Vitamin B12 deficiency can start with a few symptoms like tiredness and slight tingling or numbness in hands and feet; ignore the symptoms and low B12 levels could escalate into severe nerve damage, disease or death.
What are the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency?
Below is a list of some of the most common side effects which may arise from insufficient stores of vitamin B12.
(Please note that the severity of the symptoms may vary according to the stage of B12 deficiency.)
- Aggressive behavior
- Sleep problems
- Imbalance, difficulty walking with coordination
- Numbness or tingling in the hands and/or feet
- Altered taste perception
- Heart palpitations
- Short-term memory loss
- Also read: B12 Deficiency can really Get on your Nerves
B12 and your body
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble nutrient. Therefore, your body is only able to store it for a short time. Vitamin B12 has many important functions in your body.
- Vitamin B12 is essential for producing plenty of healthy red blood cells and for synthesizing DNA. A lack of B12 severely reduces your body’s ability to make sufficient red blood cells for carrying oxygen throughout your body.
- Pernicious anemia is a life-threatening condition that is often the cause of vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Your nervous system is dependent on vitamin B12, which enhances communication between the brain and your many nerve sensors, such as those in your fingertips, feet and mouth. This explains why sufferers of B12 deficiency notice a sensation similar to wearing gloves throughout the day; others report that their food tastes unusual, another clue that the body’s neurons are not operating correctly.
- A deficiency of vitamin B12 compromises your nervous system and could result in permanent neurological damage.
- Researchers have found a direct link between vitamin B12 deficiency and brain atrophy among the elderly. In one study which appeared in the Journal of Nutrition, senior citizens who had the highest levels of B12 experienced healthier cognitive functioning skills.
- Also read Now Eat This: Preventing Age Related Hearing Loss
- Vitamin B12 helps your body monitor already healthy homocysteine levels, a factor in heart health.
What diseases are associated with B12 deficiency?
There are many illnesses which occur when B12 levels are low; some conditions may be caused by vitamin B12 deficiency, while others are closely correlated. Below are some common illnesses associated with B12 deficiency, including many which most people don’t realize are affected by vitamin B12 levels.
- Alzheimer’s disease, brain deterioration, cognitive decline, memory loss and other forms of dementia
- Neurological diseases such as Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Cardiovascular disease, caused by high homocysteine levels
- Mental illness, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and psychosis
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Autoimmune diseases, such as AIDS and pernicious anemia
B12 deficiency is often misdiagnosed
According to a Tufts University study, 40 percent of people between the ages of 26 and 83 have low to medium-low B12 levels, indicating a deficiency severe enough to cause neurological disorder symptoms, while 9 percent are depleted enough to the point of irreversible neurological damage and life-threatening symptoms. Approximately 16 percent are close to becoming vitamin B12 deficient.
Why is vitamin B12 deficiency overlooked?
Only a blood test can properly determine if somebody is suffering from B12 deficiency, and most physicians don’t include a B12 screening with yearly check-ups. Also, many of the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are similar to common health disorders, such as diabetes, chronic depression and fatigue.
How can you get enough B12?
Vitamin B12 is found in many high protein foods. Excellent sources of B12 are:
- Lean beef cuts, such as chuck and sirloin
- Fish, particularly salmon, tuna and halibut
- Shellfish, including crab meat, mussels, clams and oysters
- Dairy products, such as swiss cheese, yogurt, milk and cottage cheese
Vegans are at a high risk for developing vitamin B12 deficiency, as their diet specifically excludes food items which provide vitamin B12. Other people who are at risk of getting B12 deficiency are patients of weight loss surgery, diabetics on metformin, individuals with gastrointestinal disease, people who lack intrinsic factor and anybody taking prescription heartburn medication.
The only way to prevent becoming deficient in vitamin B12 is by constantly replenishing your body with B12-rich nutrients.
Alternatively, patients diagnosed with vitamin B12 deficiency are encouraged to take vitamin B12 supplements, such as sublingual B12 tablets, B12 shots, or over-the-counter (OTC) vitamin B12.
Find more information on preventing vitamin B12 deficiency: