Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Bradley Stemke.

Add this new study from Ireland to a growing pile of evidence that confirms that older adults are not getting enough vitamin B12 and folate (also known as vitamin B9). These important nutrients are essential to brain health, nerve function, and the production of red blood cells and DNA synthesis. Folate is essential for health blood vessels and heart. In older adults, deficiencies are also linked to poor long-term health, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers working on the Irish study found that one in eight adults in the country were low in vitamin B12, while one in seven were short on folate, as published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Further north, Swedish scientists have been looking at whether vitamin B 12 and folate deficiencies were factors in the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Both nutrients are key in supporting proper brain health and a slew of studies have suggested that low levels are found more often in AD patients than those without. The concern is that current studies are limited and more research needs to be done.

Surprise! One of the best sources of vitamin B12 is clams so dig in! Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, GW Fins.

Signs of a low level of B 12 might include: anemia, fatigue, weight loss, constipation, poor memory, depression, confusion, numbness and tingling in hands and feet.

Some people may want to ward off B 12 deficiencies by taking supplements, which appears to be safe, but taking folic acid (the form of the B vitamin that is found in supplements versus folate, which in the form found in the blood) may have adverse effects. Talk to your doctor first before adopting new habits like this.

Another option is to eat a diet rich in foods with B 12. The water-soluble vitamin is found naturally in animal products, such as fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk and dairy products. The stars in terms of micrograms per serving are clams and beef liver. Vegetarians should look for it in fortified breakfast cereals.

Fill up on lentils and you’ll give a high dose of folate. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, nsmithtnz.

Folate can be found in cooked dry beans, lentils, peas, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, orange juice, enriched grain products, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, beets and corn.

Refer to Canada’s Food Guides to help you make good food choices.