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Vitamin Deficiencies Common in Aging

by Dr. Jamesh Meschino on

December 18, 2023 in

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Source: Journal Nutrients (November 2017)
Nutrition / Natural Medicine Update (December 18, 2017)

The study I am citing today was published in the journal Nutrients in 2017. The very common question that often come up into our mind is 

What vitamins do we need to focus on as we age?

To find out the answer, this large study on an aging population in southern Germany (KORA-Age Study) showed that more than one in two persons over 65 years of age has sub-optimal blood levels of vitamin D. As well, researchers reported low blood levels of vitamin B12 in 27% of subjects.

Overall, the scientists examined blood samples of 1,079 older adults, aged 65 to 93 years. Their analysis focused on levels of four micronutrients: vitamin D, folate, vitamin B12, and iron. The KORA Cooperative Health Research platform has been examining the health of thousands of people for over 30 years. 

The results showed that 52% of the examined older adults had vitamin D levels below 50 nmol/L and thus had a suboptimal vitamin D status. They also noted that 27% of older adults had vitamin B12 levels below the cut-off, 11% had low iron levels, and almost 9% had low folate in their blood. 

These findings are important and mirror similar reports seen in other developed countries.

What vitamin deficiencies are common in aging and how much is required?

Regarding vitamin D, the ideal level associated with prevention of many cancers, as well as osteoporosis and diabetes is a blood level at or above 75nmol/L. In the Kora study, more than 50% of subjects had blood levels below 50 nmol/L.

Regarding vitamin B12, low blood levels can cause anemia in advanced stages, but the earlier signs of B12 deficiency result in memory loss and dementia-related symptoms, as B12 is required to make brain neurotransmitters needed for memory and cognition. 

The same is true for folic acid, severe deficiency causes anemia, but a mild deficiency causes memory loss and cognitive impairment. As well, folic acid and vitamin B12 are necessary to keep blood levels of homocysteine in check.

Insufficient B12 or folic results in high blood homocysteine, which damages blood vessels and promotes clogged arteries. 

A report in JAMA reported that high homocysteine accounts for 10% of all heart disease deaths each year in the U.S. High homocysteine also promotes dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and osteoporosis.

As for low iron, severe cases cause anemia, but marginal deficiencies result in low energy and memory loss and concentration problems, as well as decreased resistance to infections.

So, it’s very likely that these nutrient deficiencies begin to appear long before individuals are 65 years and older. 

What kind of blood test should be done?

I encourage all my adult patients to include the following blood tests on each annual physical exam:

  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B12
  • Red Blood Cell Folic acid (folate)
  • Serum Ferritin (iron)
  • Homocysteine

Many provincial and other insurance plans don’t pay for vitamin D or homocysteine blood tests, and thus, many doctors don’t order them or recommend them. But they’re important.

So, you should request these tests yourself at your next annual physical exam. They are not expensive, and they provide tremendous insight into your potential risk of future disease. 

The good news is that you can improve these blood test results via improved dietary practices and/or via supplements, if your values are in the sub-optimal or marginal deficiency range.

In my view, you should ensure that every year you are tracking your blood level of: vitamin D, vitamin B12, folate, ferritin (and related iron tests), and homocysteine. 

Ensuring optimal status of these nutrients can translate into many more years of enjoying a highly functioning body and mind and disease-free living. Something we all want.

I have included a link to the research article in the text below.


Prevalence and Predictors of Subclinical Micronutrient Deficiency in German Older Adults: Results from the Population-Based KORA-Age Study

Eat Smart, Live Well, Look Great,

Dr. Meschino

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Dr. James Meschino