According to recent research, vitamin B12 deficiency is more common than doctors once thought. This has lead experts to warn people at risk, mainly vegetarians and older adults, to turn to supplemental forms to prevent deficiency.
Vitamin B12 is essential for maintaining healthy nerve cells and red blood cells; a deficiency in the vitamin can cause symptoms ranging from subtle, including fatigue and mild dizziness, to more severe, including nerve damage, anemia and dementia.
The two populations at an increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency are older adults and vegetarians. Unlike most vitamins, B12 occurs naturally only in animal products, including meat, poultry, fish and -- in lesser amounts -- eggs and dairy. Because of this, vegetarians and especially vegans -- who avoid all animal products, including dairy -- may have low stores of the vitamin. The same is true of adults older than 50, since as many as one-third may produce inadequate amounts of stomach acid, which is essential for releasing vitamin B12 from its food source, allowing it to be absorbed.
Researchers conclude that it is important for vegetarians and older adults to get vitamin B12 through supplements, including multivitamins and fortified cereals.
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