Vitamin B12 Absorption and Mature Athletes

Defy Age with Vitamin B12: The Surprising Nutrient Key to Staying Active and Energized as You Get Older

Perrin Braun
By Perrin Braun

Published June 4, 2024.

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Aging is no excuse to stop exercising and eating healthfully! In fact, it is even more essential to maintaining your well-being, especially because your body’s ability to metabolize some nutrients changes as you age. This post discusses the role of vitamin B12 in the body and how important it is to monitor this nutrient as you get older.

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How does age affect your fitness?

Regardless of your age, you need to consume enough calories in order to engage in athletic activity, as well as to perform the activities of daily living! As you age, your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food decreases. One example of this is vitamin B12, a nutrient that is essential to red blood cell formation. InsideTracker measures your vitamin B12 levels because of the important of this vitamin to athletic performance.

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What is the role of vitamin B12 in the body?

You need vitamin B12 in order to produce and maintain your red blood cells, nerves, and DNA. Getting too little B12 can lead to anemia, a deficiency of red blood cells, which is a condition that can cause you to feel tired and weak. When you don’t absorb enough B12 from your food to make red blood cells, your body’s oxygen capacity decreases, along with your endurance.

In addition, vitamin B12 deficiency can increase your chances of having skin numbness and tingling, poor mental health, as well as decreased cognitive function, and poor coordination. Some research suggests that athletes with poor or marginal nutritional status for vitamin B12 may have decreased ability to perform high intensity exercise. In women specifically, higher B12 levels correlate with enhanced athletic performance. This is likely due to B12’s role in the synthesis of new cells, such as red blood cells, and to its role in the repair of damaged cells as the body rebuilds tissues.

There are actually two forms of vitamin B12—one that occurs naturally in foods and a crystalline form that is artificially created in a lab. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin B12 is 2.4 micrograms per day for adults regardless of the form. The natural, food-bound form of vitamin occurs mostly in animal products, including milk, yogurt, meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. As a result, vegetarian and vegan athletes are more likely to be deficient in vitamin B12. Another group at risk for vitamin b12 deficiency includes anyone over age 50, because as they age, some people are less able to absorb food-bound vitamin B12. To compensate, mature athletes should increase their intake of foods that are fortified with B12 or talk to their doctor about taking a supplement.  Similarly, athletes who are on calories restricted diets to maintain weight levels, for such sports as wrestling. Many foods now contain artificial B12 including breakfast cereals and juices. If you want to increase this vitamin in your diet check the nutrition information label to see if the vitamin is present in your favorite product.

Why should older adults pay more attention to vitamin B12?

The physiology of vitamin B12 is complex. In order for your body to absorb naturally occurring vitamin B12, digestive processes in the stomach and small intestine must break down the proteins that bind the vitamin. Gastric acid releases vitamin B12 from the food that you consume, which becomes a problem for some older adults because they produce less stomach acid as they age, thereby increasing their risk for B12 deficiencies. Specifically, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey estimated that 3.2% of adults over age 50 have seriously low levels of B12, and up to 20% may have a borderline deficiency.

Although many people over 50 have low vitamin B12 levels, no public health policies recommend routine screenings for this vitamin, as doctors do for cholesterol or high blood sugar. This makes prevention and early detection of vitamin B12 deficiency incredibly important for the health of older adults. If you’re concerned about which form of vitamin B12 you should be consuming, existing research does not suggest that either form is able to be absorbed more efficiently than the other—bioavailability of the vitamin is purely a matter of an individual’s hydrochloric acid in the stomach.

What are the signs of a B12 deficiency?

Because a deficiency can be slow to develop, it may be difficult to notice symptoms. The best way to test the amount of B12 in your body is to have your blood analyzed by InsideTracker, which will tell you if you’re at your optimal nutritional range. Unfortunately, since there are so many symptoms of a possible deficiency, the condition may be misdiagnosed or overlooked. Talk to your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

Numbness or tingling in your hands, legs, or feet Difficultly walking or balancing Weakness Difficulty thinking and memory loss Swollen tongue Jaundice (a yellow tinge to your skin)

If spotted early, vitamin B12 deficiency is relatively easy to correct with the right nutrition and supplement regimen, so be sure you know your levels of this nutrient if you want to maintain optimal athletic performance!

Looking for more ways to enhance your performance? Download this Muscle Building & Recover Checklist.

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