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Aging and the Role Vitamin B12 Plays



Recently the National Academy of Medicine has been researching how levels of vitamin B12 protects the aging brain. Vitamin B12 only occurs naturally in animal protein foods. Our ability to absorb B12 depends on adequate stomach acid and digestive enzymes. These substances work to release the vitamin from the food protein. As we age our acid production decreases and over age 50 our digestive enzyme production starts to decline.

Current research on the elderly is focusing on the relationship between depression, dementia and mental impairment and their association with a B12 deficiency and folate, another B vitamin. (When I was in graduate school 20 years ago, we read a study that male vegans were more susceptible to depression.)

Dr. Rajerethinam, psychiatrist at Wayne State University School of Medicine recounted how “a 66 year old woman hospitalized with severe depression, psychosis and loss of interest in life was almost entirely reversed by injections of vitamin B12”. In Naturopathic medicine, Meyers cocktails include vitamin B12.

European researchers gave vitamin B12 to people with Alzheimer disease and found it helped to protect the areas of the brain that weren’t damaged by the disease. University of Oxford did a two year study of people older than 70 with mild impairment and lowered levels of B12. The people were given high doses of the vitamin (which is water soluble) and found this protocol reduced cerebral atrophy.


  1. B12 deficiency is more common in elderly who live alone and don’t eat a balanced diet.
  2. 30% of people older than 50 produce too little stomach acid.
  3. People who are on acid reducing medications are at higher risk of B12 deficiency.
  4. Foods supplemented with B12 are very important for vegans.
  5. People with Crohn’s disease, Celiac, surgical weight loss, cancer treatment and colitis should check with their doctors about taking a vitamin B complex supplement.

*This article was based on information from Jane Brody, New York Times Science section, 9/6/16.

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