Folate and vitamin B-12: friendly or enemy nutrients for the elderly

Geraldine J. Cuskelly, Kathleen M. Mooney, Ian S. Young

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In the UK vitamin B-12, deficiency occurs in approximately 20% of adults aged >65 years. This incidence is significantly higher than that among the general population. The reported incidence invariably depends on the criteria of deficiency used, and in fact estimates rise to 24% and 46% among free-living and institutionalised elderly respectively when methylmalonic acid is used as a marker of vitamin B-12 status. The incidence of, and the criteria for diagnosis of, deficiency have drawn much attention recently in the wake of the implementation of folic acid fortification of flour in the USA. This fortification strategy has proved to be extremely successful in increasing folic acid intakes pre-conceptually and thereby reducing the incidence of neural-tube defects among babies born in the USA since 1998. However, in successfully delivering additional folic acid to pregnant women fortification also increases the consumption of folic acid of everyone who consumes products containing flour, including the elderly. It is argued that consuming additional folic acid (as 'synthetic' pteroylglutamic acid) from fortified foods increases the risk of 'masking' megaloblastic anaemia caused by vitamin B-12 deficiency. Thus, a number of issues arise for discussion. Are clinicians forced to rely on megaloblastic anaemia as the only sign of possible vitamin B-12 deficiency? Is serum vitamin B-12 alone adequate to confirm vitamin B-12 deficiency or should other diagnostic markers be used routinely in clinical practice? Is the level of intake of folic acid among the elderly (post-fortification) likely to be so high as to cure or 'mask' the anaemia associated with vitamin B-12 deficiency?.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)548-558
Number of pages11
JournalProceedings of the Nutrition Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)

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