Why you need more vitamin B12 as you get older, plus other questions answered
It’s estimated that 15 per cent of people over the age of 65 are deficient in vitamin B12.
If you’re one of them, you’re missing out on an often underappreciated vitamin that’s responsible for some crucial functions, including keeping nerve and blood cells healthy, making DNA and preventing megaloblastic anemia (which makes you feel tired and weak). Vitamin B12 deficiency can be caused by a reduction in stomach acid production or reduction in intrinsic factor (a protein produced by the stomach), which in turn results in lowered absorption of this water-soluble vitamin.
So, how do you know if you’re lacking B12 – and what can you do to prevent vitamin B12 deficiency?
Here are your B12 questions answered…
Can vitamin B12 levels be tested?
Yes. Your doctor can order a blood test for vitamin B12 here at Copeman Healthcare. In general, serum values below 120 pmol/L in adults may indicate vitamin B12 deficiency. There are some limitations to this test in terms of specificity and sensitivity, but it’s typically the main test used to evaluate vitamin B12 levels.
What happens when vitamin B12 intake is too low?
If your body is having trouble processing vitamin B12 or you don’t get enough from your diet, you may be at risk of deficiency, which can lead to one or more of the following symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Nerve problems, such as numbness, burning or tingling in the feet
- Poor balance
- Poor memory
Who is at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency?
Those who are most vulnerable to vitamin B12 deficiency include:
- Adults over the age of 65
- Strict vegans
- People with pernicious anemia (whose bodies do not produce the intrinsic factor needed to absorb vitamin B12)
- People taking medications that impair the secretion of gastric acid (e.g., Prevacid, Zantac)
- Patients on Metformin (a medication for diabetes)
- Patients with gastrointestinal disorders (e.g., celiac disease, Crohn’s disease)
- Those with Helicobacter pylori infection (bacteria-caused stomach inflammation)
How much vitamin B12 do I need?
Men and women over the age of 19 should aim for 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12 per day. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need more (2.6 mcg and 2.8 mcg, respectively).
Health Canada recommends that adults over the age of 50 either regularly consume foods fortified with vitamin B12 or take a B12 supplement.
Which foods are high in vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal foods such as meat, milk, poultry, eggs, seafood, cheese and fish, but it can also be obtained through fortified products like soy or almond beverages. Here are some prime sources of vitamin B12:
- 2.5 oz of clams (1/2 cup) provides 74.2 mcg
- 2.5 oz of salmon provides 3.7 mcg
- 2 large eggs provide 1.6 mcg
- 1 cup of milk provides 1.2 mcg
- ¾ cup of yogurt provides 0.5 mcg
- 1.5 oz of cheddar cheese provides 0.8 mcg
- 2.5 oz of beef provides 2.3 mcg
- 2.5 oz of sardines provides 6.8 mcg
Fortified foods such as some breakfast cereals, nutritional yeasts and soy/rice/almond milks can be good sources of vitamin B12. (Check the product’s nutritional information label for details.)
If I don’t have a deficiency, can vitamin B12 supplements still increase my energy or have other benefits?
Despite the claims of some health supplement providers, there is no evidence that vitamin B12 supplements increase energy, improve endurance or enhance athletic performance in people who are not B12 deficient.
As always, before taking any supplement, it is important to speak to your physician, dietitian or health care provider to determine need and appropriate dosages. Contact your Copeman Healthcare team to find out more.