When it comes to getting enough nutrients every day, many of us fall short. That’s particularly the case when it comes to getting enough important B vitamins–including folate and B-12. If you are age 50 or older, you may want to pay particularly close attention to how much vitamin B you are getting in your diet, because many older adults are vitamin B deficient, according to a recent study. The study, conducted in Ireland, found a disturbing number of older adults deficient in B-12 and folate, which may result in serious health problems down the road.

Researchers from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging (TILDA), at Trinity College in Dublin, conducted a study involving over 5,000 adults over age 50 (from Ireland). The researchers examined the study participants’ medical information to find out if general nutritional needs were being met in the over 50 age group, particularly regarding the key nutrients vitamin B-12 and folate. The study was published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

“This is the largest representative and most comprehensive study of vitamin B-12 and folate status in older adults ever conducted in Ireland,” notes lead study author Dr. Eamon Laird.

Vitamin B and Age-Related Health Conditions

Conditions such as heart disease, stroke, dementia and migraines have been associated with high levels of an amino acid called homocysteine. B vitamins–especially folate, along with vitamins B6 and B12–have been shown in numerous studies to help lower homocysteine levels.

In fact, Vitamin B and folate are so vital in the reduction of health risks and healthy nerve function, that these two supplements are prescribed by many neurologists for brain health, and as part of an Alzheimer’s prevention regime.

Study Findings
After evaluating the data collected from the study participants, the scientists discovered that 1 in 8 older adults have low levels of vitamin B-12 or were deficient. In addition, 1 in 7 people had low folate levels, or were folate deficient.

The study also discovered that the older a person is, the higher risk they have of being vitamin B deficient. Levels of vitamin B deficiency rose from 14% in the 50-60 age group—to 23% in the over 80 group.

Factors that increase the risk of vitamin B deficiency include:

  • Smoking
  • Living alone
  • Being from a low socioeconomic background

“There are striking differences in the prevalence of deficiency across different lifestyle factors such as obesity and smoking — both of which are modifiable risk factors,” explains Dr. Laird.

High Risk for Older Adults

Dr. Laird and the research team point out that vitamin B-12 and folate are vital for brain health and nerve function, as well as repair of DNA, and red blood cell production. Laird says that older adults should take the issue of B vitamin deficiencies very seriously.


The researchers in the study were very concerned that the prevalence of vitamin B deficiency may lead to poor health outcomes for seniors as they age. They were adamant that public health policies regarding fortification of food products (adding folate and B-12 to cereals and other foods) should be mandatory.

“The high rates of B vitamin deficiency seen in the older adult population are of concern and, given that this can be easily treated with fortification, this has significant policy and practice implications for government and health services.”


Trinity College, Dublin