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Food Nutr Bull. 2008 Jun;29(2 Suppl):S20-34; discussion S35-7.

Causes of vitamin B12 and folate deficiency.

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USDA, ARS Western Human Nutrition Research Center, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


This review describes current knowledge of the main causes of vitamin B12 and folate deficiency. The most common explanations for poor vitamin B12 status are a low dietary intake of the vitamin (i.e., a low intake of animal-source foods) and malabsorption. Although it has long been known that strict vegetarians (vegans) are at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency, evidence now indicates that low intakes of animal-source foods, such as occur in some lacto-ovo vegetarians and many less-industrialized countries, cause vitamin B12 depletion. Malabsorption of the vitamin is most commonly observed as food-bound cobalamin malabsorption due to gastric atrophy in the elderly, and probably as a result of Helicobacter pylori infection. There is growing evidence that gene polymorphisms in transcobalamins affect plasma vitamin B12 concentrations. The primary cause of folate deficiency is low intake of sources rich in the vitamin, such as legumes and green leafy vegetables, and the consumption of these foods may explain why folate status can be adequate in relatively poor populations. Other situations in which the risk of folate deficiency increases include lactation and alcoholism.

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