Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

Improved Vitamin [B.Sub.12] Test May Help Young and Old Alike

Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

Improved Vitamin [B.Sub.12] Test May Help Young and Old Alike

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Vitamin [B.sub.12] helps us perform many vital chores, such as forming healthy red blood cells; keeping the brain functioning smoothly; and metabolizing the fats, proteins, and carbohydrates in foods that we eat.

Like all vitamins, [B.sub.12] is a micronutrient, meaning that we need it in only small amounts. We can obtain it from nutritional supplements, such as tablets or multivitamin pills. People who need to boost their vitamin [B.sub.12] levels quickly may do so via injections or other means prescribed by their physicians.

In the United States, the very young and elderly are among the groups at risk of becoming [B.sub.12]-deficient. Newborns whose mothers are deficient in the vitamin may begin their lives with low stores of it. The problems may be compounded if these babies are breastfed, because vitamin [B.sub.12] levels in their mother's milk may be inadequate.

Senior citizens may have a different set of problems. If they lack sufficient gastric acid in the stomach, for instance, they may be unable to absorb enough of the vitamin from food.

Agricultural Research Service (A.R.S.) scientists based at the Western Human Nutrition Research Center in Davis, California, have developed and tested an improved method of measuring an indicator of the body's stores of vitamin B 12 in blood. Importantly, the blood sample can be very small in volume. That is an advantage, as samples taken from newborns and infants at a hospital or for use by medical or nutrition researchers are typically small.

In addition, a small specimen is often the norm in complex, large-scale studies in which samples from volunteers must be allocated among many researchers, each of whom may need it for a different purpose. These studies can help answer important questions, such as how does vitamin [B.sub.12] contribute to growth and development in the first years of life? How does it affect brain function in our later years? What is the extent of vitamin [B.sub.12] deficiency in the United States and in other countries?

The A.R.S. team found that a specimen of only 25 microliters of blood plasma or serum--equivalent to one-half drop of water--could be analyzed with speed, accuracy, reliability, and precision using a leading-edge analytical technology, called ultra-performance liquid chromatography/electrospray ionization/tandem mass spectrometry. …

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