Many seniors may be unknowingly suffering from a vitamin B12 deficiency, a new Quebec study warns.
However, the problem could be solved very easily by simply increasing the consumption of dairy products beyond what is currently officially recommended.
“We wanted to find out what the relationship is between what people eat and the risk of being affected by vitamin B12 deficiency. And what we found was really interesting,” concluded Professor Nancy Presse from the University of Sherbrooke’s Department of Community Health Sciences.
The study involved approximately 1,750 healthy elderly people who were followed for four years. After analyzing blood and urine samples, the researchers found that 10 to 13 percent of their subjects were deficient in vitamin B12.
Health Canada currently recommends that seniors consume 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day, reminded M. Presse. But she continues: She and her colleagues have measured that from just 4.8 micrograms a day—twice the official recommendation—we see a marked reduction in the risk of deficiency.
“Two point four is really too weak, everyone agrees on that,” she said. If we look at research and work around the world, we would often suggest 5 to 10 micrograms. »
In addition, Health Canada recommends that seniors take supplements or consume foods fortified with vitamin B12, such as soy beverages, Presse said. The problem is that these foods are extremely rare in the country. And anyway, in order to avoid the problem, it is not necessary to use supplements or fortified food, she recalls.
Dairy products are important
Vitamin B12 is found in foods of animal origin such as meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs and dairy products. Therefore, the researchers wanted to know whether certain foods had a greater effect than others in reducing the risk of deficiency.
Because calcium is required for vitamin B12 absorption, and dairy products are rich in calcium, Ms. Presse hypothesized that these products might have the greatest effect — and we saw that,” she said.
“This is the only food group that has had an impact on reducing the risk of deficiency,” she said.
This may indicate that dairy products, which were completely eliminated when Canada’s Food Guide was grouped with protein foods, are especially important for older adults not only for vitamin B12, but also for calcium, vitamin D, and protein. ” said Ms. Presse.
According to her, the vitamin B12 deficiency found in 10 to 13% of the cohort is “enormous” and should not be so high because all the subjects were healthy.
Researchers were able to link the problem to specific eating habits. They found that about 1.6 micrograms of vitamin B12 in the form of dairy products is enough to significantly reduce the risk of deficiency by 50-60%.
“Six micrograms is a large glass of milk, so it’s easy,” Ms Presse said. These are not astronomical amounts. One or two servings of dairy products per day are probably enough to significantly reduce the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency in older adults. »
And the numbers may not even reflect the true scale of the problem. After analyzing their data, the researchers concluded that at most 30% of older adults consume enough vitamin B12 to avoid deficiency.
Several factors, such as medication use and aging of the stomach lining, likely explain the higher risk of deficiency in older adults.
“We think the needs increase, specifically as we age, because absorption becomes less efficient,” Presse said. So maybe 2.4 micrograms is fine when you’re 30, but more when you’re 70. »
A blood test is usually required to diagnose vitamin B12 deficiency. The first symptoms may appear as tingling and loss of feeling in the limbs, as the deficiency damages the sheath surrounding the nerves.
The study was published in the November issue Journal of Nutritiontherefore, it was chosen by the editor of this issue.