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If you feel tired all the time, then join the club- the vitamin B12 deficiency club, which is becoming the top cause of chronic fatigue allover. Vitamin B12 is crucial for brainhealth, and if you don’t get enough, you run the risk of suffering the red blood cell disease pernicious anemia- one of many vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms.
Why am I so tired all the time?
Fatigue causes you to feel sluggish, slow, confused, and constantly in a “brain fog.” You’re exhausted before you even step out of bed, and all day at work. On the drive home, you catch yourself several times nodding off at the wheel. By the time you’re ready to pack it up and call it a day, you’re almost too tired to change into your pajamas, sorely tempted to climb into bed, clothes, shoes, and all.
Why are you so tired all the time? Many conditions can cause chronic fatigue, and most of them begin with vitamin B12 deficiency.
What is vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is of the vitamin B complex vitamins, and occurs in foods like beef, poultry, fish, eggs, and milk. Some of the best sources of vitamin B12 are organ meat, lean turkey, crabmeat, halibut, and yogurt. Normally, sufficient amounts of B12 are stored in your liver, unless you are prone to vitamin B12 deficiency.
Tiredness is at the core of the most common symptoms of B12 deficiency: depression, chronic fatigue, anxiety, short-term memory loss, disorientation, trouble concentrating or remembering words, painful numbness or tingling in hands and feet, loss of balance while walking, muscular feebleness, and insomnia.
Here are some illnesses and chronic conditions linked to vitamin B12 deficiency:
Sometimes, pernicious anemia is the cause of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Vitamin B12 helps your body produce healthy red blood cells needed to carry oxygen. With pernicious anemia, you have a shortage of vitamin B12, which leads to a shortage of red blood cells, which in turn causes a severe reduction in oxygen throughout your body, including the brain.
The resulting effect is overwhelming tiredness, lightheadedness, and an inability to concentrate.
Scientists found that a high correlation exists between vitamin B12 deficiency and sufferers of fibromyalgia, an autoimmune disease that causes symptoms such as severe pain, skin sensitivity, sleep problems, and chronic fatigue.
People with gastrointestinal disorders such as IBD- Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis- have extreme difficulty absorbing vitamin B12. Symptoms such as sluggishness, diarrhea, and unexplainable exhaustion might be confused with IBD symptoms; in fact, vitamin B12 deficiency is a likely culprit that often is overlooked.
Vitamin B12 supports cognitive functioning- low B12 levels are common among people suffering from severe psychological disorders, including schizophrenia, clinical depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD). Tiredness is one of many complaints of people suffering from depression and anxiety.
Vitamin B12 helps your body regulate the amount of homocysteine in your blood. High levels of plasma homocysteine are strongly associated with heart disease and stroke. By breaking down homocysteine, and thus reducing the risk for heart disease or stroke, vitamin B12 promotes cardiovascular health.
Treatment for B12 deficiency
A blood test is necessary in order to diagnose vitamin B12 deficiency. Not all doctors screen for low B12, so you will need to request a plasma vitamin B12 test. If necessary, your doctor will prescribe B12 injections or sublingual B12.
“What is vitamin B12,” you ask? Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is a member of the B-complex vitamins. A water-soluble vitamin, B12 is stored in your liver and is necessary for avoiding vitamin B12 deficiency.
What are the benefits of vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 wears many hats. It is essential for a vast number of important bodily functions.
Red blood cells! Vitamin B12 helps your body produce plenty of red blood cells that are required for carrying oxygen throughout your body. With enough B12, you would suffer from constant dizziness and fatigue.
Memory! Vitamin B12 assists in cognitive skills such as memory, concentration, and comprehension. Without enough B12, you may suffer memory loss, depression, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating.
Heart health! Vitamin B12 controls the level of homocysteine in your blood, a protein associated with heart attack and stroke. Without enough B12, you are at a higher risk of dying of heart disease or stoke.
Bone health! Scientists have found a high correlation healthy vitamin B12 levels and a lower risk of getting osteoporosis- loss of bone mass- in elderly individuals. Senior citizens who keep their vitamin B12 levels normal benefit by maintaining healthy joints and cartilage functioning.
Senses! Vitamin B12 keeps communication flowing between your brain and various nerve sites, such as your fingers, toes, mouth, eyes, and ears. Without enough B12, you would suffer neurological damage such as tingling, numbness or pain in your hands, feet, and tongue.
Movement! Vitamin B12 protects the myelin sheathe of your nervous system. Without enough B12, you would have difficulty controlling your muscles in your arms and legs.
DNA! Vitamin B12 promotes DNA synthesis. Without enough B12, you would suffer abnormal cell growth.
Metabolism! Vitamin B12 boosts stamina by helping your body convert fat into energy. Without enough B12, you would feel sluggish, confused, and chronically fatigued, and be more prone to weight gain.
What foods have vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 occurs naturally in animal-based proteins. The following food sources have the highest levels of vitamin B12:
Meat! Beef, particularly lean beefsteak and beef organs, such as liver and heart
Chicken! Poultry, including lean chicken, turkey, and duck
Fish! Seafood, including tuna, halibut, salmon, crab meat, clams, and oysters
Eggs! Don’t skip the yolks- they are extremely high in this B vitamin
Milk! Dairy products, including milk, hard cheese, yogurt, and kefir
But I eat plenty of protein, and I take vitamin supplements.
Even if you eat plenty of foods with vitamin B12, you are not immune to B12 deficiency. Many multivitamins and B-complex pills include vitamin B12, but not in sufficient amounts to prevent vitamin B12 deficiency in individuals who are at risk.
The only way to get enough B12 is by taking vitamin B12 supplements. Some popular B12 supplements are vitamin B12 sublingual pills,and prescribed vitamin B12 shots.
Being tired all the time is a symptom of B12 deficiency, but it can also signal hypothyroidism (low thyroid), a thyroid disease that occurs with lowB12 levels. Because hypothyroid symptoms are similar, vitamin B12 deficiency often goes undetected.
B12 deficiency causes fatigue, depression, and other mood disorders often associated with an underactive thyroid. If you’ve been diagnosed with thyroiditis, then it’s also important also to recognize the symptoms of B12 deficiency, and know whether you might require more vitamin B12 (cobalamin).
What is hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is an autoimmune thyroid disease (AITD) that occurs in the thyroid gland, causing inflammation, and reducing its ability to produce sufficient amounts of thyroid hormones. Hashimoto’s disease is one example of thyroiditis that causes low thyroid levels.
Sometimes, thyroid treatment for hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), such as radioactive iodine or surgery, can backfire, causing underactive thyroid symptoms.
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble nutrient that is responsible for making red blood cells, controlling DNA synthesis, regulating the nervous system, and improving cognitive functioning. Without proper levels of vitamin B12, you may suffer neurological damage, dementia, or heart attack resulting from elevated homocysteine levels.
In a study conducted in Sapir Medical Center, Kfar Saba, Israel, patients with autoimmune thyroid disease received blood screening for vitamin B12 deficiency. Researchers noted a significantly high percentage of people with AITD who also had vitamin B12 deficiency caused by pernicious anemia, a disease that inhibits proper absorption of vitamin B12.
Another study conducted in Pakistan by Aga Khan University produced similar results; namely, a 40% prevalence of vitamin B12 deficiency among patients with hypothyroidism.
If you are a patient of hypothyroidism, then physicians strongly recommend routine blood testing for vitamin B12 deficiency, regardless of thyroid hormone levels.
Pernicious Anemia, Sickle Cell, and Others: Anemia is a serious blood disease resulting in low blood cell production; aside from vitamin B12 deficiency from pernicious anemia, how many other types of anemia are there?
What are the different kinds of anemia?
There are six general types of anemia. They include:
Pernicious Anemia (PA)
Pernicious anemia is an acquired disease that causes vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 is crucial for producing healthy red blood cells, in addition to supporting your nervous system, promoting mental clarity, and optimizing your metabolism. With pernicious anemia, you are unable to absorb vitamin B12 from natural food sources, resulting in severe depletion of vitamin B12 levels in your blood.
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include:
tingling in your hands and/or feet
If diagnosed with pernicious anemia, your doctor may recommend weekly vitamin B12 injections, which are inserted in the thick thigh muscle or buttock. Vitamin B12 shots require a prescription, may cause bruising, and are usually painful.
As an alternative, patients may opt for gentle over-the-counter (OTC) vitamin B12 supplements that don’t require injection.
Hemolytic anemia occurs when red blood cells are destroyed (hemolysis) at a rate that is quicker than their reproduction in bone marrow. People who have hemolytic anemia have either inherited it as a genetic disease, or acquired it later in life. Mild hemolytic anemia does not usually require treatment, but severe anemia can be life-threatening, requiring blood transfusions, steroids, or splenectomy.
Sickle Cell Anemia (SCA)
Sickle cell anemia is an inherited blood disease. In sickle cell anemia, abnormally shaped hemoglobin cells become obstructed in small blood vessels, causing pain and possible organ damage to the anemic individual. There is no cure for sickle cell anemia, but therapies for reducing the symptoms of anemia include antibiotics, pain relievers, and blood transfusions.
Aplastic Anemia (AA)
Aplastic anemia is a blood disease that can be life threatening. In aplastic anemia, your bone marrow is unable to produce sufficient amounts of crucial blood cells, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and blood platelets. Diagnosis of anemia includes testing that indicates low blood count of any of the three blood cells types. Causes of aplastic anemia include autoimmune disease (most common) or exposure to chemotherapy and other types of radiation. Possible treatments for aplastic anemia include bone marrow transplants, blood transfusions, and restraining of the immune system. Untreated, aplastic anemia can be fatal.
Fanconi Anemia (FA)
Fanconi anemia is a rare blood disorder, and it is inherited as a genetic disease. Fanconi anemia involves bone marrow failure, and can lead to myelogenous leukemia. Even with bone marrow transplants, patients of Fanconi anemia rarely live past the age of thirty.
Bone Marrow Disease Anemia
Sometimes, bone marrow diseases, such as leukemia and myelodysplasia (pre-leukemia), create symptoms of anemia in patients, as diseased bone marrow causes inadequate production of red blood cells.
Brain health and vitamin B12 deficiency: Vitamin B12 is essential for maintaining cognitive health and addressing mild memory problems related to aging. Vitamin B12 deficiency is a common health problem for senior citizens who suffer the beginning stages of dementia.
Brain atrophy is what happens when brain tissue disintegrates. In the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of age-related dementia, a reduction in the brain’s gray matter correlates to symptoms such as memory loss, disorientation, paranoia, and uncharacteristically aggressivebehavior. In addition to losing brain volume, some elderly individuals also lose bone mass.
B12- the Brain Vitamin
In a recent study, elderly test participants who had vitamin B12 deficiency scored poorly on cognitive skills and memory testing, compared to their peers. In addition, MRIscans indicated that senior citizens with low B12 levels also had less brain mass than peers who had normal levels of vitamin B12.
This is not the first time that researchers found a correlation between vitamin B12 deficiency and cognitive health. In 2008, Oxford University scientists discovered a link between elevated levels of homocysteine (an indicator of low vitamin B12 levels) and brain shrinkage. Homocysteine is an amino acid that increases your chances of developing heart disease and stroke.
As you get older, your body slows down, and stops producing as many stomach acids. Unfortunately, your body still needs stomach acids in order to digest essential vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin B12. People who lack sufficient stomach acids- the elderly, people on strong heartburn medications- lack the ability to digest vitamin B12 naturally, and must receive vitamin B12 supplements in order to prevent vitamin deficiency.
In order to detect vitamin B12 deficiency, doctors recommend that elderly individuals receive regular blood testing for homocysteine levels and active vitamin B12, particularly if they exhibit any symptoms of cognitive decline, such as short-term memory loss. If diagnosed with vitamin B12 deficiency, then your doctor will prescribe vitamin B12 injections or sublingual vitaminB12.
For extra vitamin B12, or as an alternative to painful injections, a popular option is to supplement with over-the-counter (OTC) vitamin B12.