Top 5 Vitamin B12 Benefits for Elderly
“Top 5 Vitamin B12 Benefits for Elderly” was written by Lauren Whitman, RDN & edited/reviewed by Aly Bouzek, MS, RDN.
Are you looking for information on vitamin B12 benefits for elderly? If so, you’re in the right place!
It is estimated up to 43% of older adults have a vitamin B12 deficiency (1). (A vitamin deficiency means that our body isn’t getting enough of the vitamin).
It’s very important for older adults to get enough vitamin B12 to avoid deficiency in the vitamin, but it’s also important that older adults get enough vitamin B12 to get the benefits!
This article will explain the signs and symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, how to get more vitamin B12 from food and supplements, and the top 5 vitamin B12 benefits for elderly.
What Vitamin B12 Does and Why it’s Important for Elderly
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is very important for making red blood cells, cell metabolism, nerve and nervous system function, and DNA synthesis (1, 2). Basically, vitamin B12 is involved in every cell of our body, so it is very important!
Elderly are More at Risk for Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Our bodies are less capable of absorbing vitamin B12 as we age. This then puts older adults at a higher risk for vitamin B12 deficiency (3). Older adults are at an even higher risk for vitamin B12 deficiency if they:
- Have anemia
- Have a history of gastritis, gastric surgery, or other gastrointestinal disorders affecting absorption
- Are taking certain medications* to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease and peptic ulcer disease (such as cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid), nizatidine (Axid) and ranitidine (Zantac), omeprazole (Prilosec, Losec), lansoprazole (Prevacid), rabeprazole (Aciphex), pantoprazole (Protonix, Pantoloc), and esomeprazole (Nexium))
- Are a senior with diabetes taking metformin
- Have chronic alcoholism
- Are vegetarian, vegan, or don’t consume a lot of meat
- Have a loss of appetite, are eating less, and/or have experienced unintended weight loss
*note these medications affect absorption of B12 from food, but do not affect absorption of B12 from supplements.
Vitamin B12 Deficiencies in Elderly
When people (particularly elderly) are not getting enough vitamin B12, it may show up as different signs and symptoms. It may take a few years for a deficiency to occur, but if left untreated, it can cause serious problems.
Signs & Symptoms
The following may be signs and symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency:
- Muscle weakness
- Tingling and numbness of hands and feet
- Poor balance (increasing fall risk)
- Glossitis (swelling) of the tongue
- Pale skin
- Weight loss
- Intestinal problems
- Mood disturbances, such as depression (1, 2, 4)
We recommend talking to your doctor about getting blood tests if you think you or an older adult you know has a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Before your appointment, it may be helpful to figure out how much vitamin B12 is being consumed (from both food and supplements) and any other risk factors. Be sure to share the information with your doctor!
Harms of Long-Term Vitamin B12 Deficiency
A long-term deficiency in vitamin B12 can cause anemia, neuropathy (numbness, tingling, muscle weakness), myelopathy (spinal cord injury). Some studies have also shown an association of vitamin B12 deficiency with dementia and low cognitive function (2, 3).
Top 5 Vitamin B12 Benefits for Elderly (in no particular order)
Now that you know about the harms of not getting enough vitamin B12, let’s talk about all the benefits you get from vitamin B12!
Vitamin B12 Benefits for Elderly: Prevents Anemia
Remember when we mentioned vitamin B12 is necessary for making red blood cells? Well, vitamin B12 helps keep our cells healthy and can prevent blood conditions that make people feel tired and weak (4).
Anemia is a common blood condition in the elderly. It is often overlooked because it shows as weakness and fatigue (which are already common symptoms among older adults).
Certain types of anemia can be prevented when older adults are getting enough vitamin B12 each day (5).
Vitamin B12 Benefits for Elderly: Treats Anemia
Vitamin B12 not only prevents anemia, but it can also treat anemia. Anemia treatment may include vitamin B12 shots. Make sure to talk to your doctor to figure out if this is right for you (5).
Vitamin B12 Benefits for Elderly: Supports Bone Health
Research is showing that vitamin B12 (along with B2, B6, and folate) plays an important role in bone health in older adults. Data shows that these B vitamins may help protect bone structure, bone quality, and bone mass (6).
More research is needed on vitamin B12 and bone health, but we know that vitamin B12 will only benefit elderly when consumed in high enough amounts! If you want to read more about bone health, check out this article on osteoporosis in the elderly here.
Vitamin B12 Benefits for Elderly: May Help Cognitive Function
Low levels of vitamin B12 have been connected to cognitive decline and function in elderly (7).
While there is not enough evidence saying that vitamin B12 can improve already harmed brain function, there is reason to believe that consuming enough vitamin B12 does help cognitive function in older adults.
It is generally recommended that older adults should consume a good, rather than just OK, amount of vitamin B12 to help with brain health! (8)
Vitamin B12 Benefits for Elderly: May Improve Mood
Some studies are showing that vitamin B12 and depression are connected (9). And, some studies have shown a positive outcome for depression when vitamin B12 was added to the diet!
More research is needed, but the right amount of vitamin B12 may provide positive benefits for elderly suffering from poor mood or depression.
How to Make Sure that Elderly are Getting Enough Vitamin B12
The recommended amount of vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg/day for both men and women ages 18+.
We need to make sure that we are getting enough vitamin B12 through food and supplements since our bodies cannot make it themselves. In rare cases, you can also get vitamin B12 through prescription medications.
Vitamin B12 is mostly found in animal foods like poultry, meat, fish, and dairy. Click on this link to see our chart of the Foods Highest in Vitamin B12.
Because vitamin B12 is mostly in animal foods, vegans, vegetarians, and those who don’t eat a lot of meat may have a harder time getting enough vitamin B12. Fortunately, there are some vegetarian food sources of vitamin B12!
We also have a great list of the 11 best B12 foods for vegetarians.
Vitamin B12 can be added to cereal and other foods in a process called fortification. Fortification is the process of adding nutrients to food that aren’t already in the food.
It’s important to know that the FDA requires companies to list B12 content on their nutrition labels ONLY when it is not naturally in that food. If vitamin B12 is found naturally in the food, companies are not required to list the vitamin.
Vitamin B12 Supplements
A great way to get vitamin B12 is from an everyday multivitamin/mineral supplement from a trusted company. Another way to get vitamin B12 is through pills containing only B12 or a combination of B vitamins.
Lozenges, tablets, nasal sprays, and B12 shots are other available options, but you should discuss these with your doctor or registered dietitian before taking.
Risks of Too Much Vitamin B12
Fortunately, there are no known harmful effects from eating or taking too much vitamin B12. However; in rare cases there have been reports of high doses of vitamin B12 causing headache, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and/or tingling sensations.
Again, talk with a doctor or registered dietitian before taking a B12 supplement.
It’s Extremely Unlikely to Overdose on Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin. This means that our bodies will use as much of the vitamin as we need, and then will get rid of the rest through our urine.
You don’t have to worry about overdosing (taking too much) on vitamin B12, but you should talk to your doctor about any medications you are taking and how they may interact with vitamin B12.
Summary of Vitamin B12 Benefits for Elderly
In conclusion, vitamin B12 offers many benefits to elderly and people of all ages when consumed in high enough amounts!
More research is needed to figure out how B12 can specifically support bone health, cognition, and mood, but we know that by getting enough vitamin B12, you are lowering your chance of all the health conditions associated with vitamin B12 deficiency.
Now that you know about the importance of vitamin B12 benefits for elderly, check out more on the 7 Key Nutrients for Senior Nutrition!
Resources and Further Reading:
- Vitamin B12: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/.
- Vitamin B-12. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-vitamin-b12/art-20363663.
- Stover P. Vitamin B12 and older adults. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care. 2010;13(1):24-27. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5130103/.
- Vitamin B12: Fact Sheet for Consumers. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-Consumer/#:~:text=Vitamin%20B12%20is%20a%20nutrient,makes%20people%20tired%20and%20weak.
- Vitamin B12 Deficiency Anemia. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/vitamin-b12-deficiency-anemia#:~:text=Vitamin%20B12%20deficiency%20anemia,all%20parts%20of%20your%20body.
- Dai Z, Koh WP. B-Vitamins and bone health-a review of the current evidence. Nutrients. 2015;7(5):3322-3346. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4446754/.
- Soh Y, Lee DH, Won CW. Association between vitamin B12 levels and cognitive function in the elderly Korean population. Medicine. 2020;99(30):e21371. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7387066/#:~:text=As%20such%2C%20low%20B12%20levels,these%20levels%20with%20cognitive%20function.
- Smith DA, Refsum H. Vitamin B-12 and cognition in the elderly. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2009;89(2):707S-11S https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19116332/.
- Sangle P, Sandhu O, Aftab Z, et al. Vitamin B12 supplementation: preventing onset and improving prognosis of depression. Cureus. 2020;12(10):e11169. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7688056/.