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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Where Do Gorillas Get Their Vitamin B12?

Termites: The Other, Other White Meat

Vitamin B12 is one of the two nutrients that are essential for human beings but aren’t available from a purely plant-based diet. The other is vitamin D, which isn’t truly a vitamin but is a hormone that your body can make for itself if you get some bright sunshine on your skin. Gorillas live in Africa, where there's no shortage of sunshine. The interesting question is where do they get their vitamin B12? Evidently, they get it from the insects and other creepy crawlies that they eat. Their favorites are termites--the other, other white meat.





As you can see, the gorillas just dismantle the tree where the termites are. That's probably why they don't bother using tools to fish for termites, like chimpanzees:




Except for vitamin D and vitamin B12, plants provide all the essential nutrients that people need. Plants contain minerals, such as calcium and iron, which they have absorbed from the soil. Plants contain all of the other vitamins and essential amino acids, which they have made for their own purposes. Plants are also the original source of the essential fatty acids. However, plants don’t make vitamin B12, and neither do animals. All of the vitamin B12 in nature comes from bacteria.

Some plant-eaters get their supply of vitamin B12 from the bacteria in their own digestive system, as long as they are eating something that contains the element cobalt. (Vitamin B12 contains cobalt). Cattle and sheep are particularly good at getting vitamin B12 from their own gut bacteria. They have a lot of bacterial fermentation going on in their stomachs, so the vitamin B12 is made before the food passes through the part of the intestine where the vitamin B12 gets absorbed. Such animals are called “foregut fermenters.”

Other species, including rabbits and gorillas and human beings, are “hindgut fermenters.” Their gut bacteria make vitamin B12, but only after the food has passed through the part of the intestine where the vitamin B12 can get absorbed. Rabbits solve this problem by eating some of their own droppings. Wild mountain gorillas sometimes do the same thing, usually during periods of bad weather. Captive gorillas do it a lot more often, possibly because they are bored.

On the other hand, gorillas and human beings can eat foods that already contain ready-made vitamin B12. For gorillas, that means tasty, tasty termites, which get vitamin B12 from their own gut bacteria. Modern human beings who don't want to eat termites, or any other animal products, can get their vitamin B12 from a nice, clean, and very cheap supplement. As long as their gastrointestinal system is healthy, people can even take their vitamin B12 by mouth. Vitamin B12 shots are useful for people who have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 from their food, because of gastrointestinal disease.

17 comments:

  1. Thanks! As a vegan, I've often wondered about gorillas. So that was useful info.

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    1. Ever since seeing the "Ask me where I get my protein" gorilla pic, I've wondered where gorillas got their B12. Thanks for clearing that up!

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. Gorillas do not obtain b12 from insects, they rarely eat insects and insects are too unpredictable of a food source, We currently think they get b12 from plants but this study work is on going.

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    1. The article mentions during winter they consume their own feces as supplement, like other animals. Also, no plant, animal or fungus produces B12, only bacteria. Check wiki B12 for more info.

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  5. Vitamin B12 requirements are very small, and vitamin B12 is tightly conserved within the body. Who are "we" who think that gorillas get B12 from plants, considering the plants do not contain significant amounts of B12?

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  6. Here is a useful link for the how B12 regulates our body functions. The study shows that B12 derived from our mothers even regulates our function.
    http://www.sanger.ac.uk/about/press/2014/140609.html

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    1. Interesting.

      By the way, all of the B12 that we got from our mother came originally from bacteria as well.

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    2. More interesting is that other animals except humans can support growth of these beneficial bacteria in their intestine. We have to eat meat or other products to get it. What an evolution.

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    3. Hey I found this the original study that shows how mothers affect our function by B12
      http://www.jci.org/articles/view/72606

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  7. I take a B12 supplement. The only people I know personally who have suffered from B12 deficiencies were NOT vegans but were suffering from a malabsorption syndrome.

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    1. Vegans are known to have B12 deficiency it is a fact. They just did not know what bodyb functions were affected. Bones, liver, cognition... symptoms vary depending on severity of deficiency.

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  8. Vitamin B12 supplements are recommended for vegans. The vitamin B12 that is in the supplements is made by bacteria. Since bacteria are not animals, I suppose that you could consider vitamin B12 tablets to be vegan.

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  9. Eating meat for B12 is akin to drinking milk for calcium. Both are wrong pathways for the intended nutrient. Our physiological diet will take care of our mineral, vitamin, protein, and other needs. On a diet of fruits, vegetables, salads and some nuts it is impossible to be deficient in protein, calcium, B12, fiber, trance elements and what not. Of course stand in the sun for your vitamin D

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  10. It is theoretically possible to get a vitamin B12 deficiency on a plant-based diet, which is why vitamin B12 supplements are recommended for people who eat no animal products at all. Of course, most cases of vitamin B12 deficiency occur in people who eat meat. The usual cause of vitamin B12 deficiency is malabsorption due to disease of the stomach and subsequent lack of secretion of intrinsic factor. https://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2007nl/nov/b12.htm

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  11. today we are sick as a species because of our foggy ideas of health, optimum diet, vitamin, protein, carbohydrate, and mineral requirements. I can list these follies
    * concentrating on obtaining beef, pork, fish, chicken protein rather than raw amino acids, the building blocks for human protein
    *depending on a cow for our calcium needs
    * depending on fish for our essential fatty acid requirements (how on earth did this primate evolve to depend on deep sea fish for EFAs)

    we will NEVER find a cure to obesity, cancer, diabetes, all chronic diseases as long as we have muddled thinking like this

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