If you are 50 or older, the National Academy of Medicine says you should get most of your daily requirement of vitamin B12 from supplements. And it’s not only because you’ll get that needed burst of energy. Studies suggest that B12 and its companion B vitamin, folate, protect your brain as you age by preventing long-term impairments like depression, confusion, memory loss and dementia.
So what puts that age bracket more at risk if they are eating the same things as their younger counterparts? Even though B12 is naturally present in foods like meat, dairy and eggs, your ability to absorb the vitamin may decrease as acid-producing cells in the stomach gradually cease to function with age. In fact, studies show that B12 deficiency may affect 10 to 30 % of people over 50 years of age.
B12 deficiencies can take years to develop. Some of the symptoms include fatigue, tingling and numbness in the hands and feet, muscle weakness and loss of reflexes. These early symptoms have been shown to be reversed by treatment with high doses of B12.
But older populations are not the only groups at risk for B12 deficiency. Studies further show that it may be more common in 26 to 49-year-olds than previously expected. In fact, since animal protein foods are the only reliable natural dietary sources of B12, vegetarians and vegans specifically should monitor their B12 intake. But don’t worry if you prefer grazing—many vegan products are fortified with B12 already!
Others who may benefit from B12 supplements include those who take certain prescriptions for acid reflux, patients with disorders of the stomach and small intestine like celiac and Crohn’s disease, and people with surgically reduced digestive systems.
But good news! When caught early enough, it has been reported that bouts of severe depression, psychosis and loss of energy can also be reversed by B12 injections. Nerve damage and dementia caused by long-term deficiencies, however, are likely to be permanent.
Be sure to ask your doctor about your B12 levels during your next checkup!