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A quick look at B-12

Created date

January 29th, 2009

' It only takes a small amount of vitamin B-12 to have a major impact on keeping you healthy. "Vitamin B-12 is a water-soluble vitamin that s a vital part of many body chemicals. It helps the body use fatty acids and some amino acids," says Doris Henning, R.D., Erickson Health chief dietitian. "The two most important things B-12 does is help in the formation of white and red blood cells and maintain proper functioning of the nervous system," adds Dimitri Cefalu, M.D. The food sources B-12 s best source is foods that provide complete proteins. "That means animal products like meat, fish and shellfish, poultry, eggs, and dairy items, " Henning says. "The recommended dosage of B-12 is relatively small, only two micrograms (mcg) daily," he says. The average serving of liver has about 47 mcg and 3 oz. of salmon provides 5 mcg. The B-12 deficiency Between the small dosage needed and the variety of foods most people eat, it s easy to see how the average adult stores a year s worth of B-12 from his or her diet. "It s rare nowadays for adults to suffer from B-12 deficiency," Cefalu says. Henning agrees. "Generally, the people at risk are strict vegetarians," he adds. Still, it is possible in older adults. Stomach acid releases B-12 from food proteins and then the vitamin is absorbed into the system through a substance called intrinsic factor. That s why B-12 is most likely to become deficient when there are stomach problems like irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn s disease. An increased growth of intestinal bacteria, which in turn prevents proper B-12 absorption, affects up to 30% of adults age 50-plus and puts them at risk. "B-12 deficiency can cause anemia, fatigue, and sensitive skin," Henning says. The nervous system can be affected; numbness in hands and feet isn t unusual. Another symptom of B-12 deficiency of importance to seniors is the confusion it can cause; dementia can develop. Other symptoms include constipation and depression. Treatment is simple Modifying your diet can be the first step to fighting B-12 deficiency. Simply adding a fortified cereal can help many vegetarians. Some medicines seem to cause B-12 deficiency. The government indicates that fighters of stomach acid like proton pump inhibitors (like Prilosec), or H2-agonists (like Zantac), and also the diabetes drug Metformin might cause problems. Anyone taking such drugs might want to discuss the B-12 issue with their physician and find out if any type of supplement is recommended. Generally, the only B-12-related condition which calls for treatment beyond dietary changes is the one called pernicious anemia. "It s a disease in which the body doesn t make normal blood cells," Cefalu says, noting it s easily treated. "In a mild case, oral supplements can be tried; otherwise, administering B-12 injections until the levels are right readily corrects the problem. It s inexpensive and well-tolerated," he says.