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Elderly are at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency

Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Bates County, University of Missouri Extension


Up to 30 percent of the population over 50 years of age is at risk for developing a vitamin B12 deficiency because of changes that occur in the digestive tract.


According to the National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, vitamin B12 helps maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells.


Vitamin B12 is contained within the protein in food. Hydrochloric acid in the stomach allows the vitamin B12 in food to be released so that it can combine with a substance called intrinsic factor. Once combined with intrinsic factor, vitamin B12 can be absorbed by the intestinal tract and used in the body.


Up to 30 percent of adults over the age of 50 do not produce enough hydrochloric acid or intrinsic factor to be able to utilize vitamin B12. For this reason, a supplement is recommended. The body is able to absorb synthetic vitamin B12 that is added to fortified foods such as cereal and in vitamin supplements without the aid of hydrochloric acid.


The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin B12 is 2.4 micrograms per day for adult men and women. For someone who has adequate hydrochloric acid in the stomach, it is easy to get the required amount of vitamin B12. Three ounces of cooked salmon provides 3 micrograms of B12; 3 ounces of lean beef tenderloin provides 2.3 micrograms; one cup of fat-free yogurt provides 1.4 micrograms and one cup of milk provides 0.9 micrograms of vitamin B12. Cereals fortified with vitamin B12 contain 1.5 to 6 micrograms per 3/4 cup.


Some signs and symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency include anemia, tiredness, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite and weight loss. A person could also experience numbness and tingling in the hands and feet and have difficulty maintaining balance. Other symptoms include depression, confusion, dementia, poor memory or a soreness of the mouth or tongue.


If you think it is possible you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, consult with your physician. If he or she recommends a supplement, look for the word “cyanocobalamin” on the label. This is the crystalline form of vitamin B12 that is more easily absorbed by people over the age of 50.


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Last update: Friday, July 17, 2015