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Older people warned over supplements

09 July 2015 09:38

Vitamin B12 is found in fish, meat and dairy products

Vitamin B12 is found in fish, meat and dairy products

Taking a supplement may not bring any health benefits for older people with a moderate B12 vitamin deficiency, a new study suggests.

Previous research has shown that people with a B12 deficiency can be helped if they take a vitamin supplement, while other studies have suggested that a moderate deficiency can be accompanied by poor memory.

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine analysed the effects of giving a daily B12 supplement to a group of people aged over 75.

Supplement taken to boost mobility

Having been given the supplement or a placebo every day for a year, the participants underwent a range of memory, mobility, coordination, psychological and muscle strength tests.

Many people take the supplement to boost their mobility, coordination, muscle strength and mental function.

But lead researcher Dr Alan Dangour says the trial produced no evidence to suggest that taking the supplement for a year benefited the nervous system or cognitive function among those with a moderate B12 deficiency.

He said the advice to older people should be to eat a healthy and varied diet, while staying mentally and, if possible, physically active.

Ways of keeping active can include exploring new destinations on foot while on a foreign holiday, something which can be covered by older people's travel insurance policies.

Vitamin found in meat and fish

The new study does acknowledge that a year may not have been long enough for the supplements to have an impact, and that the dose given may have been too low to have a measurable impact.

The vitamin is found in meat, fish and dairy foods but can be lacking in some strict vegetarian diets.

People with a severe deficiency can suffer from various problems with the nervous system, including walking difficulties, depression, muscle weakness, impaired memory and sensations such as pins and needles.

The study is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.