Node Smith, ND

A major discovery about vitamin B12 may have significant impact to improve the vitamin content of some vegetarian and vegan diets.1 Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is typically supplemented in vegan and vegetarian diets (or consumed through fortified products) because it is not readily available from plant sources. Plants don’t make B12 because they don’t need it.

Plants don’t make B12

B12 is unique amongst all other vitamins in that it is actually made by specific bacteria and only then does it make its way into more complex organisms.

Common garden cress able to take up cobalamin

But a team of researchers has found that common garden cress is able to take up cobalamin. Garden cress was seen to absorb B12 in a degree dependent on the amount within its growth medium. Confirmation of B12 uptake was shown by analyzing the leaves.

This important discovery may assist in overcoming nutritional deficiencies in vegetarian and vegan populations

This is an important discovery that could help overcome nutritional obstacles in vegetarian and vegan populations, especially in other countries. India, for example, is a country with a high percentage of vegetarians who may struggle to get adequate levels of B12. As many people also move toward a vegetarian diet for political or ethical reasons, ensuring adequate vitamin levels will be increasingly important.

The researchers grew garden cress in a growth medium containing various concentrations of B12 for 7 days. At the end of the week the leaves were analyzed for the vitamin. The seedlings were noted to have absorbed the vitamin and stored it in the leaves. Confirmation of this phenomenon was done by using a tagged vitamin B12 that emits fluorescent light under a laser. The tagged B12 showed that the vitamin was indeed accumulating in the vacuoles of the leaves.

Side note

On a side note, other aspects of this research reflects future promise for using vitamin B12 in parasitic infections. The researchers also looked at how B12 is absorbed by worms. Worms use a different absorption method than mammals and there is a possibility of utilizing this difference to treat worm-based infections such as hookworms.


  1. Lawrence, Andrew D. et al. Construction of Fluorescent Analogs to Follow the Uptake and Distribution of Cobalamin (Vitamin B12) in Bacteria, Worms, and Plants. Cell Chemical Biology May 2018.
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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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