Is Vitamin B12 Deficiency a Real Illness?

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Tell somebody you have vitamin B12 deficiency, and you usually get a blank stare, or they’ll ask, “Is that an illness or something?” Then you wonder, is vitamin B12 deficiency an illness? The truth is, vitamin B12 deficiency, or pernicious anemia, is complicated.

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Vitamin B12 sources

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is a necessary nutrient that you get from eating animal-based foods. The richest sources of vitamin B12 occur in beef liver, halibut, clams, oysters, and poultry. Other foods that contain small amounts of vitamin B12 are cheese, yogurt, and eggs.

Most people who eat a steady diet that includes meat, fish, and dairy products will never develop illness from vitamin B12 deficiency.

There are virtually no vegan sources of vitamin B12. Therefore, vegans and vegetarians must take regular vitamin B12 supplements in order to avoid developing illness from vitamin B12 deficiency.

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Vitamin B12 deficiency

Still, there are several ways of developing vitamin B12 deficiency, even if you eat meat and fish.

  1. If you have a family history for pernicious anemia, then you are at risk for developing vitamin B12 deficiency illness. Pernicious anemia sometimes occurs because of an autoimmune disorder that inhibits your ability to digest vitamin B12 naturally from foods.  Sometimes, pernicious anemia is inherited.
  2. If you don’t have pernicious anemia, but suffer from other autoimmune disorder illness, then you are at risk for developing vitamin B12 deficiency from pernicious anemia in the future.
  3. Pernicious anemia also occurs with gastrointestinal disorders, as inflammation of the stomach linings, esophagus, or small intestines interferes with your ability to digest vitamin B12 normally, resulting in illness from vitamin B12 deficiency.
  4. Comorbid conditions can lead to vitamin B12 deficiency illness. People who suffer from fibromyalgia, lupus, migraines, Crohn’s disease, or celiac disease run a high risk for developing illness from vitamin B12 deficiency.
  5. Certain medications indirectly cause vitamin B12 deficiency. Protein pump inhibitors (PPIs) that are prescribed for acid reflux inhibit your ability to extract vitamin B12 from the food you eat. Also, metformin, a popular drug for diabetes, may cause vitamin B12 deficiency after long-term use.
  6. People who have had gastrointestinal surgery are required to take vitamin B12 supplements in order to prevent vitamin B12 deficiency. These include patients of bariatric surgery (gastric bypass) and ileectomy for the treatment of Crohn’s disease.
  7. Excessive alcohol usage is a known cause of vitamin B12 deficiency.
  8. Old age is a risk factor for vitamin B12 deficiency, as fewer stomach acids are produced, resulting in vitamin B12 absorption.

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Is vitamin B12 deficiency an illness?

Medically, vitamin B12 deficiency is defined as a condition that occurs when your B12 levels drop to a dangerous low. So, in and of itself, vitamin B12 deficiency is not an “illness.”

However, vitamin B12 deficiency can result from an underlying illness, something previously undetected because the symptoms weren’t there. Such is the case with autoimmune disorders, which can interfere with your ability to absorb vitamin B12.

Like a withdrawn bank account that suddenly reaches zero, your stores of vitamin B12 may gradually decline, unbeknownst to you, until you get the warning signs indicating severe deficiency and the need for immediate supplementation.

Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency may include:

  • Long-term, constant overwhelming fatigue
  • Depression or anxiety for longer than a few months
  • Frequent memory problems that are not related to age
  • Painful numbness, tingling, or burning sensations in the hands, feet, arms, legs, and tongue
  • Muscle pain and spasms
  • Eye problems


If you think you have vitamin B12 deficiency, then immediate supplementation should commence in order to replenish vitamin B12 levels and reverse symptoms of illness.

This is important: Not all vitamin B12 supplements work.

If you can’t digest vitamin B12 from foods, then you won’t be able to digest it from vitamin B12 pills, either.

For that reason, it’s essential to use a non-dietary form of vitamin B12, for optimum digestion and relief from symptoms such as fatigue, sluggishness, muscle pain, and brain fog. Excellent choices include a combination of vitamin B12 shots and synthetic over-the-counter (OTC) vitamin B12 supplementation.

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