5 early warning signs of B12 deficiency – expert

Dr Dawn Harper on signs of vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency

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In an exclusive conversation with Express.co.uk, Dr Angela Rai explained why this would be so. “Vitamin B12 absorption is a complex process that often becomes less efficient with age,” she said. “Health conditions that affect the stomach and digestive system will reduce absorption and restricted diets will lead to deficiencies.”

Dr Rai elaborated: “In the stomach, gastric acid is essential to help absorb B12.

“One of the main causes of malabsorption in older adults is reduced acid secretions in the stomach.”

Dr Rai said this could lead to “decreased capacity to extract vitamin B12 bound to food proteins in the absorption process”.

She added: “Medication such proton pump inhibitors, which are used to reduce acid, are used more frequently in the older population and this may exacerbate things.”

When a person initially becomes deficient in vitamin B12, people “usually start feeling fatigued and lethargic”.

Other symptoms can include: a loss of appetite; pale skin; and a sore, red tongue; and mouth ulcers.

“Later symptoms include pins and needles, irritability, depression, [and] cognitive symptoms,” added Dr Rai.

Cognitive interference could impact a person’s memory recall and may reduce their level of concentration.

“Some people may experience heart palpitations, visual symptoms or difficulty walking,” added Dr Rai.

If the deficiency isn’t addressed in the earlier stages, a lack of vitamin B12 can lead to a loss of physical co-ordination, vision problems, and a damaged nervous system.

“Symptoms can initially be mild so the deficiency may go undetected for months or years,” cautioned Dr Rai.

“Methylmalonic acid blood test (MMA) can be used to help diagnose B12 deficiency if your doctor suspects it.”

Even though vitamin B12 can be found in fish, meat, eggs, and dairy products, people could still be at risk of the deficiency.

Aside from the disturbing side effects of a vitamin B12, a B12 deficiency could also lead to a type of anaemia.

Dr Rai said this deficiency must be “diagnosed and treated as soon as possible”.

She warned: “Although many of the symptoms improve with treatment, some problems caused by the condition can be irreversible if left untreated.”

Five early warning signs of B12 deficiency:

  1. Fatigue and lethargy
  2. Loss of appetite
  3. Pale skin
  4. Sore, red tongue
  5. Mouth ulcers.

Should a vitamin B12 deficiency lead to anaemia, left untreated, the condition could lead to an abnormally fast heartbeat and heart failure.

Heart failures is “where the heart fails to pump enough blood around the body at the right pressure”, the NHS clarifies.

Dr Angela Rai is a GP at The London General Practice.

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