Vitamin B12 performs a plethora of important roles in the body, from fighting fatigue and keeping our bodies’ nerves and blood cells healthy, to producing DNA. It is little wonder, then, that low B12 levels can cause the body to malfunction. There are two main reasons why someone may not get enough B12; poor dietary intake and pernicious anaemia.
In relation to diet, vitamin B12 is found naturally in a wide variety of animal foods and is added to some fortified foods.
As the National Institutes of Health points out however, plant foods have no vitamin B12 unless they are fortified.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, it may be that you aren’t able to get enough B12 as you are excluding the primary sources of it.
Pernicious anaemia is the leading cause of B12 deficiency in the UK, according to the NHS.
Pernicious anaemia is an autoimmune disease that prevents the body from making intrinsic factor – a protein made by the stomach and needed to absorb vitamin B12 in the intestine.
The underlying causes may vary but B12 deficiency often produces the same results.
A number of symptoms associated with vitamin B12 deficiency involve the digestive tract.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, diarrhoea may signal low B12 levels.
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Diarrhoea is a condition whereby you pass looser or more frequent stools than is normal for you.
Other digestive symptoms include nausea (feeling sick to your stomach) and vomiting, heartburn, abdominal bloating and gas, constipation, loss of appetite and weight loss.
General symptoms include:
- A pale yellow tinge to your skin
- A sore and red tongue (glossitis)
- Mouth ulcers
- Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
- Changes in the way that you walk and move around
- Disturbed vision
- Changes in the way you think, feel and behave
- A decline in your mental abilities, such as memory, understanding and judgement (dementia).
When to see a GP
According to the NHS, you should see a GP if you’re experiencing symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.
“These conditions can often be diagnosed based on your symptoms and the results of a blood test,” explains the health body.
It’s also important for vitamin B12 to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
As the NHS points out, although many of the symptoms improve with treatment, some problems caused by the condition can be irreversible if left untreated.
“The longer the condition goes untreated, the higher the chance of permanent damage,” it warns.
How to treat B12 deficiency
The treatment for vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia depends on what’s causing the condition.
Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia is usually treated with injections of vitamin B12.
“If your vitamin B12 deficiency is caused by a lack of the vitamin in your diet, you may be prescribed vitamin B12 tablets to take every day between meals,” the NHS adds.
Good sources of vitamin B12 include:
- Salmon and cod
- Milk and other dairy products
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