However, the problem would be very easy to solve, simply by increasing the consumption of dairy products beyond what is currently officially recommended.
“We wanted to see what is the association between what people eat and the risk of being affected by vitamin B12 deficiency. And what we found was really interesting,” summarized Professor Nancy Presse, from the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Sherbrooke.
The study was carried out on a cohort of some 1,750 healthy elderly people who were followed for four years. After analyzing blood and urine samples, the researchers found that between 10 and 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, recalled Ms. Presse. However, she continues, she and her colleagues have measured that it is only from 4.8 micrograms per day ― twice the official recommendation ― that we begin to see a marked reduction in the risk of deficiency.
“The two point four is really too weak, everyone is pretty much in agreement on that,” she said. If we look at studies and works around the world, we will often suggest between 5 and 10 micrograms. »
In addition, said Ms. Presse, Health Canada recommends that seniors take a supplement or consume foods fortified with vitamin B12, such as soy beverages. The problem is that these foods are extremely rare in the country. And anyway, it is not necessary to go through supplements or fortified foods to avoid the problem, she recalls.
Important dairy products
Vitamin B12 is found in foods of animal origin such as meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs and dairy products. The researchers therefore wanted to know whether certain foods had a greater impact than others on reducing the risk of deficiency.
Since the absorption of vitamin B12 requires calcium, and since dairy products are rich in calcium, Ms. Presse had hypothesized that these products could have the greatest impact ― and it is what we saw,” she said.
“This is the only food group that came out as having an impact on decreasing the risk of deficiency,” she said.
This could mean that dairy products ― which were completely removed during the redesign of Canada’s Food Guide to be grouped with protein foods ― are of particular importance for the elderly, not only in terms of vitamin B12, but also for calcium, vitamin D and protein, Ms Presse said.
The vitamin B12 deficiency detected in between 10 and 13% of the members of the cohort is “enormous”, she believes, and should not be so high since all the subjects were healthy.
The researchers were able to link the problem to specific eating habits. They found that an intake of approximately 1.6 micrograms of vitamin B12 in the form of dairy products is sufficient to induce a significant reduction in the risk of deficiency, of the order of 50 to 60%.
“A point six microgram is a big glass of milk, so it’s easy,” said Ms. Presse. These are not astronomical amounts. One to two servings of dairy products per day would probably be sufficient to induce a marked reduction in the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency in the elderly. »
And the numbers might not even do justice to the real scale of the problem. When the researchers analyzed their data, they came to the conclusion that possibly at most 30% of older adults consume enough vitamin B12 to avoid a deficiency.
Several factors, such as taking medications and aging of the stomach lining, probably explain the higher risk of deficiency among seniors.
“We think that the needs increase, precisely as we age, because absorption is less and less effective,” said Ms. Presse. So maybe 2.4 micrograms is fine when you’re 30, but more when you’re 70. »
Diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency usually requires a blood test. The first symptoms may take the form of tingling and loss of feeling in the extremities, since the deficiency damages the sheath that surrounds the nerves.