June 26 (UPI) -- A study in Ireland says about 13 percent of adults over age 50 are deficient in folate and vitamin B12 -- which is higher than in the U.S., and some other countries, where folic acid fortification is mandatory.
Researchers at Trinity College Dublin found that one in eight older adults are deficient in the vitamin and one in seven aren't getting enough folate, which is a natural vitamin linked to the dietary supplement folic acid. According to the research, published Tuesday in the British Journal of Nutrition, variations differ based on location, health, lifestyle and time of year measured.
Past studies have linked poor long-term health, especially among older people, to low nutritional levels of folate and B12. They include megaloblastic anemia, poor growth, increased infections and irreversible neurologic damage to the developing brain.
"The high rates of B-vitamin deficiency seen in the older adult population are of concern and, given that this can be easily treated with fortification, this has significant policy and practice implications for government and health services," Dr. Rose Anne Kenny, a principal Investigator of The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, said in a press release.
In Ireland, fortification of food products is voluntary but some foods, including ready-to-eat cereals, are enriched with micronutrients such as folic acid.
In the United States, where mandatory folic acid fortification occurs, an estimated 3.2 percent of adults over age 50 are deficient in vitamin B12 and another 20 percent of adults may have borderline deficient levels of vitamin B12, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vitamin B12 is exclusively found in animal-derived foods such as meat, eggs, fish and milk.
The CDC said "folate and vitamin B12 are essential micronutrients which are critical especially during infancy and early childhood as these are periods of rapid growth, development and increased demand."
In Ireland, the survey of 5,290 older adults was the largest study of vitamin usage.
The percentage of those with sufficient usage increased with age -- from 14 percent among those aged 50-60 years to 23 percent among people over 80.
More women took B12 or folate than men, and low B12 and folate usage was also more common in smokers, the obese and those who lived alone, researchers reported
"Irish public health authorities need to act on the facts from studies such as ours," said senior author Dr. Anne Molloy of the Trinity School of Medicine.