Many People May Be Deficient in Vitamin B-12

A deficiency of vitamin B-12 is often thought to be a problem that only occurs in the elderly. But the vitamin deficiency–which can cause
* anemia

* dementia

* severe nerve damage

Investigators found that 39% of individuals had low-to-normal levels of the vitamin in their blood and 17% had levels low enough to cause symptoms of deficiency. Age did not seem to matter, as those aged 26 to 49 years had the same vitamin B-12 status as those aged 65 to 83 years, the report indicates.

Early symptoms of deficiency include:
* reduced sensation in the limbs

* memory and balance disturbances

Ultimately, it can cause irreversible nerve damage. But since many of these symptoms are general, they are often not attributed to a vitamin B-12 deficiency.

For most people, deficiency can be easily prevented by taking a regular multivitamin or eating breakfast cereal fortified with vitamin B-12. Although the vitamin is found naturally in meat, it does many do not absorb it well.

Vitamin B-12 is tightly bound to protein in meat and requires sufficient stomach acidity to break it apart before it can be absorbed. In some people, particularly the elderly, insufficient levels of stomach acid mean that the vitamin is not taken up in sufficient quantities.

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2001;71:514-522