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Vitamin B12 and Aging

Vitamin B12 deficiency occurs in over 20% of elderly individuals and goes unrecognized because clinical manifestations are subtle, although they can be potentially serious.

Vitamin B12 is needed for normal nerve cell activity and DNA replication. It also involved in fat, carbohydrate and protein metabolism. As you can imagine, vitamin B12 is absolutely essential for good health. A B12 deficiency is a common but overlooked cause of fatigue and neurological problems. Many of the health problems of the elderly can be traced in part to a lack of vitamin B12.

As you get older, your digestive capacity greatly diminishes. However, B12 requires strong digestion if it is to optimally absorbed from your food into your bloodstream.

Vitamin B12 is found mostly in foods of animal origin, including dairy, eggs, meat, poultry and fish. If you're a vegetarian, you may not be getting enough B12. Besides the elderly and vegetarians, anyone with a bowel infection or inflammation may not be absorbing enough B12.

It's difficult to spot the early stages of a B12 deficiency. Many people have a gradually increasing B12 insufficiency that spans many years. By the time a B12 deficiency is usually identified, the problem has become serious.

One early warning flag for a possible B12 problem is a common blood test called a "complete blood count", or CBC. One of the items on a CBC can identify a possible vitamin B12 or folate insufficiency. (Folate is another B vitamin). If you have a CBC from another doctor, bring it with you on your next visit to our clinic. We'll check for possible B12 or folate problems.

You might be able to boost your B12 levels by taking a B12 supplement. However, if you are elderly or have a gastrointestinal disorder, you may not be able to absorb your supplement. In this case, B12 injections are appropriate. Injectionss are quite effective because they bypass the digestive process. Our clinic provides vitamin B12 injections if you need them.

Source: Andres E et al, Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) Deficiency in Elderly Patients, CMAJ, August 3, 2004;171(3):251-259