Saturday, July 30, 2011

To Supplement Vitamin B-12...Or Not?


I was asked recently about the wisdom of taking mega doses of vitamin B-12.  Websites promise these supplements will increase energy and metabolism, boost thyroid function, cure depression and prevent Alzheimer's disease. Some weight loss programs even provide inject able B-12 as a diet aid. With claims like that, why wouldn't you take it?

First things first: don't believe everything you read on the Internet! Inaccurate information from questionable sites are abundant. Google searches of vitamin and mineral supplements often end up taking you into sites simply trying to sell their products. Others are known to stretch, twist, or even avoid scientific evidence to make a point or sale. Look for reputable sites: Harvard Health, WebMD, Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, and government sites such as USDA and FDA.

It's always better to get to get vitamins and minerals from foods whenever possible. Supplements can't replicate all the wonderful things the whole food package provides: fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals, which may protect against diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Taking large or mega doses of some supplements can be dangerous. These can act as a medication, interact with medications you already take, or create a toxicity. Always check with your doctor before taking anything more than 100% of the Daily Value (DV) to make sure it is safe and advisable for you.

What about vitamin B-12?  B-12 is important for healthy nerve cells, red blood cell formation, and for development of neurotransmitters in the brain. This currently popular vitamin is water soluble and found naturally in fish, poultry, meat, dairy, and eggs, and in some fortified breads and cereals. Most people who eat at least some animal products have no trouble consuming plenty of B-12.

People who are at risk for vitamin B-12 deficiencies include vegetarians who eat not animal products (vegans) and those with nutrient absorption problems due to surgery, disease, or aging. Vegans, women who are pregnant, nursing, or those on a reduced calorie consumption are encouraged to take vitamin supplements that include B-12. Your doctor can order a blood test to check this out if problems are suspected. Long term deficiencies can increase the risk of anemia, fatigue, depression, and maybe even heart disease. These are the only group of people who will really benefit from Vitamin B-12 supplements, and will often experience more energy, happier mood, and better memory.

And those miraculous B-12 claims? Studies at this point have shown that B-12 does not reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, improve memory, slow the decline of cognitive function in Alzheimer's patients, improve exercise performance, increase energy, lessen depression, increase metabolic rate, delay aging or even help with weight loss. One piece of good news: mega doses of B-12 are considered safe for most people. But, as one of my professors used to say, taking more vitamins than your body needs only creates expensive urine. And with the cost of some of the pills, very, very expensive urine.!

Try to eat a wide variety of good, nutritious foods every day, including lean meat, fish, poultry and eggs.
If you are at risk for low levels of vitamin B-12, talk with your doctor about the right supplements to take and foods to eat to help you feel your best.

Vitamin B-12 in Foods

Micrograms (mcg)
per serving
Percent DV*
Liver, beef, braised, 1 slice
Clams, cooked, breaded and fried, 3 ounces
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 100% of the DV for vitamin B12, 1 serving
Trout, rainbow, wild, cooked, 3 ounces
Salmon, sockeye, cooked, 3 ounces
Trout, rainbow, farmed, cooked, 3 ounces
Cheeseburger, double patty and bun, 1 sandwich
Haddock, cooked, 3 ounces
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 25% of the DV for vitamin B12, 1 serving
Yogurt, plain, 1 cup
Beef, top sirloin, broiled, 3 ounces
Tuna, white, 3 ounces
Milk, 1 cup
Cheese, Swiss, 1 ounce
Beef taco, 1 taco
Ham, cured, roasted, 3 ounces
Egg, large, 1 whole
Chicken, roasted, ½ breast

Try a Recipe for a Frozen Yogurt, Vitamin B-12 Loving Smoothie:

Put in blender:
      6 - 8 oz light, any flavor or plain fat-free yogurt (lemon is my favorite)
     1/3 cup orange juice
Put cover on securely and blend.
While still going, add until thick:
     1/2 - 2/3 cup frozen berries or other fruits

165 calories, 0 g fat, 250 mg calcium, 1.4 mcg vitamin B-12, and 100% yum
Counts as 3 Units

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