Are you getting enough Vitamin B12?
By: Irene Roltsch, Arden Hills’ Nutritionist
As we get older, our need for vitamin B12 often increases. This is mainly due to changes in the digestive tract (atrophic gastritis), which is seen more after the age of 50 and makes it harder to absorb. It can also develop due to an iron deficiency or infection with Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium associated with ulcers. Since the body stores some in the liver and recycles this vitamin, it can take years to develop. Knowing your status is important, because results can be very serious, even fatal. Fatigue and anemia are the initial symptoms, but as the deficiency progresses, the nervous system can be permanently damaged! In fact, researchers have found that low B12 status is associated with balance issues, as well as symptoms of dementia, lower scores on tests of cognitive function, perceptual organization and speed, plus episodic and semantic memory. In addition, total brain volume decreases.
What should you do? If you are 50 or older, ask your physician to check the B12 level in your next blood panel. Make sure that you consume foods enriched with B12, naturally high in it, and/or a daily supplement. B12 in enriched products and supplements (cobalamin) is easier to absorb than the natural vitamin. Foods naturally containing B12 are from animal sources, like meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products. Therefore, vegans need to be aware of their B12 levels at all ages. For some individuals, monthly injections or other methods may be necessary to bypass the digestive tract. You need not be too worried about overdoing it; there are no known toxicity symptoms for this vitamin.
One footnote, vitamin B12 is stable under regular cooking methods, but is destroyed by microwaves. Therefore, to get the most from your food, don’t “nuke” everything.