Are You Taking Your Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is an important nutrient that keeps our blood and nerve cells healthy, and helps make DNA in all of our cells. Deficiencies in vitamin B12 can cause a variety of health problems, including:
- Tiredness and weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Megaloblastic anemia (in which one’s red blood cells are larger than normal)
- Pernicious anemia (in which one’s body cannot make red blood cells)
- Nervous system damage
Although vitamin B12 occurs naturally in meats, dairy products, and shellfish and can be stored in the human body, older Americans are at a higher risk of deficiency than the general population even if these foods are part of their regular diets. The reason? According to the National Institutes of Health, many older adults lack a digestive enzyme that aids in absorbing vitamin B12 from the food they eat. That’s why, to avoid a nutritional deficiency, most health care practitioners recommend that people older than age 50 receive most of their vitamin B12 from fortified foods or dietary supplements, which deliver the nutrient in a form that is more easily absorbed by their bodies. The “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010” notes that fortified breakfast cereal is one of the most common foods that older adults consume that can provide vitamin B12.
But what about the recent claims that megadoses of vitamin B12 can reduce the risk of heart disease and dementia and increase energy? They’re unsubstantiated. At this time, for people who do not have a vitamin B12 deficiency, extra supplementation has not been shown to have positive health effects.
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