Celiac disease and vitamin B12 deficiency are interrelated, but many celiacs are unaware of the high risk for developing vitamin B-12 deficiency. Like celiac disease, vitamin B12 deficiency is sometimes an autoimmune disorder brought on by pernicious anemia.
What is vitamin B-12?
Vitamin B12, “cyanocobalamin,” is an essential nutrient that occurs in protein foods, such as beef and chicken liver, oysters, shrimp, cheese, yogurt, and eggs. Vitamin B12 is water-soluble, and is stored in the liver.
B12 is crucial for healthy red blood cell production, for protecting your nervous system, for supporting cardiovascular health, and for sustaining normal cognitive functioning, such as memory, thinking skills, and logic.
What are the symptoms of vitamin B-12 deficiency?
If you are unable to sustain sufficient amounts of B12 in your liver, then you may start to feel tired, depressed, and disoriented. You might notice a numbing or tingling sensation in your hands and feet, described as “pins and needles.”
You might also notice that you have a hard time remembering important dates or meetings, or finding the right word while talking to somebody or sending an e-mail.
Some side effects and/or complications that may arise unless you receive treatment for vitamin B12 deficiency:
- Chronic fatigue
- Short-term memory loss
- Loss of physical balance
- Tingling-numbing in extremities
- Red, swollen tongue
- Altered taste perception
- Increased risk for heart disease or stroke
- Liver disease
- Dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease
- Severe neurological damage
What is celiac disease?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Celiac patients and others with gluten intolerance must avoid all products containing gluten- baked goods, packaged snacks, and a long list of food additives- in order to avoid symptoms.
Celiac disease is one of many autoimmune diseases that occur with vitamin B12 deficiency. With celiac, patients who eat any foods containing gluten experience painful symptoms such as stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and achiness. That is because their immune system identifies gluten as a threat, and begins to attack traces of gluten in the digestive system, causing severe damage to the intestinal tract.
Why are celiac disease patients at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency?
Scientists don’t claim that celiac disease is an outright cause of low vitamin B12, but they have noted a strong correlation- enough to warrant extensive research and recommendations.
In order to digest nutrients such as vitamin B12 properly, you need to have a healthy digestive system. People with autoimmune diseases that cause gastrointestinal damage, such as Hashimoto’s disease, Crohn’s disease, and celiac diseases, are unable to absorb nutrients from dietary sources because of damage to their stomach linings, small intestines or colon.
For them, malabsorption often leads to anemia, osteoporosis, chronic fatigue, and peripheral neuropathy in the hands and feet (thus the tingling and numbness).
Celiac disease patients, and others who can’t absorb vitamin B12
Besides celiac disease, other factors can make it difficult for your body to absorb enough vitamin B12:
- Chronic alcoholism
- Crohn’s disease
- Inability to produce intrinsic factor, a necessary protein for B12 vitamin absorption
- Gastrointestinal surgeries (gastric bypass, IBD surgery) that involve removing your ileum, a part of your small intestine that helps you digest vitamin B12 from food
- Long-time usage of heartburn medications
- Following a vegan diet
Does following a gluten-free diet cure vitamin B12 deficiency?
Not entirely; according to research by the University of Edinburgh, people who suffer celiac disease, but do not receive treatment, have a 41% chance of developing vitamin B12 deficiency.
In celiac patients who started following a gluten-free diet, most of their symptoms disappeared. However, a significant amount of celiacs continued to suffer neuropathic symptoms such as tingling and numbness, and those side effects did not disappear until they brought their vitamin B12 levels back to normal with routine vitamin B12 supplements.
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