Cobalamin: a critical vitamin in the elderly.
Vitamin B(12) deficiency is a common problem in elderly subjects. If a serum cobalamin level of about 150 pmol/L (200 pg/mL) is considered normal, 10-15% of the elderly are deficient. Today, however, a threshold of 220-258 pmol/L (300-350 pg/mL) is recognized as desirable in the elderly, or else sensitive markers like the blood concentration of homocysteine or methylmalonic acid (MMA) are used. Then the prevalence of cobalamin deficiency rises to up to 43%. In the elderly, this high prevalence of poor cobalamin status is predominantly caused by atrophic gastritis type B. Atrophic gastritis results in declining gastric acid and pepsinogen secretion, and hence decreasing intestinal absorption of the cobalamin protein complexes from food. About 20-50% of the elderly are affected. Furthermore, the reduced acid secretion leads to an alkalinization of the small intestine, which may result in bacterial overgrowth and thus to a further decrease of the bioavailability of the vitamin. In addition, some drugs such as proton pump inhibitors or H2 receptor antagonists inhibit the intestinal absorption of vitamin B(12). An already moderately reduced vitamin B(12) level is associated with vascular disease and neurocognitive disorders such as depression and impaired cognitive performance. Furthermore, a poor vitamin B(12) status is assumed to be involved in the development and progression of dementia (e.g., Alzheimer's dementia). This is especially observable if the folic acid status is reduced as well. Due to the insecure supply, the cobalamin status of elderly persons (>/=60 years) should be regularly controlled and a general supplementation with vitamin B(12) (>50 microg/day) should be considered.
Prev Med. 2004 Dec;39(6):1256-66.