STILLWATER, Okla. – Take your vitamins.

Generations of moms have faithfully preached this message to their children. Turns out, the advice holds true for grown ups, too, and it is especially key for those 50 and older when it comes to vitamin B12.

“Many people lose the ability to absorb naturally occurring vitamin B12 as they age,” said Janice Hermann, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist. “If we don’t get enough of this particular nutrient, it can affect everything from our memory to our ability to walk.”

Often the culprit affecting absorption is atrophic gastritis, which causes stomach inflammation, bacterial overgrowth and decreased stomach acid.

“It’s the increased tendency for this condition to develop as we grow older that contributes to many people’s inability to absorb naturally occurring vitamin B12 from food,” Hermann said.

Naturally occurring vitamin B12 occurs almost exclusively in animal foods, and significant sources of the vitamin include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk and milk products. The synthetic form of vitamin B12, which is found in fortified foods such as cereals or in dietary supplements, is easily absorbed with age.

The recommended daily vitamin B12 intake for adults and adolescents age 14 and above is 2.4 micrograms. Consider 1 cup of milk or one egg is the equivalent of approximately 1 microgram, 3 ounces of salmon or roast nets about 2 micrograms and 1 ounce of cheddar cheese or 3 ounces of chicken equals less than 1 microgram.

“As long as you’re including enough animal products in your diet, you should be getting plenty of vitamin B12,” Hermann said. “Most vitamin B12 deficiencies are due to poor absorption, rather than not getting enough in the diet, and that’s the concern when it comes to older adults.”

A vitamin B12 deficiency could lead to irreversible nerve damage, which can affect a person’s balance and ability to walk. Not getting enough of the nutrient also can contribute to impaired cognitive function, resulting in confusion and mood changes. A lack of vitamin B12 has been linked to high levels of homocysteine in the blood, which is associated with increased risk of heart disease.

To ensure older adults are getting enough B12, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage those aged 50 and older to include foods such as cereals fortified with vitamin B12, or take a dietary supplement containing the nutrient.

In addition to age, Hermann said other factors such as the way meals are prepared could interfere with an individual’s vitamin B12 level.

“Microwave cooking actually inactivates vitamin B12,” she said. “While ‘nuking’ dinner is often a quicker alternative, traditional cooking methods such as in the oven or on the stovetop are recommended to preserve the nutrient.”


Oklahoma State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local Governments Cooperating: The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, or status as a veteran, and is an equal opportunity employer.

Leilana McKindra
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
140 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Phone: 405-744-6792
Fax: 405-744-5739
Email: [email protected]

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