When the body’s levels of vitamin B12 are insufficient, vitamin B12 insufficiency results. This vital vitamin is required for both the healthy development of red blood cells and the proper operation of the brain system.
Anemia and other health issues can result from a vitamin B12 deficiency. Anemia is a disorder in which the body either produces insufficient quantities of healthy red blood cells or insufficient amounts of haemoglobin, which enables red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body.
Anemia comes in a variety of forms, each with its own causes and signs. For instance, megaloblastic anaemia, a disorder where the red blood cells are larger than normal and are unable to function correctly, can be brought on by vitamin B12 deficiency.
Many people get all the vitamin B12 they require from a healthy, varied diet. Meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products are good sources of vitamin B12.
Despite the fact that vitamin B12 is present in a balanced diet, deficiencies are frequent, especially in those over 50, premenopausal women, and those who adhere to strict vegan diets.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can be caused by a variety of different illnesses and circumstances. Pernicious anaemia, a condition where a person’s immune system incorrectly limits their ability to absorb the vitamin, is one of the most typical causes of vitamin B12 insufficiency. Less frequent causes of deficiencies include low dietary intake, specific drugs, and illnesses that damage the stomach or intestines and prevent the absorption of vitamin B12.
Lack of vitamin B12 can cause a variety of symptoms, which often appear gradually. These could include both the general anaemia symptoms, such exhaustion and lethargy, as well as the anemia-specific symptoms, like a sore tongue and a yellow tint to the skin.
If addressed, vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms frequently worsen and may result in permanent nerve and brain issues. Additionally, there may be a higher chance of developing a number of serious side effects, such as heart failure. It is crucial to seek medical advice right away if any of these symptoms are present for this reason.
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency
A person with a vitamin B12 deficiency may experience both general anaemia symptoms and symptoms unique to the illness.
More particular signs of a vitamin B12 shortage include:
- Pale yellow skin colour
- Painful, red tongue
- Mouth ulcers and canker sores
- Pins and needles, numbness or other strange sensations in the hands, legs or feet
- Vision disturbances
- Difficulty walking and balance problems
- Perceptible differences in mood, thoughts, feelings and behaviour
- Confusion and difficulty thinking. In severe cases, dementia
- Memory loss
The signs of a vitamin B12 shortage may appear gradually and progressively worsen. Those with a vitamin B12 deficiency without anaemia may have some symptoms. Despite having low amounts of vitamin B12, some people may not exhibit any symptoms.
The large range of potential symptoms, many of which can also be brought on by other illnesses, makes vitamin B12 deficiency difficult to diagnose right away. It is crucial that a person let their doctor know if they have any grounds to suspect the ailment.
Failure to flourish, trouble moving, a delay in meeting developmental milestones, and anaemia are some symptoms of vitamin B12 insufficiency in infants.
General symptoms caused by anemia
A person with a vitamin B12 deficiency may experience additional general anaemia symptoms. No matter the source, the following signs and symptoms of anaemia are frequently present:
Less common symptoms of anemia may include:
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Loss of appetite
- Altered sense of taste
- Unexplained weight loss
Causes of vitamin B12 deficiency
A typical cause of a vitamin B12 deficiency is pernicious anaemia. There are a number of additional potential reasons for the insufficiency, but they are generally less prevalent.
Vitamin B12 must mix with a protein called intrinsic factor in the stomach in order for the body to absorb it. The stomach lining’s cells manufacture this protein. When these cells are wrongly attacked by the body’s immune system in individuals with pernicious anaemia, intrinsic factor cannot combine with vitamin B12 and vitamin B12 absorption is compromised.
Conditions affecting the stomach and intestines
A vitamin B12 shortage may occur in people who have specific illnesses that affect the stomach and intestines or who have undergone some types of surgery.
- Stomach conditions: A genetic disease that results in a lack of intrinsic factor, Helicobacter pylori infection, and atrophic gastritis, which thins the stomach lining, can all result in vitamin B12 insufficiency.
- Intestinal conditions: A vitamin B12 shortage may result from Crohn’s disease, which causes the lining of the digestive tract to become inflamed, celiac disease, chronic tropical sprue, and various other disorders.
- Surgery: Surgical procedures that remove part or all of the stomach, or the end of the small intestine, may prevent adequate absorption of vitamin B12.
Complications of vitamin B12 deficiency
Occasionally, difficulties can result from a vitamin B12 shortage. Depending on how severe and long-lasting the insufficiency is, these may include:
- Neurological problems: Peripheral neuropathy, which affects the nerves primarily in the legs, can cause vision abnormalities, memory loss, pins and needles, difficulty speaking or walking, and difficulty speaking. Sometimes, some of these issues could be unfixable.
- Infertility.Women who are vitamin B12 deficient may experience infertility. Treatment can generally reverse this, though.
- Stomach cancer.The chance of getting stomach cancer may rise in situations of vitamin B12 deficiency brought on by pernicious anaemia.
- Neural tube defects.A vitamin B12 deficiency during pregnancy may raise the likelihood that a baby will be born with major birth abnormalities including spina bifida.
Prevention of vitamin B12 deficiency
While vitamin B12 insufficiency may not always be preventable, there are activities that can be taken to lessen the likelihood that the illness will arise.
If someone has low levels of vitamin B12, they should talk to their doctor about having their levels evaluated on a regular basis:
- Use a proton pump inhibitor on a long-term basis
- Use an H2 blocker on a long-term basis
- Take metformin for their diabetes
- Are strict vegans
- Have conditions affecting the stomach
- Have had gastric surgery or surgery on the small intestine
People over 50 and those with illnesses like celiac disease and Crohn’s disease, which may prevent the body from absorbing the vitamin, should also talk to a doctor about their vitamin B12 requirements.
Strict vegans (and occasionally vegetarians) and those over 50 are advised to consume vitamin B12-fortified breads, cereals, and other foods as part of a balanced diet or as a supplement.