Skip to main content

Many over50s lack vitamin B12 and folic acid

- and it increases their risk of fatigue, sleep problems, dementia, and neurological diseases

Many over50s lack vitamin B12 and folic acidAccording to a big Irish study, a large part of the population from aged 50 and older lack vitamin B12 and folic acid. This increases their risk of a number of chronic diseases and lack of cognitive skills because the vitamin deficiencies are not discovered and treated. Because older people can lack vitamin B12 and folic acid for a number of reasons, scientists suggest enriching staples. Dietary guidance and supplements are also useful strategies to be on the safe side.

B vitamins are greatly important for our energy turnover, blood formation, DNA synthesis, nervous system, and brain health. The problem is that our ability to take up vitamin B12 and folic acid from the diet decreases with age. We can therefore easily become deficient, even though we adhere to the official dietary guidelines.
Another problem is that many older people fail to eat a properly balanced diet. Also, they may have too little stomach acid, an overconsumption of alcohol, hormone pills, sleeping pills, and metformin (against type 2 diabetes), all of which can impair the ability to absorb the vitamins.
There are other factors, which eventually increase the risk of older people becoming deficient in vitamin B12 and folic acid.
The scientists from Trinity College in Dublin looked at different lifestyle factors and studied blood levels of vitamin B12 and folic acid in a large group of people from the age of 50 and older. They found that:

  • One in eight adults older than 50 years lacked vitamin B12
  • One in seven adults older than 50 years lacked folic acid
  • The risk of vitamin deficiencies increases with age
  • The risk of lacking both vitamins is greater among smokers, overweight people, people from lower social classes, and people who live alone
  • Very few (less than four percent) took supplements

Their study, which is the largest of its kind among older people in Ireland, is published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

The researchers call for food fortification with vitamin B12 and folic acid

In Ireland, it is up to each individual food manufacturer to add nutrients such as vitamin B12 and folic acid to breakfast cereals and other products. For the very same reason, it is left to chance how little or how much of these nutrients a person gets.
On several occasions, researchers have called upon the necessity of mandatory folic acid enrichment of bread. This nutrient, if consumed in sufficient amounts, can lower the risk of giving birth to babies that have neural tube defects and potentially lethal brain malformations. A mandatory health policy of enriching staples with folic acid and vitamin B12 may even have a positive effect on geriatric health. What we need is convincing research like the new Irish study, which proves that random nutrient enrichment of foods is not the way to go.

Lack of vitamin B12 is often seen in combination with a folic acid deficiency. A blood sample will reveal a deficiency of either nutrient

Enrichment of foods is simple and has positive effects only

According to lead investigator, Dr. Eamon Laird, this is the largest Irish study ever to show how lifestyle factors such as overweight and smoking increase elderly people’s risk of lacking vitamin B12 and folic acid. The enormous amount of data from this study may convince health authorities that mandatory nutrient enrichment of food with these nutrients is a good idea.
The scientists also compare conditions in Ireland with the United States, where mandatory folic acid enrichment of foods has helped prevent folic acid deficiencies in millions of Americans for twenty years now. No side effects have been observed, which is because the vitamins are water-soluble and are excreted if ingested in too large quantities.
Another thing that worries the scientists is that so many older people in Ireland still lack the two B vitamins. Mandatory nutrient enrichment of food is a simple way to prevent a host of chronic ailments and premature ageing processes, which are likely to affect the vulnerable groups.
Although Ireland, Denmark, and many other countries have not yet introduced enriched mandatory enrichment with folic acid and vitamin B12, this new research may encourage older people to focus more on their intake of essential vitamins from the diet and possibly even start to use supplements.
Previous studies have shown that larger doses of B vitamins can slow down mild cognitive impairment, which is an early stage of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Natural sources of folic acid (folate, vitamin B9):

Liver, legumes, cabbage, asparagus, sprouts, nuts, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and dairy products

Natural sources of vitamin B12:

Especially animal sources such as liver, meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products.
Bacteria inside the large intestine are also able to produce vitamin B12, but experts are not quite sure about how easily the body absorbs it. The absorption normally takes place in the small intestine with help from carrier substance called intrinsic factor.

Supplements, absorption, and quality

Multivitamins contain both folic acid and vitamin B12, but you get higher dosages from strong vitamin B complexes. Some supplements contain very large doses of vitamin B12 because we humans are not very good at absorbing the nutrient.
Vitamin B12 lozenges have extremely good absorption, as the vitamin is absorbed directly through the oral mucosa.
Vitamin B12 is also called cobalamin and is found in different forms in supplements. Make sure to read the label to find out what form your supplement contains.
Cyanocobalamin is synthetic and contain cyanide, which is toxic.
Methylcobalamin is non-toxic but costs more to manufacture.
To treat pernicious anemia, you need vitamin B12 injections.


Trinity College Dublin. Many older adults are deficient in vitamin B12 and folate. ScienceDaily June 26, 2018

Vanita R Aroda et al. Long-Term Metformin Use and Vitamin B12 Deficiency in the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study. Endocrine Society 2016

David Smith et al. Homocysteine-Lowering by B-vitamins Slows the Rate of Accelerated Brain Atrophy in Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Randomized Controlled Trial. PLOS ONE 2010


  • Created on .