Vitamin deficiency is a common issue among older adults. And the older you get, the more susceptible you become to developing vitamin deficiencies to some degree.
Maintaining adequate nutrients through a healthy diet and a daily multivitamin is essential for optimum health. However, sometimes certain deficiencies may be out of your control. And unfortunately, you may not even know you have a deficiency until it causes a significant and noticeable health problem.
Suffering from a vitamin deficiency can be catastrophic to an older adult’s health. One particular vitamin deficiency that is common, affecting up to 20 percent of older adults, is B12.
B12, also known as cobalamin, is necessary for the production of red blood cells, the transporters of oxygen in your body. It’s also important for maintaining proper function of brain and nerve cells.
A vitamin B12 deficiency can take years to develop and display few if any symptoms, as only a tiny bit of the vitamin is needed every day. So, if that’s the case, why does a vitamin B12 deficiency so commonly affect older adults?
Understanding Vitamin B12 Deficiency in Older Adults
Before you can understand why seniors have a greater risk of being deficient in vitamin B12, you need to understand how the vitamin works in the body.
Vitamin B12 is available through meat and dairy products. Studies have shown that a Western diet contains more than double the necessary daily allowance. Once you ingest the vitamin via food, the acid in your stomach processes it so your small intestine can absorb it. The body then stores it, primarily in the liver, for later use.
There are a few different reasons why older adults often lack B12. Some include:
Low levels of stomach acid – Many older adults don’t have enough acid and enzymes in their stomachs required to absorb the B12 in foods. Because of this, many seniors have to rely on fortified foods and supplements, which are more easily absorbed.
Poor diet – It’s common when people get older that their diets begin to change, and not for the better. This is especially true for individuals who are on their own, as their meals become those of convenience. Fast-food and microwaveable dinners often become the food of choice.
Loss of appetite – With age, our appetite begins to diminish some. Our body no longer requires the caloric intake it once did. The lack of ability to chew and swallow can also develop in older adults making it, so they’re not hungry. By eating less, our body receives less of the vitamin to absorb.
Prescribed Medication – Many prescription medications can interfere with the absorption of B12, as well as other vitamins and nutrients. It’s important to always discuss any possible interferences with your doctor.
B12 Deficiency Symptoms and Treatments
The signs and symptoms of a B12 deficiency are commonly overlooked as they are often attributed to something else. And, as mentioned earlier, it can take a long time, sometimes years, to develop a severe deficiency. However, a mild deficiency will almost always get worse, so it’s important to detect signs and symptoms early to prevent chronic complications.
Common symptoms of B12 deficiencies in seniors include:
- Memory and cognitive impairment
- Poor balance and walking difficulty
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, get tested for a B12 deficiency. B12 serum levels are evaluated using a blood test.
If you’re diagnosed with having a B12 deficiency, your provider may recommend a couple of treatments. Treatment options for vitamin deficiencies usually include intramuscular shots or a high-dose vitamin supplement. Shots aren’t fun, so many choose to take a B12 supplement. Although, if you’re not good at remembering to take your pills or have trouble swallowing, the intramuscular shots are quick and easy and maybe a better option.
Benefits of Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is a valuable nutrient that provides many health benefits. It not only helps the body create DNA, your body’s instructional manual, but it helps nourish every single cell in your body. In addition, healthy levels of B12 have been shown to provide the following benefits:
Improves Brain Health – We already mentioned that B12 is vital for the proper functioning of brain cells. Consequently, this essential nutrient helps to improve memory and cognitive skills, helping to ward off dementia and memory loss. For example, one study found that older adults who had early-stage dementia and were given B12 supplements demonstrated a slower cognitive and clinical decline rate.
Reduces Risk of Macular Degeneration – A B12 deficiency can cause damage to your optic nerve, resulting in blurred vision and other eye-related conditions, such as age-related macular degeneration. Studies have shown that B12 lowers homocysteine in the bloodstream, an amino acid found in the blood that’s used to make protein. If homocysteine is not broken down, high levels in the body can lead to inflammation, including the eye. Research suggests that people with lower levels of homocysteine in the blood have a substantially lower risk of developing severe degeneration.
Boosts Energy Levels – Referred to as the energy vitamin, B12 helps to reduce fatigue and increase energy levels. Every cell in your body needs B12. It helps red blood cells deliver oxygen throughout your body, and it helps to convert fat and protein into energy.
Helps Prevent and Manage Depression – Vitamin B12 plays a natural role in the production of serotonin, a chemical in your brain that helps manage mood. There’s been evidence showing a correlation between low levels of B12 serum and an increase in depression.
Contact Your VIPcare Provider Today and Check Your B12 Levels
When it comes to your health, you must take a proactive role. If you’re suddenly feeling fatigued, there’s a reason for it. Listen to your body. Sure, it may be nothing, but you’ll never know unless you check. It’s important to always have any symptoms you’re experiencing reviewed by your primary care physician. If you do have a B12 deficiency, the good news is you can easily treat it and prevent its lingering side effects. Detection is key! Contact your provider today!