15% of Seniors Are Clinically Low in This Vitamin…

In his book, Your Nutrition Prescription, Dr. H.L. Newbold, tells the story of a 76-year old German woman who came to see him.

She had been crying uncontrollably for 6 months and was unable to function fully because of her state.  Despite a normal B12 blood level he still gave her an injection of B12.

She returned to his office three days later, no longer crying, reporting that she had felt stronger than she’d felt in a long time and she was even able to sleep through the night for the first time in many nights.  Three days after that she was actually happy again that she was able to do her housekeeping.

And that, my friends, is the dramatic effect that B12 can have on the elderly.

Are YOU Low?

If there’s one vitamin that older people are frequently low in, it’s vitamin B12. In one study, 15% of adults older than 65 had clinically low levels of this vitally important vitamin, and most nutritionists think the number is much higher.

One of the reasons you may be low in vitamin B12 is that in order to absorb it, you need a protein found in the gastric juice of the stomach called intrinsic factor. As we get older we make less acid, and have less intrinsic factor. Antacids play havoc with the ability to make this critical chemical, without which we won’t absorb much vitamin B12, even if we’re eating plenty of it.

Additional symptoms of B12 deficiency include depression and low energy. And B12 is critical for reducing homocysteine, a nasty amino acid that can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Research has shown that high levels of homocysteine double the risk of dementia or cognitive impairment.

B12 and Alzheimer’s

And before I forget, let’s talk about Alzheimer’s. There was an interesting study done in Wales, which looked at whether or not Alzheimer’s disease was a result of vitamin B12 deficiency. While this subject is still hotly debated among physicians, this study seemed to show very clearly that there is indeed a link. Researchers evaluated members of a family with a genetic predisposition towards Alzheimer’s disease. They found that 67 percent of  family members with confirmed Alzheimer’s disease also had abnormally low blood levels of vitamin B12, compared to 8 percent who were at equal genetic risk for developing Alzheimer’s but did not.

More Praise for B12

But you don’t have to be old to take B12. In fact there is a litany of other reasons why it’s important to keep your B12 status at adequate levels.  B12 can help remineralize bones, inhibit the replication of the HIV virus and has been shown to be effective against asthma if the asthma is sulfite induced.  And B12 can greatly improve nervous system function which also makes it beneficial for those with diabetic neuropathy and multiple sclerosis. It protects against environmental toxins, enhances immunity and may even help with sleep disorders.

A Note for My Vegetarian and Vegan Friends

Vegetarians- and especially vegans- are also at risk for vitamin B12 deficiencies, not only because they don’t get much from their food, but because they often don’t eat enough protein to make the essential “intrinsic factor”. Foods that are high in B12 include clams, liver, trout, sockeye salmon and beef.

How to Take B12

For most people, at the very least a multivitamin with all the B’s makes a lot of sense. And many people find that they just feel a bit better when they take a high-quality B complex as well. Remember that if you take B12 as a separate supplement, take it separately from the B complex. The B’s work like an orchestra and are best taken together. Any member of the B family- like B12- that you take in addition, should be taken separately.

Jonny Recommends

Vitamin B12 Lozenges by Designs for Health »

We like this formulation for two reasons:

  1. It’s the methylcobalamin form of B12 which is much better, eliminating the need for the liver to convert the cheaper cyanocobalamin to the active form of vitamin B12.
  2. It’s a lozenge. The body’s able to absorb B12 directly through the mucosal tissue of the mouth making this an ideal way to increase B12 levels quickly.
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  • Mary

    Dr. Bowden,
    Would you be able to write something about choosing “good quality” supplements? Some supplements that are carried in places like Whole Foods and health shops are good quality, but also expensive. If income is limited how does one go about deciding which supplement is adequate but affordable? I think some people might not purchase a supplement at all if they think they can’t get good quality that is beyond their budget.

    • Every supplement on my website– and on RockwellNutrition.com– are chosen by me for quality. Those are the ones i recommend. I’m just not that familiar with the grocery store brands so i can’t really tell you. If i was on a very very strict budget, i’d just bite the bullet and go with a Centrum, which is better than nothing. Or I’d skip the vitamin and go for a good fish oil (like the ones on my site)


  • Great article. I will try those lozenges. I wish you had told us vegetarians about how to eat enough protein to make enough intrinsic factor as we age instead of giving us meat/flesh sources that we wouldn’t use anyway.

    Also, is there a way, without using antacids AND in addition to losing weight, to deal with gastric reflux (GERD) . I have just been told to lose weight and take antacids, and avoid coffee and many of the foods that I love.

    • Sandy, you can try low acid coffees. Doctors are quick to prescribe the sweeping “no coffee” decrees and don’t realize there are coffees that do not upset stomachs.

  • Jean Hatcher

    I started taking B12 as I read similar to what you say..but after a week of taking half the recommended dose, I was having cold symptoms..& my way of getting rid of those was to drink up to 8 fizzy 1,000 Vit C tablets over a day.. a lot I know, but that would boast my immune system & deal with cold symptoms.
    Next day I got a NOSE BLEED..never had one in all my 66yrs.. so googled newest thing in my life Vit B12 with high dose VitC. What does Google say ” Nose Bleed/ear bleeds”. So after having nose bleeds for last few months before doctor gave me cream that stopped them. Hence I’m very apprehensive I might start them again, even though I do not take high dose VitC anymore. Shocked me how powerful these vitamins are together. Thank you for your time, & your books. JH

  • Speaking of B12 deficiency, I’ve been just last November diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Not only that but for the last couple of years I was taking (because I didn’t know any better) proton inhibitors for GERD, which were given to me by various doctors. Since last November I’ve really undergone a radical change in trying to find ways to heal myself and find reasons for my health problems, and one thing I found was that people that are hypo are usually also B12 (and sometimes D3) deficient. Not only that, but when you take proton inhibitors, those basically stop you from making gastric acid in your stomach, which basically hinders the absorbtion of nutrients (even when I eat a lot of meat, particularly red meat which is rather high in B12).

    So this February when I had my thyroid lab tests done, I also asked them to add B12 to check for. When the results came back, the guy from the lab called me – he was almost in a panic state. Here the lab ranges were 400-900 and I had..tada…less than 48! I immediately started with methylcobalamin (the only form of B12 one should take as supplements – avoid cyanocobalamin like the plague, your liver will thank you for it) injection, then continued with B12 supplements in dosage of 5000 mcg per day. Oh and I immediately stopped the GERD pills (it was tough, but I did it).

    2 days ago had new blood tests. Again the guy called me panicking – with the same ranges my B12 was over 2000 😀

    So I truly believe that by stopping the proton inhibitors I helped my gut to really heal and now the absorption of B12 from meat sources, from the injections and from the methylco. supplements suddenly started to happen. Just something to think about for people who might think that they take enough B12 when their body might not be able to convert it to bring it to cellular level.

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