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According to the National Institutes of Health, Vitamin B12 is naturally found in a variety of animal foods. Since vegetarians and vegans consume little, if any, animal products, they are encouraged to take vitamin B12 supplements. Additionally, individuals over age 50 often do not have enough hydrochloric acid in their stomachs to absorb vitamin B12 from food. Individuals who have gone through gastrointestinal surgery (e.g. weight loss surgery) or have digestive disorders (e.g. celiac disease or Crohn’s disease) also have limited abilities to absorb vitamin B12. For these individuals, foods fortified with vitamin B12 or vitamin B12 supplements provide vitamin B12 in crystalline form, making the vitamin easier to digest (“Questions”; “Vitamin B12”). Individuals suffering from pernicious anemia are also unable to absorb vitamin B12. For these patients, doctors usually prescribe vitamin B12 shots or high oral doses of vitamin B12 (“Vitamin B12”).
If individuals are at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency for reasons listed above, consuming dietary supplements from certified brands should be safe and effective for improving health. Although vitamin B12 supplements have no known side effects, the National Institutes of Health warns that vitamin B12 supplements have not shown any effectiveness in reducing risk for heart disease, countering the onset of dementia, or increasing energy or endurance among athletes and people without vitamin B12 deficiencies. Rather, healthy individuals should obtain the recommended amounts of vitamin B12 from well-balanced diets (“Vitamin B12”).
In contrast to credible information from credible websites cited above (the National Institutes of Health and the United States Department of Agriculture), many uncertified websites promote vitamin B12 supplements and exaggerated health benefits. For example, Vita Sciences sells a B12 Patch that claims to use “BioActive Absorption Technology In an Easy to Use Dime Size Patch.” A month-long supply costs $20 before shipping and tax, which is considerably more expensive than vitamin B12 supplements from neighborhood drugstores, like Walgreens. Users are promised that they will “Feel Energetic All Day” if the patch is applied to the neck behind the ear lobe or to the inner part of the wrist for up to 24 hours at a time. The supplement is also advertised to boost overall metabolic rate, regulate sleep, mood, appetite, and energy, aid in body detoxification and liver health, increase red blood cell production, keep nerves healthy, and help produce serotonin. Although some of these claims may be true, the company fails to list any quality certifications, doctors’ recommendations, or scientific references for the its claims, and the ingredients or production processes for the vitamin B12 patches are not disclosed as well. In addition, credible recommendations regarding vitamin B12 supplements, such as both governmental websites referenced above, fail to list vitamin B12 patches as recommended sources of supplementation. In fact, the National Institutes of Health specifically warned that vitamin B12 supplements have not been shown to boost energy or athletic performance among users not previously deficient in vitamin B12.
In contrasting both sources, I analyzed firsthand the differences between “quackery” websites and scientifically sound websites. Although many dietary supplements may claim to provide amazing benefits, the FDA does not regulate dietary supplements. If the claims are not scientifically backed up, and if adequate details regarding the product are not revealed, the supplement’s purported benefits are probably too good to be true.
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