When you hear deficiency, vitamin B12 probably isn’t the first vitamin or mineral that comes to mind. But vitamin B12 deficiency is real and, recently, questions have arisen about whether or not vitamin B12 deficiency can affect aging. So let’s take a closer look at this B vitamin.
What Is Vitamin B12?
Also known as cobalamin or cyanocobalamin, vitamin B12 helps form the greater vitamin B complex of nutrients, which are used by your body as coenzymes to promote good skin, hair, liver and GI health. B vitamins also play a role in metabolizing carbs, proteins and fats, supporting the nervous system, and they are associated with maintaining proper energy levels.
According to WebMD.com, “Vitamin B12 has many important functions in the body. It works with the B vitamin folate to make our body's genetic material. It helps keep levels of the amino acid homocysteine in check, which may help decrease heart disease risk, and it is essential to the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen through the blood to the body's tissues.”
Common Causes of Vitamin B12 Deficiency:
- Poorly functioning digestive systems that cannot adequately absorb B12
- Atrophic gastritis (affects up to 30% of people aged 50 and older)
- Surgical removal of part of the stomach and/or small intestine
- Crohn's disease, celiac disease, bacterial growth, or a parasite
- Autoimmune disorders like Graves' disease
- Long-term use of acid-reducing drugs
- Following a vegetarian or vegan diet
B12 and Aging
According to a November 2011 article from nytimes.com, “As we age, our ability to absorb B12 from food declines, and often so does our consumption of foods rich in this vitamin. A B12 deficiency can creep up without warning and cause a host of confusing symptoms that are likely to be misdiagnosed or ascribed to aging.”
The major symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency is anemia, which is easy to test for and address. The more subtle symptoms are often the cause of confusion and potential misdiagnoses. These symptoms include “muscle weakness, fatigue, shakiness, unsteady gait, incontinence, low blood pressure, depression and other mood disorders, and cognitive problems like poor memory”—all symptoms that can be quickly dismissed as signs of aging.
If you’re concerned about your own vitamin B12 levels, please discuss those concerns with your doctor.