Have your blood tested and take a supplement for vitamin b12 deficiency symptoms if necessary. As we age, it gets harder to absorb this vitamin from our food.
It’s easy to mistake the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency for a sign of other illness. Especially in older adults, many of the symptoms of aging may be caused in part by a deficiency in vitamin B12, which helps make DNA and nerve and blood cells and is crucial for a healthy brain and immune system. As we age, it’s harder for your body to absorb this vitamin from food.
Doctors don’t routinely check your B12 blood levels, and there is disagreement on exactly what levels could be a problem. The normal blood level of vitamin B12 ranges between 200 and 600 picogram/milliliter. If you have vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms, your doctor may decide to give you a supplement even if you are in the low-normal range of up to about 300 picogram/milliliter.
The classic vitamin B12 deficiency disease is pernicious anemia, when your red blood cells stay large and immature. But long before you have anemia, vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms appear as the condition builds up. Are you always tired in the afternoon despite a good night’s sleep? Is it hard to carry home a bag of groceries? You may have odd sensations like “pins and needles,” which can be caused by nerve damage, a symptom of B12 deficiency. You may have pale skin. Your tongue may be smooth — lacking some of the little taste-bud bumps — and you may find that your taste is diminished. You might be moody. Doctors are most likely to suspect B12 deficiency if you complain of fatigue plus another symptom or you are in one of the groups at risk.
Meat is the main source of B12, so vegetarians are at risk of a deficiency. If you are taking the diabetes drug Metformin, ask for a test: up to 30 percent of people taking Metformin are short on B12, and the problem is more likely if you also take drugs to reduce stomach acid.
The groups most vulnerable to B12 deficiency are vegetarians; people aged 60 or over; anyone who regularly takes stomach acid suppressants; people with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, or irritable bowel syndrome; and anyone taking Metformin.
Vegetarians and vegans often think they’re getting B12 from plant sources — seaweed, fermented soy, spirulina, and brewer’s yeast — but it’s not clear how much B12 these sources provide. Children, elderly people, and pregnant women who are also vegetarian are very likely to have a B12 deficiency.
What is the treatment for B12 deficiency? It depends on why you have the problem. You can eat meat and have a B12 deficiency if you have trouble absorbing the vitamin. People with inflammatory gut disorders like Crohn’s disease may not absorb the vitamin properly as well. If absorption is the problem, you may require injections. High dose oral or nasal administration may be an alternative.
But many people can treat B12 deficiency successfully by taking a supplement.
There have been high hopes that taking vitamin B could stave off memory loss or even help restore function in older people. However, in a review of the evidence from the well-respected Cochrane Group, researchers found that supplements had no significant effect on cognitive function either in healthy people or people with mild dementia. The review did find that taking folic acid plus vitamin B12 lowered blood levels of homocysteine, a breakdown product of protein that in high concentrations is tied to heart attack and stroke.
February 28, 2018
Janet O’Dell, RN