive B12' currently available only from Enzymatic Therapy brand. Their 1,000 mcg. sublingual tablet is bioactive "methylcobalamin" (rather than non-bioactive cyanocobalamin, made partly of toxic cyanide.) Get Enzymatic instead. 30 tabs list for $6.95. Keep it sealed and refrigerated !!!
In medical testing done so far, methylcobalamin has shown effect in treating peripheral neuropathy in diabetics, as well as diabetic retinopathy. Also in treating Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, and circadian rhythm disorders.
These phony B-12's should be off the market. Cyanide is sort of a toxin, nevertheless, cyanocobalamin is easier to make and sell than methyl B-12. Your body labors to convert the common cyanocobalamin into the forms it actually requires: (1) Hydroxocobalamin, (2)Methylcobalamin (mecobal), and (3) Adenosylcobalamin (dibencozide). Injectable Hydroxocobalamin WAS available -- and was a becoming known as a powerful AIDS remedy, until the FDA ordered it taken off the market a while back. Strange timing -- it was also simultaneously banned in Europe."
By the way, those who read this article should search for compounding phamarcies in the Yellow Pages and let us at the web-site know if you find additional sources for methylcobalamin. AKA: methyl B12, mecobalamin, methylcobal, mecobal, methylcoenzyme B12. And of course, injectable methylcobalamin, by prescription, and arrangement with your doctor, of course. We'd like to tell people where they can find it.
Back to our panicky Vegan. In Bill's last post, he said:
"The last possibility is that a Vegan really has a protein deficiency. It is difficult to get all the amino acids out of the vegetable kingdom. People of Northern European descent are simply not capable of doing that efficiently. Their digestion is not up to it. Even Vegan George Bernard Shaw took powdered Liver extract.
"A good test for a Vegan who felt poorly would be to eat Sardines with olive oil, or enjoy melted, clarified butter (ghee) on vegetables and to simply see if he or she felt better after a week on a richer diet.
"How long has your friend been using Algae/Spirulina? The liver can only store vitamin B-12 for three to five years -- and sometimes considerably less. Taking Multiple B vitamins by mouth will NOT help -- if she continues to take Spirulina, etc.! The B-12 "analogues" in algaes, etc. will block most or all B-12 absorbtion from the diet or oral supplements, even if the B-12 is taken at a different time of day !!! (see attachment)
Sublingual type B-12 may (or may NOT) help -- but any help from sublingual B-12 will be very SLOW. She may have too serious a B-12 deficiency to risk delay -- see article excerpt below !!! Even if her symptoms subside (as her PTSD symptoms resolve) -- she should have her doctor (ideally a Hematologist?) order several blood tests to "rule out" a diagnosis of B-12 deficiency (see article excerpt #2, below).
Therapy -- if indicated by diagnostic testing -- should then consist of a SERIES of B-12 injections over several months to replenish the liver's normal B-12 storage levels. B-12 is entirely non-toxic -- and the MAOI anti-depressant effect will be a very pleasant side effect. Any anemia will be alleviated, resulting in increased red bood cells -- meaning more hemoglobin and oxygen to the body and brain.
If testing indicates -- she should consider vitamin B-12 injections as desirable, positive, and required. Unfortunately, Cyanocobalamin is the only injectable B-12 (commonly) available, as far as I know.
Hydroxocobalamin or Methylcobalamin injections would be much preferred -- but don't hesitate to accept Cyanocobalamin injections, if necessary. The minute amount of cyanide molecules in cyanocobalamin has never been known to have harmed anyone.
Cyanacobalamin has always been in many of the foods avoided by vegans, so it's a natural, harmless, and 100% essential part of the "normal" diet. One last point: If she is treated for a B-12 deficiency, she should be retested several months thereafter -- to "rule out" several very rare B-12 deficiency syndromes that require the use of only Hydroxocobalamin or Methylcobalamin injections.
Read carefully the following:
Article #1 excerpt: "Deficiencies. Stages of deficiencies include: I (early) - lower serum holotranscobalamin (holoTC II) (<60 pg/ml); II - lower serum vitamin B-12 (<300 pg/ml) and holoTC II (<40 pg/ml); III - serum vitamin B-12 < 200 pg/ml and holoTC II <40 pg/ml, neutrophil hypersegmentation, elevated homocysteine and methylmalonic acid; IV (severest) - also megaloblastic, macrocytic anemia.
Around Stage III (before anemia) there may be potentially irreversible demyelination of spinal cord, brain and optic and peripheral nerves which produces peripheral neuropathy progressing to subacute combined degeneration. Early symptoms may be dementia, poor attention span and depression." -- from: <
Article #2 excerpt "...should have B-12 status determined by measurement of serum levels of vitamin B-12, homo-cysteine, and holotranscobalamin (holo TC II). Holo TC II will be low before any other tests for negative B-12 status become low (see our 1994 paper in American Journal of Clincal Nutrition on assessing B-12 status)." -- from letter by Victor Herbert, M.D., J.D.
Noah's Dove < wrote: "As reported in the International Journal of Neuroscience, there is a strong correlation between Vitamin B12 deficency and the possible onset of multiple-sclerois. B-12 deficency may "render the patient more vulnerable to viral mechanisms." Thus, the B-12 in AFA is one very important and natural way to boost the immune system and protect the body agains such viral invasions." Quote from the book by Prof. Karl J. Abrams.
Bill typed the following comment. "If that's really true, then for sure MS patients must stay away from the blue-green algae everyone is selling today. Blue-green algae synthesize B-12 analogs that have no nutritional activity and may even block the absorption of "true" B-12 by occupying the receptor sites for B-12 absorption. "
I sat back stunned, then fell to studying a file he'd put together about that subject. I reprint it here:
Dr. Victor Herbert, MD, on BLUE-GREEN ALGAE. Copyright 1996, Mark Thorson:
[An analog (or "analogue") is a molecule that is a modified form of another molecule. For example, heroin and codeine are analogs of morphine. There are analogs of vitamin B-12 which do not contribute toward nutritional vitamin B-12 activity, and they may even block absorption of "true" B-12 by occupying the receptor sites for the IF/B-12 complex.]
Quoting in whole an April 26, 1995 letter to Sharon Gordon, Consumer Complaint Coordinator, FDA (Philadelphia District) from Victor Herbert, MD, a leading scientist on vitamins and nutritional diseases (and also author of additional quotes which follow on non-nutritional analogs of vitamin B-12):
"Dear Ms. Gordon:" "I received a copy of the April 18 letter to you from attorney XXX on the above subject. This is to advise both you and him that many algae products are falsely represented as containing vitamin B-12. As we published a decade ago in The New England Journal of Medicine, they contain only analogs of B-12, and no human-active B-12."
"Analogs of B-12 are worthless, and possibly harmful, to humans. One of the harms they may produce, in patients with negative B-12 balance (which is very possible in (your client,) a Type I diabetic, age (X), is to accelerate the development of B-12 deficiency neuropathy in feet, legs, and hands. XXX should see a neurologist to determine if he has B12-deficient neuropathy." XXX should have his B-12 status determined by measurement of his serum levels of vitamin B-12, homo-cysteine, and holotranscobalamin (holo TC II). Holo TC II will be low before any other tests for negative B-12 status become low (see our 1994 paper in American Journal of Clincal Nutrition on assessing B-12 status).
If the Cell Tech product: a. contains analogs of B-12, and, b. its label does not contain a consumer warning stating, 'WARNING: contains vitamin B-12 analogs but no vitamin B-12. Do not take this product unless your vitamin B-12 status has been evaluated by a responsible health professional and found to be normal', then it is my perception that the seller has violated product liability law, i.e., he has a duty to warn, and he failed to warn." "Sincerely," [signed] "Victor Herbert, M.D., J.D."
Quoting from "Staging vitamin B-12 (cobalamin) status in vegetarians", American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, volume 59 (supplement), pages 1213S-1222S:
"About one-third of the 'vitamin B-12' in serum is, in fact, not cobalamins (which are all forms of vitamin B-12 that are active for humans), but other corrinoids that are metabolically dead for humans but active for bacteria. Thus, many microbiologic assays may find normal 'vitamin B-12' concentrations in vitamin B-12-deficient people because the assay is reading as vitamin B-12 what is in fact noncobalamin corrinoids."
Quoting from "Vitamin B-12: Plant Sources, Requirements, and Assay", American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 48, pages 852-858:
"Vitamin B-12 is of singular interest in any discussion of vegetarian diets because this vitamin is not found in plant foods as are other vitamins. Confusion about what sources may yield vitamin B-12 to strict vegetarians has arisen because the standard US Pharmacopeia (USP) assay for vitamin B-12 does not assay only vitamin B-12. In the USP method the content of vitamin B-12 of any given food is determined by making a water extract of that food and feeding the extract to a bacterium (Lactobacillus leichmannii). The quantity of vitamin B-12 is determined by the amount of bacterial growth. The problem is that what is active vitamin B-12 for bacteria is not necessarily active vitamin B-12 for humans. Many of the papers in the literature give values of vitamin B-12 in food that are false because as much as 80% of the activity by this method is due to inactive analogues of vitamin B-12."
"We studied several types of tempeh, including Original Soy Tempeh, a Rhizobus oligosporus culture with a label claim of 160% of the US RDA for vitamin B-12 per 4 oz.
Using the differential radioassay we found there was practically no vitamin B-12 in it."
"We also studied most of the spirulinas sold in health food stores as sources of vitamin B-12; there is practically no vitamin B-12 in them. The so-called vitamin B-12 is almost exclusively analogues of vitamin B-12 and we have extracted the two largest peaks of analogues and they actually block vitamin B-12 metabolism. We suspect that people taking spirulina as a source of vitamin B-12 may get vitamin B-12 deficiency quicker because the analogues in the product block human mammilian cell metabolism in culture and we suspect they will also do this in the living human. Remember that the label claim of vitamin B-12 is actually a claim of corrinoid content, not vitamin B-12 content."
Quoting from "Spirulina and Vitamin B-12", Journal of the American Medical Association, volume 248, number 23, pages 3096-3097: "A current health food fad involves tablets of Spirulina, a genus of blue-green algae belonging to the family Oscillatoriaceae of the division Cyanophyta, represented in the health food literature to contain large amounts of vitamin B-12."
"We subjected three popular brands of 500-mg Spirulina tablets to both the United States Pharmacopeia microbiologic assay for vitamin B-12 and the vitamin B-12 radioassay method we recently applied to multivitamin pills."
"Microbiologic assay would lead one to believe that 500-mg Spirulina_tablets contain about 0.25 to 1 microgram of vitamin B-12 per tablet, but radioassays, using R binder to measure the total of (cobalamins plus cobalamin analogues) and intrinsic factor to measure cobalamins alone (ie, 'true B-12'), suggest that more than 80% of what appears to be 'vitamin B-12' by microbiologic assay is in fact analogues of B-12."
"Elsewhere, we reported that 10% to 30% of the vitamin B-12 activity in multivitamin/mineral pills may be analogues created by the antioxidant actions of iron, vitamin C, and other ingredients in the pills. In all of these preparations, there was more true B-12 than analogues; in Spirulina, the reverse was the case. These findings are consistent with studies three decades ago, indicating that sewage and other organisms make a variety of vitamin B-12 analogues that have no vitamin B-12 activity for humans, ..."
What this means is that the origin of Cobalimine analogues (the unwanted bad guys) in animal chow and human tissue --are unknown. Scientists are investigating the possibility that cobalimine might convert to cobalimine analogues. These vitamins are useless and only befuddle and clog and fool the B-12 receptors in the body. They are absorbed in the intestines and appear in the bloodstream yet FAIL to do their B-12 WORK!. So, "stress vitamins", B-Complex and the like may end up inhibiting all B-12 utilization. Which means that Multi-vitamins could be the reason people are going crazy and begging for Prozac.
Some Studies suggested the analogues were formed due to the concerted action of B-12 mixed with Thiamine B-1 with copper or Vitamin C. It will not happen as much if you take B-12 alone. Take B-12 alone if you want to get your money's worth. Methylcobalamine. Enzymatic therapy bio-active B-12 just to be sure."
I posted the whole thing to my Homestead group, sat back and had a Spam milkshake, my favorite ex-Vegan treat on a cold autumn night and thought. Boy, IS THAT A TRIP! Sewer sludge is better for you than BLUE GREEN ALGAE! Thank GOD for the INTERNET. But don't take my word for it. For those of you kiddies who want to be holistic researchers when you grow up, Do a SEARCH ON: B-12 and diet; Algae & B-12; B-12 & analogue; B-12 & deficiency; ALSO CHECK URL: and
Do your homework, tote those bales, search those URLS and make up your mind, yourself!
Anita Sands Hernandez

Email Homepage