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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, December 5, 2003

Vitamin B12 touted for bones, heart

By Diane Evans
Knight Ridder News Service

Are you getting enough vitamin B12?

Here's what some of the experts say:

The Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter recommended this year that anyone older than 50 should take a supplement with vitamin B12 or regularly eat cereal or other products fortified with B12, no matter how much you're taking in from other foods. "In their later years," the Tufts letter noted, "many people have problems absorbing the vitamin, which is needed for normal blood formation and proper neurological function."

The letter cited a new study from the Netherlands, suggesting that B12 may also be linked to better bone health. The Dutch study looked at 200 frail, elderly people. Among the women, osteoporosis occurred more often in those with marginal or deficient B12 levels than in those with normal levels.

B12 is found in animal protein, and some experts believe that may help explain why meat consumption has been linked to better bone health. The amount of B12 recommended for people older than 50 is 2.4 micrograms, which can be found in many multivitamins.

Also in June, the Harvard Heart Letter observed that folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 are being touted "as the next great thing" as defenders against heart disease.

These three nutrients lower blood levels of homocysteine, a protein byproduct linked to heart attacks, strokes, memory loss and other chronic illnesses.

So why aren't these three supplements commonly prescribed in heart treatment?

"Because two key pieces of information are still missing," the Harvard letter said. "We don't yet know if a high homocysteine level in the blood contributes to artery damage and heart disease on its own, or if it is caused by other factors that are the true root of heart disease.

There's no doubt that taking folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 lower homocysteine levels in the blood. So far, though, there's no proof that this translates into protection against heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular problems.

Either way, the letter said, it's important to get enough of all three of these nutrients.

Do Americans get enough B12?

Studies suggest that many don't. An estimated 9 to 16 percent of adults may be deficient, while findings indicate 40 percent may be in the "low normal" range.