Coconut Water Kefir – Latest Unproven Source of Vitamin B12

[Update August 16, 2013: It appears I messed this up. Tonix was not claiming their product contains B12, only that the Lactobacillus and Bifidis in their product prodcuce B12. I have since learned that there is evidence that Lactobacillus produces B12 (see Lactobacillus species). There is evidence to suggest that vegans should not rely on Lactobacillus for keeping their vitamin B12 status healthy, but this company's claims may very well be correct.]

To make a long story short, I recently became aware of a mainstream vegan who was relying on coconut kefir water for vitamin B12, and another vegan who did not immediately recognize the problems with this idea.

On their website, the company Tonix makes the following claim about their coconut water kefir:

“This product is brisling with Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, which creates awesome intestinal flora, digestion and production of B-6, B12, K, niacin and folic acid.”

I wrote them on March 6:

Someone brought it to my attention that Tonix claims that its coconut keifer contains vitamin B12. I see on your website that you say that Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria are the source of vitamin B12. I’m writing to let you know that those bacteria do not produce vitamin B12 and that there is no reason to think that coconut keifer would contain vitamin B12.

If you are interested in more information on vitamin B12 in plant foods, please see this article:

veganhealth.org/b12/plant

I hope you will correct the information on your website and I look forward to your response.

I never heard back and the info is still up as of March 31, so I decided to publicly warn vegans about this claim.

15 Responses to “Coconut Water Kefir – Latest Unproven Source of Vitamin B12”

  1. Jeannie Says:

    It looks like Tonix misspelled “bristling”, so I wouldn’t worry too much about misspelling “kefir.” Thank you for alerting us to this issue…there’s so much nutritional misinformation out there, every little bit of clarification helps!

  2. Nadine Says:

    Reminds me of the person at a health food store who told me I should not rely on those “dangerous man-made toxic B12 tablets” and instead take probiotics and be more “natural”. When I informed her that the probiotics do not produce B12 she told me that B12 is found naturally in our colons and we can help our body “make more” by taking probiotics. I countered with the fact that that B12 is too low in our tracts to be of use. She told me I was wrong and walked away.

    It’s really unfortunate, but keep on spreading the word because people need to learn!

  3. rick Says:

    If Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria make B12, and this product contains these bacteria, then it seems to me that the company has made no false claims. Similarly, if the product contains “numerous strains of highly beneficial bacteria and minerals” as they claim, and one of the minerals is cobalt, and some of those bacteria produce B12, then they are not making a false claim. From what I can see, they do not state that the B12 from this source is bio-available, nor do they state that their product contains B12.

    Either way they are misleading their customers because people will likely infer that they can absorb the vitamin.

    Would you please tell me which bacteria in the presence of cobalt produce B12?

    Thanks.

  4. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Rick,

    My point was that those bacteria do not produce vitamin B12. Here is info on some bacteria that do:

    veganhealth.org/b12/vegansources

    “Streptomyces griseus, a bacterium once thought to be a yeast, was the commercial source of vitamin B12 for many years (8, 9). The bacteria Propionibacterium shermanii and Pseudomonas denitrificans have now replaced S. griseus (10). At least one company, Rhone Poulenc Biochimie of France, is using a genetically engineered microorganism to produce B12 (11).”

  5. Mindy Says:

    Is this a false claim?
    http://www.spirulinacrunchies.us/All_About_Spirulina.html

  6. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Mindy,

    I hate to say it, but that page would make a good Onion article. As for the B12, you should not rely on spirulina for vitamin B12 as the only studies testing it showed B12 status to become worse upon a combination of spirulina and nori supplementation:

    http://veganhealth.org/b12/meas#DAG91

    Vegans should not rely on *anything* except fortified foods and supplements for vitamin B12.

  7. Saheli Says:

    Hi,
    I was interested in finding out what you think of these two studies:
    http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09637480600968735
    and
    http://jb.asm.org/content/185/18/5643
    which indicate that certain strains of Lactobacillus *do* produce b12? Am I missing something?

  8. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Saheli,

    http://jacknorrisrd.com/lactobacillus-for-vitamin-b12/

  9. Jack Norris RD Says:

    I should adjust my letter above since it appears that perhaps some Lactobacillus species do create vitamin B12. I still think that’s a long way from knowing that their product contains vitamin B12.

  10. Leon Says:

    What I don’t understand is if “b12 is too low in our colons to be of use” then how do people who eat animal products make use of it? Unless of course they eat animal intestines, which I doubt. (for most of the population) Not to mention how do animals get their b12? Some say ‘from the greens that they eat” but not all animals are grass-fed, really.

    The research is inconclusive at best, so I find these warnings towards vegans (and vegetarians) uncalled for, and I sincerely doubt the point is just to help. Sounds more like animal eaters trying to prove a point. Just saying.

  11. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Leon,

    > if “b12 is too low in our colons to be of use” then how do people who eat animal products make use of it?

    Because when you eat vitamin B12, it travels through your small intestines where it can be absorbed.

    > Not to mention how do animals get their b12?

    It depends on the animal. See here for a very brief discussion of various animal species:

    http://veganhealth.org/b12/animal

    > The research is inconclusive at best, so I find these warnings towards vegans (and vegetarians) uncalled for, and I sincerely doubt the point is just to help. Sounds more like animal eaters trying to prove a point. Just saying.

    I don’t know who or what you’re referring to exactly, but you might want to know that I’m the President of one of the most active organizations in the world promoting veganism, Vegan Outreach. In addition to our organization, the Vegan Society in the UK, as well as most other mainstream organizations promoting veganism all agree that Western vegans need to supplement with vitamin B12 or they are most likely headed towards deficiency that could at some point cause health problems. The data on this is relatively conclusive.

  12. Leon Says:

    Jack,

    I do appreciate the followup. My response wasn’t intended specifically for you, but to someone who said B12 is too low in our colons to be of use. Maybe if everyone cited their sources like you did, the whole thing would be more credible. I’ll make sure to check out the info that you mentioned. I do think it’s safe to supplement and I do, but despite all the reading that I have done so far, I can’t help but think the whole thing is far feom black and white.

  13. Mikek Says:

    kimchi is better for b12

  14. brian Says:

    Do you know of any combination of fermented foods that would give sufficient B12?

  15. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Brian,

    > Do you know of any combination of fermented foods that would give sufficient B12?

    I don’t. This might explain it for you:

    http://jacknorrisrd.com/fermented-foods-and-vitamin-b12/

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