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Vitamin B12 Deficiency In Older Adults: Significance, Diagnosis, and Treatment

That vitamins and proper nutrition are critical for good health is common knowledge. A significant number of adults regularly take multivitamins to keep up with that requirement. However, despite that, many older adults experience deficiency in one specific vitamin —  Vitamin B12. 

The health impacts of any vitamin deficiency can be devastating. However, a deficiency in Vitamin B12 warrants special attention, and here’s why. Firstly, it is fairly common among adults - as per reports, the percentage of adults suffering from Vitamin B12 deficiency ranges between 6% to 20% in the US and UK alone. Secondly, it often goes undiagnosed. In fact, Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to cognitive issues and difficulties in walking among pregnant women. Therefore, geriatricians pay close attention to this issue in their patients. 

The good news is that it is possible to avoid the occurrence of Vitamin B12 deficiency and thereby avoid its adverse impacts on your health. 

Why vitamin B12 deficiency is not easy to spot 

Vitamin B12 insufficiency usually develops gradually; many patients have a prolonged period of moderate shortage. An older person may experience scarcely perceptible symptoms at this period, or the symptoms may be related to another chronic health issue. Even so, a little shortage will often worsen with time. Therefore, it's important to address any factors that can be addressed, even when an older adult has numerous additional causes for weariness or movement issues.

A vitamin B12 shortage frequently resembles or feels like signs of aging normally, as a B12 deficiency can mimic them. Memory loss, cognitive decline, brain fog, reduced mobility, and generalized discomfort are often seen among people with Vitamin B12 deficiency. More adverse symptoms include neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis, mental diseases such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, cardiovascular condition, Immune disorder, and even cancer. 

The Reason Vitamin B12 Deficiency Is Prevalent Among Adults

Meat and dairy products are the only natural sources of vitamin B12 that can be consumed by humans. On the other hand, in today's times, it is simple to fulfill that requirement by consuming vitamin B12 supplements or multivitamins. 

Since very little vitamin B12 is required in the body on a daily basis, a small supply is typically sufficient to satisfy the body's requirements for the next few years, at the very least. If a healthy individual suddenly quits consuming vitamin B12, it might take their body many years to run out of the nutrient and start displaying symptoms of deficiency.

The question, therefore, is: why does a lack of vitamin B12 specifically harm older adults?

As people become older, their capacity to absorb vitamin B12 reduces significantly. This is due to the fact that as people become older, they frequently experience issues with the acids and stomach enzymes that are required to process the vitamin. Some common risk factors for vitamin B12 deficiency include 

  • Certain medicines which may affect the absorption of the vitamin.  
  • Advanced age, especially those over 75 years
  • Poor diet
  • A strictly vegan or vegetarian diet
  • Certain surgical procedures that involve the stomach or small intestine
  • Alcoholism
  • Any issue that impacts absorption in the stomach or small intestine
  • A low stomach acid level

How is a lack of vitamin B12 insufficiency identified and treated?

Vitamin B12 insufficiency can be difficult to identify since the associated symptoms are seldom apparent. Even when they are, they might be similar to the symptoms of other nutritional deficiencies. For someone at high risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency, their doctors recommend doing routine blood tests —  complete blood count (CBC) and a vitamin B12 blood test. If the amount of vitamin B12 in a person's blood is less than 150 per mL, then that individual is said to have vitamin B12 deficiency.

What kind of treatment is ideal for vitamin B12 deficiency?

The deficiency can be treated by adding the missing component, i.e., Vitamin B12, into the body.  Cyanocobalamin, a synthetic version of vitamin B12, is frequently used. It is possible that the individual may only need to be treated until their vitamin B12 levels are back to normal, but depending on the reason and extent of the deficiency, it is also possible that they may need vitamin B12 treatment for the rest of their life. Treatments based on vitamin B12 might include intramuscular injections, vitamin B12 supplements, nasal gel, and nasal spray. 

Preventing vitamin B12 deficiency

For most, consuming foods and beverages containing vitamin B12 is the best way to protect against vitamin B12 insufficiency. Including animal food products like meat, eggs, fish, and poultry, in your diet can be one way. Another way is to consume vitamin B12-fortified foods and supplements. Avoiding alcohol and managing your digestive diseases as well as possible is also helpful.  

Research indicates that Vitamin B12 deficiency has a detrimental impact on the body and the brain. It is better to take the right measures since this deficiency is difficult to detect. So if you want yourself or a loved one to get the most out of this vitamin, make sure you diagnose and treat vitamin B12 deficiency at the earliest. The best way to get started is to ask your doctor or healthcare provider to check for any symptoms and suggest an appropriate treatment plan.