I was so excited about my STAR award last month that I forgot to post it! STARs is my workplace’s recognition program and my boss nominated our project team for one after a successful brochure was published. Over 30,000 of our 3 patient education brochures were distributed in family physician offices this year!
STARS FOR DECEMBER 2012
Kemi Orekoya, Jackie Bates, Kim Cragg, TerriLynn Miller, Jacklyn Cremer, Angelike Gaunt, Peggy Fancolly
— Thank you for the team effort that everyone contributed to that made the new AIM-HI Vitamin B-12 patient education nutrition brochure a success! Your hard work is appreciated! Feedback from members regarding the brochure has shown that you have contributed to being a part of developing a valuable resource for AAFP members to use with their patients. — Janet Ann McAndrews
For more information on Vitamin B-12, content where I did fact-checking and editing…
What are nutrients?
Nutrients are substances found in food. In order to work properly, your body has to absorb nutrients from the food you eat. There are two types of nutrients: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients include fats, protein, and carbohydrates. Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals.
What is vitamin B-12?
Vitamin B-12 is a micronutrient that helps your body make red blood cells and DNA (the genetic material in each of your cells). It also helps keep your nervous system healthy. Vitamin B-12 is found mainly in foods such as meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, and dairy products.
What is a nutrient deficiency?
A nutrient deficiency occurs when your body does not get enough of one or more nutrients from the food you eat. Low nutrient levels can cause health problems.
What happens when my vitamin B-12 level is low?
If you have a low vitamin B-12 level, you may have no symptoms, or you may develop different types of symptoms. If you do not seek help from your doctor, you may damage your nervous system permanently. You may also increase your risk for heart disease or stroke. Symptoms of low vitamin B-12 level can include:
Loss of appetite
Tingling in your hands or feet
Walking or balance problems
Memory loss or other symptoms of dementia and depression
Are you at risk?
Anyone can experience low vitamin B-12 levels for a variety of reasons, but vitamin B-12 deficiency is most common in people who cannot absorb the nutrient from the food they eat or don‘t consume foods that contain vitamin B-12. The following groups are among those most likely to be at risk for vitamin B -12 deficiency:
Adults Older Than 50: Adults older than 50 are at a greater risk for vitamin B-12 deficiency, largely because their body may not produce enough stomach acid to help absorb vitamin B-12 from the food they eat.
Individuals with absorption problems: As with older adults, many individuals can experience absorption problems when their digestive system is not working properly and cannot absorb vitamin B-12 from the food they eat. Absorption problems can result from the following:
Atrophic gastritis, an inflammation and thinning of the stomach lining
Pernicious anemia, a condition that causes your immune system to attack the cells in your stomach that help you absorb vitamin B-12
An intestinal condition such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease
Long-term use of certain medicines that treat heartburn and ulcers
Vegetarians and Vegans: Vitamin B-12 deficiency is common in people who eat few or no animal products, such as vegetarians and vegans. Vegetarians do not eat any meat (e.g., chicken, beef, pork), but they may eat eggs, dairy, and seafood. Vegans do not eat any meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, or dairy products. Vegans have a higher risk for vitamin B-12 deficiency than vegetarians because animal products are the best food sources for vitamin B-12.
Pregnant women: Pregnant women may be at risk for vitamin B-12 deficiency. More vitamin B-12 is recommended for pregnant women because it helps in the forming of red blood cells for the woman and her fetus (unborn baby).
How does my doctor diagnose a low vitamin B-12 level?
Tell your doctor if you have any of the symptoms of low vitamin B-12. Your doctor will probably ask you questions about your health, do a physical exam, and test your blood. He or she may order other tests to help find out if something else is causing your symptoms.
How is vitamin B-12 deficiency treated?
Vitamin B-12 deficiency is treated by raising your vitamin B-12 level. To raise your level, your doctor will give you extra vitamin B-12. This is called “supplementation.” Some people need to take vitamin B-12 supplements for the rest of their lives. Your doctor may recommend that you get shots of vitamin B-12 regularly or that you take special highdose vitamin B-12 pills. Your doctor can help decide what form of vitamin B-12 is right for you.
Can I just take an over-the counter multivitamin to raise my low vitamin B-12 level?
Over-the-counter multivitamins may not contain enough vitamin B-12 to raise an already low level. To get enough vitamin B-12, you will need to take the form your doctor recommends.
How do I prevent vitamin B-12 deficiency?
Most people can prevent vitamin B-12 deficiency by eating a well-balanced diet that includes meat, fish or shellfish, eggs, and dairy. For people who choose not to eat animal products, other food sources of vitamin B-12 include nutritional yeast and fortified foods such as non-dairy milk. Fortified foods are foods that have extra vitamins and minerals added to them during processing. Read the food nutrition labels to learn if the products you choose are sources of vitamin B-12. If you are older than 50, or you are a vegetarian or vegan, or a pregnant woman, talk to your doctor about whether you should take an over-the-counter multivitamin or vitamin B-12 supplement.
How can I protect my overall health?
As a part of moving yourself toward a healthier lifestyle, consider making small positive changes in your physical activity, healthy eating, and emotional well-being. Ask your doctor how you can include healthy lifestyle activities in your general prevention or treatment plan.