Vitamin B12 is a large and complex vitamin. A slight deficiency of it can lead to anemia, fatigue, mania, and depression. Are you deficient in B12? Many are. I recently learned that my mother-in-law, a healthy, active 75-year-old who eats well balanced diet, has a vitamin B12 deficiency. As a dietitian, I was surprised to learn this.
Vitamin B12 has been recognized for its importance in the world of science and nutrition. Over the past 80 years, three Nobel Prizes have been awarded for research related to this vitamin. The first was awarded in 1934 for the discovery that liver, a food high in B12, could be used to treat a particular type of anemia (pernicious anemia). B12 was next recognized when the exact structure of this vitamin was discovered. The third Nobel came for the discovery of the intrinsic factor, which is a substance in the stomach that helps our bodies absorb B12.
There are a few things to pay attention to regarding this vitamin. First, stomach acid helps “unlock” B12 so that we can absorb it. As we age, the amount of acid we have in our stomach is reduced and as a result, our ability to absorb B12 is reduced. It is recommended all Americans over age 50 consume 25-100 mcg supplemental B12 per day. This should be in the form of a supplement, rather than from foods, because the type of B12 in supplements and some fortified foods do not require acid to absorb.
You may be well under 50 and think this doesn’t apply, but multiple diet trends may mean you’re missing out on the benefits of B12. Perhaps you’ve cut back on beef, liver, eggs or shellfish in an attempt to reduce your cholesterol. These are all foods that are high in B12. Vegetarian diets miss out on the B12 in meats and fish. Vegan diets miss out on the B12 in dairy products and eggs, and certain ethnicities that do not consume much dairy may be at risk of running low on it as well.
What can you do to lower your risk for B12 deficiency? If you are a meat-eater, you could include up to six ounces of lean red meat per day as suggested by the American Heart Association. If you are vegetarian, most of your B12 can come from milk, dairy products, and eggs. Vegans above age 50 can look to fortified foods or supplements to ensure adequate intake.
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Written By Staff Contributor: Tony Law, RD