Vanity thought #438. Deficiency

My mom saw a program about vegetarianism on TV and immediately contacted me with their findings – vegetarians suffer from deficiency of vitamin B12 and need to take it via supplements. If they don’t they will develop all kinds of symptoms including numbness in their fingers.

I replied that this is nonsense but she defended their position so I had to do a little research on the subject.

The most comprehensive, long term research into relations between diet and health had been done in China and concluded about a decade ago, it was summarized in a book called “China Study”, published in 2004. I haven’t personally read it though I’ve seen numerous references to it. The study is generally favorable towards vegetarianism but even those supporting its conclusions still recommend taking B12 supplements. What is going on there?

My first question was – where did these doctors on TV found vegetarians with numb fingers? I’ve never heard of such thing. This symptom is not listed neither on wikipedia nor webmd, prime sites for this kind of information. According to them B12 deficiency is a very serious matter that can lead to death. Next question – where did they find vegetarians who died because they didn’t take their vitamins?

Turns out they didn’t. The study commissioned by the US Department of Agriculture found that 40% of Americans suffer low levels of B12 and 10% have levels below threshold for deficiency. That’s why they know all the symptoms – this condition is very well documented but not in vegetarians!

I found only one study specifically targeting vegetarians but it was done on a much smaller sample and, looking at the low levels of B12 found in general population, not indicative of anything in particular.

B12 is produced by bacteria living mostly in soil, no animals produce it on their own, they get it when they eat dirty grass and that’s how it eventually transfers to meat eaters.

One “scientist” proposed that B12 deficiency in third world countries like India is not a problem because people there don’t wash their hands and don’t wash their vegetables. People living in the hygienic West, however, have to take it as a supplement.

Interestingly, one pro-vegan scientist discovered that B12 producing bacteria can be found in human mouths. Now I’m waiting for someone to counteract that Indians don’t suffer from B12 deficiency because they don’t brush their teeth.

This is simply ridiculous.

What is being missed, however, is that meat consumption is not correlated to levels of B12 at all, if it’s correlated to anything it’s to drinking lots of milk. Among the general population instances of B12 deficiency are cut in half for those who consume a lot of milk and dairy products, those in the top third of milk drinkers.

This should settle all arguments about us, Hare Krishnas, being in danger of B12 deficiency.

As for supplements – they are the most effective way to get your B12 but it is not a guarantee – generally the deficiency is not caused by the lack of B12 in one’s diet, it’s caused by the body refusing to properly process it.

Normally B12 is deposited in the liver and then the liver regulates its release into the bloodstream and normally the liver has enough B12 to last for up to twenty years. I’m absolutely positive that no scientist ever interviewed vegetarians (actually vegans – those who don’t take milk) and found that many of them have no tactile feelings in their fingers. This stuff on TV is nonsense.

There’s another angle to B12 story – it is known that it’s produced by bacteria in our bowels but it’s believed that this B12 is not reaching the liver. I think we shouldn’t discount the possibility that our bodies can adjust themselves to absorb this wasteful B12 when faced with a clear deficiency. I don’t think this should be considered an impossibility – starvation, for example, can lead to all kinds of abnormal changes in our bodies management of scarce resources. I’m not a doctor but this question is bound to make our opponents to pause and think, I don’t think even qualified doctors can rule out that possibility on the spot.

The first deficiency in these debates, however, is personal integrity and adherence to the facts. At school I was taught that scientific inquery is objective and honest and people of my generation still operate under such premises but in the modern world facts don’t matter anymore, what matters is perceptions and the force with which participants are able to state their opinions.

The strength of reason and logic has been replaced by the strength of personal conviction, and, increasingly, by the number of converted followers. Simply speaking – truth can be outvoted.

So, before one wishes to engage in an argument over merits of vegetarianism or any other subject one should first estimate the possibility of the other side accepting facts and altering their position. Quite often this possibility is so low that we can’t really expect a positive outcome.

We can jump on the bandwagon and use the opportunity to canvass more people for our side rather than try to defeat falsehoods propagated by our opponents.

Actually, this is how preaching works, too. We can’t establish Krishna’s position as the Supreme Personality of Godhead on the strength of facts, logic, and reason. We cannot defeat demoniac persons denying His divinity by arguments alone, we can win only if people listening to us make a leap of faith, their illusion is not going to dissipate by any other means. Maya Devi can lift her veil only if they put faith in Krishna, without faith she will continue to supply the demons with self-convincing arguments for the rest of their lives.

I think this is a very profound realization, if one truly acquires it, for it allows one to see beyond the external obstacles and see right into the hearts of those we try to preach to. If we can’t reach their hearts we fail in our mission no matter how learned and logical we appear to ourselves and everyone else.

We can learn a lot of things that could be helpful in our mission but if we don’t learn how to reach people’s hearts then all this education is a waste of time.

Speaking straight to the hearts of people with a humble and sincere desire to reconnect them to Krishna is our only deficiency, not B12.

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