Vitamin B12 deficiency common among elderly people

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NEW YORK, NY. Researchers at Columbia University have confirmed that elderly people often suffer from a lack of vitamin B12 (cobalamin). The deficiency is usually only discovered when patients develop megaloblastic anaemia. However, before this stage is reached, cobalamin-deficient individuals may develop neuropsychiatric damage and show signs of disorientation and confusion. The researchers evaluated 548 men and women aged 67 to 96 years and compared their cobalamin and folate status to that of 117 healthy, younger control subjects. They found that 40.5 per cent of the elderly people suffered from a vitamin B12 deficiency versus only 17.9 per cent in the younger group. There was no significant difference in folate status between the two groups. The researchers also found that people who took oral supplements containing vitamin B12 and folate (6 micrograms and 400 micrograms per day respectively) were much less likely to suffer from a deficiency than were people who did not supplement. They point out that as people age they become less and less able to absorb vitamin B12 from food and therefore are likely to develop a deficiency. As gastric atrophy progresses vitamin B12 status can only be maintained by taking high oral doses of cobalamin (500-1000 micrograms daily) or by routine intramuscular injections providing 1 mg per month. The researchers also point out that a vitamin B12 deficiency leads to an accumulation of homocysteine in the blood. An increased serum concentration of homocysteine and its derivatives is now recognized as a major risk factor in heart disease and stroke.

Lindenbaum, John, et al. Prevalence of cobalamin deficiency in the Framingham elderly population. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 60, July 1994, pp. 2-11
Allen, Lindsay H. and Casterline, Jennifer. Vitamin B12 deficiency in elderly individuals: diagnosis and requirements. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 60, July 1994, pp. 12-14