Introduction: Diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency is difficult, as there is no conclusive single test for this disorder. We evaluated the association of serum B12 and methylmalonic acid (MMA) with haematologic parameters and physical and cognitive functioning in an effort to use such clinical parameters to improve the interpretation of serum values.

Methods: We used data of participants > 19 years of age from NHANES 2011-2012 and 2013-2014, a cross-sectional survey in the United States. Functional status was assessed with questionnaires on current health condition, disability, hospital utilisation, cognitive functioning, mental health and depression, and physical functioning. Muscle strength assessed with a handgrip dynamometer was used as a performance parameter. Results were evaluated both for the entire population and participants of Western European descent. Because renal function influences MMA concentrations and is a proxy for both frailty and comorbidity, all results were additionally stratified for individuals with normal vs impaired renal function (eGFR < 60 ml/min).

Results: In total, data of 9645 participants (mean age 49 (SD 17) years, 49.3% males) were included. Out of all participants with serum B12 < 140, 140-300, and 301-1000 pmol/l, 56.2%, 13.5%, and 4.1%, respectively had elevated MMA. MMA concentrations were more strongly associated with poor functional status and physical performance than serum B12. We identified a significant and independent association of MMA concentrations, as well as haemoglobin and co-morbidity with muscle strength.

Conclusions/interpretations: A large proportion of individuals with a decreased serum B12 concentration still has normal MMA concentrations. Elevated MMA concentrations were more strongly associated with poor functional performance than serum B12.

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