Targeting the nutrients you need as you age is the key to staying healthy, but how important are B vitamins to healthy aging?
Many vitamins and minerals play a role in role in successful aging yet a group of vitamins called the B vitamins are a team behind the scenes that are continually working hard to keep you well. Comprised of 8 water soluble vitamins, these B vitamins are necessary for energy production, regulating your metabolism, keeping your cardiovascular and nervous systems strong and improving your mental health and cognitive function.
Folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 are three of the B vitamins that have been given the most significant attention amongst older adults. Key players in the homocysteine level of your body, scientists are working hard to investigate the impact that these B vitamin levels play to keep your heart strong, your nerves functioning and your brain healthy.
While research continues, take an active role in your own health and be aware of the factors that may affect your B vitamin absorption.
Factors that affect B vitamin absorption
Age: As you age your ability to absorb vitamin B12 from food decreases putting you at risk of deficiency. The Institute of Medicine recommends that individuals aged 50 and older receive vitamin B12 from a synthetic source – a supplement or fortified product. This form of B12 is unbound and more apt to be available for absorption by your body.
Alcohol: Even moderate alcohol consumption can affect your folate status. Alcohol interferes with folate metabolism and it is thought that this interaction may be how alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast, colon, and other cancers. Keep your alcohol intake in check and ensure that you are meeting your folate needs of 400 mcg/day.
Poor Diet: As you age your diet often suffers which can result in an overall poor intake of the B vitamins. Lack of appetite, health and psychological issues are some of the many factors that can influence food your intake. According to statistics Canada, 1/3 of Canadians aged 65 years and over are at nutrition risk. Begin small and focus on one meal and make it nutritionally strong. Move to other meals and snacks as you are ready and able, supplementing as appropriate.
Vegetarian: Especially for those that follow a strict vegan diet, supplementing with vitamin B12 is important to prevent vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products and fortified foods. You need a minimum of 2.4 mcg/d. Tally your B12 dietary numbers to ensure you are getting enough and supplement as appropriate.
Medications: Are you a diabetic who takes Metformin? Someone who suffers from GERD and uses Nexium? These are some of the many common medications that can affect your vitamin B12 status. Follow-up with your healthcare provider if you are wondering if the medications you are taking put your vitamin B levels at risk.
For Further Reading:
- Horvat P. et al. Serum folate, vitamin B-12 and cognitive function in middle and older age: The HAPIEE study. Experimental Gerontology. April 2016. 73: 33-38
- Vitamin B12 deficiency can be sneaky, harmful. Harvard Health Publications. 2013
- Alcohol, Balancing Risks and Benefits. The Nutrition Source. Harvard School of Public Health.