Though all vitamins and minerals are integral pieces to the good health puzzle, vitamin B12 is extremely important to the functioning of the circulatory and nervous systems.

Did you know that more than 20 percent of people over the age of 60 are clinically classified as deficient in vitamin B12?

The so-called “energy vitamin” B12 performs a variety of functions, including aiding in the creation of DNA, blood and nerve cells, and is a key factor in maintaining a healthy brain and immune system.

As we begin to age, our body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food begins to decline, which can lead to vitamin deficiencies. A vitamin B12 deficiency can also be caused by the following:

  • Atrophic gastritis, which is the thinning of your stomach lining
  • Conditions that affect the small intestines, such as bacterial growth, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease or even a parasite
  • Excessive drinking
  • Disorders that affect the immune system, such as Graves’ disease and lupus
  • Pernicious anemia, which is a form of anemia which makes it hard for the body to absorb vitamin B12

A B12 deficiency is very treatable, but in order to treat it, you have to recognize the early symptoms. These indicators include:

  • Constipation, diarrhea or gas
  • Change in mental state, such as behavioral changes, depression or memory loss
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Paleness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Vision loss
  • Weakness, low energy levels or lightheadedness
  • Tingling, muscle fatigue and weakness, and trouble walking

It’s important to note that the symptoms of a B12 deficiency can commonly be mistaken for dementia. Distinguishing between the two can be difficult, because the elderly are at risk for both. This is due in part to the fact that B12 helps cells form new mental connections, a process that allows for memory formation. As a result, a deficiency in B12 could offer insight on its correlation to dementia or memory loss.

Check back in the coming weeks when we’ll be discussing the viable treatment options for a vitamin B12 deficiency.