Vitamin B12 is needed by human body for performing important functions like myelin formation, energy production, DNA synthesis and blood formation. This is the reason why it is known as the energy vitamin. B12 deficiency is very common and many people suffer from B12 deficiency symptoms. According to Framingham Heart Study, around 25% of adults in the United States do not have sufficient quantities of this important nutrient and almost half of the US population does not have optimal levels of blood in their bodies.
What Are B12 Deficiency Symptoms?
Mild cases of B12 deficiency may cause mild symptoms. If left untreated, the symptoms can worsen and low levels of B12 can lead to anemia—your body does not have enough red blood cells. The following symptoms can appear if you do not have sufficient levels of vitamin B12 in your body:
- Tiredness and weakness
- Dizziness and light-headedness
- Pale Skin
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Sore tongue
- Weight loss
- Easy bleeding or bruising
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Stomach upset, nausea or poor appetite
However, if the levels of B12 remain low for a long time, B12 deficiency can lead to irreversible damage to nerve cells in brain. Some severe symptoms may include:
- Tingling in the arms and legs
- Muscle weakness
- Mental fogginess
- Memory issues
- Mood swings
Medical Conditions and Diseases Related to B12 Deficiency
Besides the B12 deficiency symptoms, this deficiency can also increase your risk for many medical conditions, some of which are quite serious.
- Depression: Vitamin B12 helps the central nervous system in the manufacture of compounds called monoamines. Shortage of these compounds causes depression. B12 deficiency results in high levels of homocysteine which can cause depression too.
- Dementia and Alzheimer's: In elderly people, B12 deficiency can cause reversible dementia and many cognitive problems. It is also linked with brain atrophy which is a characteristic of Alzheimer's disease.
- Neurological and Neuropsychiatric Conditions: Mood disturbances, hyperactivity and psychosis are some of the neuropsychiatric disorders that are associated with B12 deficiency. Peripheral neuropathy, Parkinson's disease, and migraine are neurological conditions caused by B12 deficiency.
- Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Diseases: Deficiency of vitamin B12 increases the homocysteine levels in your blood which makes you more vulnerable to cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases like stroke and heart diseases.
- Cancer: As B12 plays an important role in DNA synthesis, B12 deficiency can lead to damage to DNA which is a risk factor for cancer. Females who have low levels of vitamin B12 may be at a higher risk of developing cervical and breast cancer.
- Birth Defects, Infertility and Repeated Miscarriages: Pregnant women deficient in B12 have a higher risk of having babies who have neural tube defects like spina bifida, which affects the spinal cord and brain. Deficiency of vitamin B12 can also cause repeated miscarriages and are considered to be the main cause of infertility as well.
Why Is B12 So Important?
Cobalamin is the scientific name of vitamin B12, which is a water-soluble vitamin that resides in the kidneys, liver and other body tissues. Vitamin B12 is needed by the body for a number of reasons including:
- Digestion of foods, usage of iron
- Functioning of the nervous system, development of nerves
- Formation of new cells, functioning of immune system
- Formation and regulation of red blood cells, circulation of blood
- Mood regulation and improving memory function
- Production of adrenal hormones, boosting mental, physical and emotional energy
What Causes B12 Deficiency?
B12 deficiency symptoms are caused by the following conditions and diseases.
1. Certain Conditions and Diseases
The diseases and conditions which can stop the body from absorbing vitamin B12 include:
- Too much consumption of alcohol
- Celiac disease, Crohn's disease, infection caused by fish tapeworm
- Pernicious anemia (your body destroys the cells that can make intrinsic factor)
- Diverticula, strictures, scleroderma and diabetes hinder the movement of the food through the intestines, giving bacteria the chance to steal B12 and multiply rapidly
- Weight-loss surgeries in which a part of the small intestine or stomach is surgically removed to bring down your weight
- Use of heartburn medicines and antacids for a long time
2. Dietary Factors
Dietary factors may also be responsible for vitamin B12 deficiency. For instance, malnutrition and consuming a vegetarian diet that does not include any dairy products, fish, meat or eggs are common causes of B12 deficiency. Patients suffering from anorexia nervosa or bulimia can also have B12 deficiency.
How to Treat B12 Deficiency
The main goal of B12 deficiency treatment is to increase the level of vitamin B12 in your body. The cause of the B12 deficiency is going to decide the treatment that you will need.
- Taking a supplement or changing your diet will be best if dietary factors are responsible for your B12 deficiency.
- B12 injections will be prescribed to you by your doctor if the deficiency is caused by pernicious anemia or an absorption issue.
- B12 deficiency caused by Crohn's disease, alcoholism or celiac disease can be treated simply by treating these conditions. You will be asked to start eating a balanced diet as well.
Generally, treatment will solve your deficiency issue. But if you have sustained nerve damage caused by B12 deficiency, it could be irreversible.
How to Prevent B12 Deficiency
Deficiency of vitamin B12 can be avoided simply by increasing your intake of eggs, seafood, meat, dairy products and poultry. For people who either do not eat meat or suffer from a disease which stops their body from absorbing this vitamin, eating cereals fortified with vitamin B12 at breakfast and taking B12-containing multivitamins is a good way to prevent B12 deficiency. However, it is important to notify your doctor about the intake of B12 supplements, so they can prescribe some medicines that are not affected by these supplements.
Watch the video below to learn more about B12 deficiency: