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Vitamin B12 - An Undervalued Vitamin

Vitamin B12 is present in abundance in most people’s diets so generally the risk of having a deficiency is low.

“There are, however, some people who are at risk and would benefit from obtaining regular injections of a prophylactic dose of this vitamin,” says Tini Gruner, a Ph.D candidate in the Animal and Food Sciences Division at Lincoln University. “The injectable vitamin B12 is available from pharmacies without prescription and can be administered by nurses”.

The only source of vitamin B12 in the diet is from animal products, the richest source being liver. This vitamin is unique in that it needs to be linked to other proteins in the body to be absorbed and utilised. Therefore a deficiency can develop not only from a lack of vitamin B12 itself, but also from a lack of these proteins, says Ms Gruner. Vitamin B12 is required by the body as a coenzyme in energy metabolism and immunity reactions which do not proceed without the vitamin. Since the vitamin is stored in the liver a deficiency in the diet may take several years to develop.

Signs and symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include a shortened stride when walking, lowered resistance to disease, lack of energy, anaemia, and ultimately, irreversible neurological damage (such as in dementia).

“People who would benefit most from such injections,” said Ms Gruner, “are:
 The elderly, especially if they already suffer from a neurological disorder such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease, or dementia. An estimated 25 to 50 % of people over the age of 60 are thought to have some form of impaired vitamin B12 status,
 People who are taking antacids for indigestion, or who have had parts of their stomach or small intestines removed,
 Vegans,
 Those with active liver disease or liver damage or those who consume alcohol regularly,
 People with chronic pancreatic disease or cystic fibrosis,
 Those who have family members with pernicious anaemia or other vitamin B12 absorption problems. That means that their body does not absorb the vitamin B12 that is available.

“The injection is cheap and an easy-to-administer treatment that would help people to maintain life quality and well-being if it were more readily used, ” says Ms Gruner.

“Tests are available to measure the amount of vitamin B12 in the bloodstream but they at best can only give an indication of the recent intake. They do not tell if the body stores are depleted.”

In the last 10 years or so more sensitive tests have been developed but at present they are used only in research and science laboratories and are not yet generally available.


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