Vitamin B12 is important for maintaining energy and endurance levels. In order to make sure you’re getting enough (2.4 micrograms per day), add animal products like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy to your diet.
Could a vitamin deficiency affect your risk factor for cardiovascular disease? That’s what recent study in the journal Nutrients suggests. The study found a relationship between your vitamin B12 levels and your lipid profiles, which is a panel of blood tests that include your cholesterol and triglyceride (types of fats found in your blood) numbers.
Researchers looked at 341 healthy women ages 19 to 30 years old and collected data on their diet, physical activity, and vitamin levels. They found that low levels of vitamin B12 were associated with higher levels of total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglycerides—even after adjusting for the effects that body mass index, abdominal fat, and total body fat percentage have on the body.
The reason for this is important, said Liz Weinandy, R.D., a staff dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, who was not involved in the study. She told Bicycling that for men and women, lower B12 levels may be related to higher levels of an amino acid called homocysteine in the blood, which is seen as a marker for early development of heart disease, since it can damage arteries and veins—including ones around the heart. (Research published last year shows that people over 60 years old who get 20 minutes of daily moderate or intense exercise have a significantly lower chance of developing cardiovascular disease.)
For cyclists specifically, it’s important to get enough of the vitamin since it can affect your energy and endurance levels. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin B12 in most healthy adults is 2.4 micrograms (mcg) per day, but pregnant women need a bit more, 2.6 mcg.
“Most people easily meet this amount if they eat animal products like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy foods,” Weinandy said. She added that people who may not get enough are vegans, vegetarians, people with GI diseases (since they can have malabsorption problems), and people on certain medications (including metformin for high blood sugar and acid-suppressing drugs for reflux disease).
Even if you have issues with high cholesterol and triglycerides, Weinandy does not recommend running out for a B12 supplement until you get your vitamin levels checked by a doctor to determine whether you actually do have a deficiency. In the meantime, she suggested a better first step might be the produce section. Additionally, adding some nutritional yeast to your diet is an easy way to get more of the vitamin.
“If a person has heart disease or is concerned about preventing it, they should look at their overall food intake, including not only B12, but also how much healthy and unhealthy fat they consume,” she said. “We know people who eat more fruits and vegetables have lower risk for heart disease, too, so things like this should be the focus—not one single nutrient.”
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