As we get older, our bodies don’t absorb nutrients as efficiently as they used to. As a result, many older adults suffer from vitamin deficiencies that can cause health problems. The most common dietary deficiencies for seniors include calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin E, and B vitamins.
B vitamins are particularly important for overall health. They play a role in healthy blood cells, energy production, and nerve function preservation. Getting the right amount of vitamin B12 may also help to prevent degenerative disease and some types of anemia.
As we age, our bodies produce less stomach acid and other compounds that help to absorb B vitamins. Here, we’ll show you the benefits of the vitamin for seniors and discuss what happens if you’re deficient. Plus, we’ll show you the recommended vitamin B12 dosage for seniors and give you tips to stay well in your golden years.
What Is Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is an essential vitamin that your body needs to function properly. It’s found in dairy products such as yogurt, milk, and cheese as well as in meat, fortified cereals, and fish. Beef, pork, lamb, poultry, and ham are all rich sources of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 supplements are also created in labs through bacterial fermentation. Since natural vitamin B12 comes mainly from animal sources, vegans typically need to use a supplement to get proper amounts of the nutrient.
This vitamin plays a key role in creating red blood cells and producing nerve tissue that helps transmit signals from the brain to cells. Vitamin B12 is water-soluble and travels through your body’s bloodstream to aid in cell function.
Benefits of Vitamin B12 for Seniors
It’s no secret that getting your vitamins and nutrients is key to staying healthy. Vitamin B12 is particularly important because it plays a role in brain function, metabolism, nerve cells, and blood health. Vitamin B12 helps to metabolize an amino acid known as homocysteine. This amino acid has been linked to cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Vitamin B12 helps to create and reproduce blood cells and is also involved in producing energy. That’s why you may feel fatigued or dizzy when you have a deficiency. Vitamin B12 may also play a part in bone and vision health. Studies show low vitamin B12 levels have been linked with osteoporosis. Additional research indicates low levels of vitamin B12 may increase the risk of macular degeneration.
Effects of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
When you don’t get enough vitamin B12, you may experience deficiency symptoms. These may include confusion, depression, difficulty recalling or remembering information, and tiredness. Chronic deficiency may result in weight loss, loss of appetite, and digestive issues. Left untreated, a vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to decreased motor function, including balance problems, tremors, an increased risk of falling, and numbness or tingling in your extremities.
Chronic vitamin B12 deficiency in blood levels can dramatically affect the brain and nervous system. It may cause nerve damage, and studies show low vitamin B12 levels may be a risk factor for problems in cognitive function such as dementia and psychosis.
Older people who don’t get enough vitamin B12 may be at higher risk for anemia and infections. Symptoms of anemia caused by a vitamin deficiency include a sore mouth, diarrhea, and pasty or yellowing skin. Vitamin B12 – along with another B vitamin, folic acid — plays a key role in producing red blood cells, which deliver oxygen to your organs.
When you don’t get enough vitamin B12 or you have a folate deficiency, your organs suffer from a lack of oxygen, meaning they function less effectively. The result is known as megaloblastic anemia, a disorder where your body produces inadequate red blood cells.
Risk Factors for Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Some people, including seniors, have a higher risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Vegans also have a higher risk, since it’s difficult to get the vitamin from food not sourced from animals.
Seniors may be predisposed to vitamin B12 deficiency, especially if they suffer from health conditions. Additionally, seniors with pernicious anemia are at higher risk for a deficiency. That’s because this disorder makes it hard for your body to produce intrinsic factor (IF), a protein that plays a key role in the absorption of vitamin B12.
Digestive disorders including Celiac disease, atrophic gastritis, and shortened small intestines can all increase the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency since nutrients aren’t as easily absorbed. Crohn’s disease and pernicious anemia may also increase the risk of malabsorption.
Taking certain medications may also inhibit B12 absorption in seniors. Metformin, a drug used to treat diabetes and chloramphenicol, may make it difficult for your body to absorb B vitamins. Heartburn medications including proton pump inhibitors can also increase your deficiency risk.
How To Diagnose a Vitamin B12 Deficiency
The best way to see if you have a vitamin B12 deficiency is to visit your healthcare provider and take a blood test. On the day of your visit, your doctor will ask you about your medical history and draw blood to determine your B12 levels in blood serum. This blood test will analyze serum levels and can also help determine if you have any other vitamin deficiencies.
Your doctor may also order a methylmalonic acid test to confirm the results of the blood test. In certain cases, your doctor may recommend a bone marrow biopsy to determine the source of the deficiency.
Often, seniors will experience both vitamin B12 and folate deficiencies at the same time. That’s because both of these nutrients play a key role in blood cell production and can be inhibited by medical conditions. If your doctor determines you have a deficiency, they may recommend you get vitamin B12 injections or take vitamin B12 supplements.
You can take oral vitamin B12 supplements, or the doctor may recommend certain foods that contain large amounts of B12. Some individuals will only need to take these supplements for a short period while others, particularly those with anemia, may need to take them long-term.
Recommended Vitamin B12 Dosage for Seniors
The proper vitamin B12 dosage for seniors depends on if they have underlying health conditions and how severe their deficiency is. In some cases, doctors may recommend high doses — more than 1,000 micrograms (mcg) per day. A recent study found that for seniors, a daily dose of 500 micrograms was efficient in reversing the signs of B12 deficiency.
In general, experts recommend 2.5 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day for people over the age of 14. You can get these amounts from taking dietary supplements like multivitamins, B12 supplementation including sublingual tablets, or by eating certain foods rich in vitamin B12.
There is no one recommended vitamin B12 dosage for seniors. Rather, the right daily intake will largely depend on your specific situation. Make an appointment to talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.
Staying Healthy as the Years Go By
As we get older, we have to get more creative and involved in staying healthy. Planning regular visits to the doctor and getting blood tests can help us stay on top of vitamin deficiencies and other issues that may cause health problems. Fortunately, if you have a B12 deficiency, it’s relatively easy to get a diagnosis and start a treatment plan.
For other ways to stay healthy, Snug has you covered. Visit our blog for more information on how to stay active, including tips for yoga, tai chi, core exercises, and balance exercises for seniors. You’ll find advice ranging from the best vitamins for seniors to tips on recovering from surgeries such as hip replacements and bunion surgery.
We also make it easy for you to stay connected in an increasingly digital world. Discover how to stay in touch with loved ones with the best cell phones for seniors, and learn how to stay connected with online forums. The Snug app is also a free and friendly way to get daily check-ins that can give you peace of mind and freedom. The app will check in with you each day. If something’s amiss, it’ll notify your emergency contacts.