Vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin. It is one of eight vitamins that form vitamin B-complex.
Nowadays, vitamin B12 deficiency isn’t a bizarre occurrence. Actually, it is far more common than most health care practitioners and the general public realize.
According to a 2009 report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vitamin B12 deficiency and depletion are common in wealthier countries, particularly among the elderly, and are most prevalent in poorer populations around the world.
In fact, the report states that approximately 6 percent of people age 60 or older in the United Kingdom and the United States are vitamin B12 deficient.
Why is vitamin B12 important?
Vitamin B12 is vital for the formation of red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. It is also needed for the proper functioning and health of nerve tissue, as it is involved in producing the protective myelin sheath that covers the nerves and conducts nerve impulses.
It works together with folate in the metabolism of cells, especially affecting DNA synthesis and fatty acid and amino acid metabolism.
This particular B vitamin also helps our bodies absorb folic acid, which facilitates the release of energy.
Since your body doesn’t make vitamin B12, it is important to get it from food sources (especially animal-based foods) or supplements on a regular basis. Always consult your doctor before starting any supplement regimen.
How much vitamin B12 do I need?
According to the National Institutes of Health, people in different age groups and expecting or new mothers need different amounts of vitamin B12 on a daily basis.
What causes vitamin B12 deficiency?
A deficiency of this important vitamin can occur due to a diet that contains very little vitamin B12. People who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet often lack this vitamin, because it is commonly found in animal products.
Another common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency is pernicious anemia.
It is an autoimmune disorder that occurs due to loss of stomach cells that make intrinsic factor, a protein which helps the body absorb vitamin B12 in the intestine. This leads to low vitamin B12 in the body.
Who is at a higher risk?
- People age 50 or older
- People who eat a vegetarian or vegan diet
- Infants who are born to vegan mothers and exclusively breastfed
- People suffering from diseases that affect digestion, such as celiac and Crohn’s disease
- People who have had gastrointestinal surgery
- People who are malnutritioned
- People who are chronic alcoholics.
Here are the top 10 signs of vitamin B12 deficiency.
1. Fatigue and Low Energy
This vitamin plays a prominent role in energy metabolism, hence its deficiency has a direct impact on your energy and endurance levels.
Vitamin B12 enhances your body’s ability to make DNA for new cells to provide energy. It is also needed to form healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen to the whole body. Without proper oxygen levels, you feel tired and lethargic.
Plus, B12 is needed to turn the food you eat into energy to power your metabolism. Low metabolism prevents you from feeling your best and performing at your highest energy level.
2. Numbness and Tingling Sensations
Vitamin B12 plays a key role in keeping your nervous system healthy. Thus, neurological signs like numbness or a tingling sensation in the hands and feet can indicate its deficiency.
Vitamin B12 helps in the manufacturing of nerves and, moreover, it has a key role in helping oxygen reach different parts of the body. Poor oxygen supply is one of the main causes of numbness and tingling sensations.
Its deficiency can also cause balance problems.
A 1991 study published in Medicine (Baltimore) highlights the effect of cobalamin deficiency in the nervous system, which causes loss of cutaneous sensation, muscle weakness, diminished or hyperactive reflexes, spasticity and urinary or fecal incontinence, to name a few.
3. Low Blood Pressure
Deficiencies of vitamin B12 and folic acid can cause anemia, which can lead to low blood pressure, also known as hypotension.
Vitamin B12 helps your body produce red blood cells so that adequate oxygen reaches each and every part of your body, including the heart.
A 2012 study published in the Texas Heart Institute Journal reports that vitamin B12 deficiency is well known among neurologists but is often overlooked by cardiologists when treating low blood pressure.
If you suffer from low blood pressure, opt for a B12 test. Even moderate forms of low blood pressure can cause shortness of breath, dizziness, weakness, fainting and risk of injury from falls.
4. Skin Lesions
Low vitamin B12 can also cause skin lesions and hair changes.
A 2008 study published in Canadian Family Physicians reports that vitamin B12 deficiency is linked to skin lesions.
Unexplained and non-resolving skin lesions can signal vitamin B12 deficiency, hence you need to visit your doctor as soon as possible.
Along with skin lesions, its deficiency can cause hyperpigmentation of the skin, which leads to uneven skin color and dark patches on the skin.
This particular B vitamin is also essential for mental health. Its role in forming red blood cells in turn helps support a healthy nervous system.
Plus, it helps lower the level of homocysteine, a by product of protein metabolism. A high level of homocysteine in the body can lead to depression.
This is why it is important to consider the possibility of B12 deficiency, especially among the elderly suffering from depression, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry emphasis upon.
In fact, a 2013 study published in the Open Neurology Journal shed light on the importance of vitamin B12 supplementation in the treatment of major depressive disorder.
The study found that people with depression experienced significant improvement in symptoms when treated with vitamin B12 supplementation as well as antidepressants.
6. Cognitive Decline
Low vitamin B12 levels may be the reason behind poor memory and cognitive decline.
Vitamin B12 allows brain cells to form new connections, a process that allows memory formation.
Plus, it is a vital component of myelin, the coating that protects many brain cells. This is why its deficiency can lead to serious nerve damage and deteriorating brain functioning.
A 2005 study published in the Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology suggests that cobalamin deficiency may cause a reversible dementia in elderly patients.
This type of dementia is different than Alzheimer’s disease, hence it needs to be differentiated by a thorough neuropsychological evaluation.
Another 2011 study published in Neurology reports that people with low blood levels of vitamin B12 markers may be more likely to have lower brain volumes and have problems with thinking skills.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is linked to an underactive thyroid gland, also known as hypothyroidism.
The thyroid gland needs a variety of nutrients to produce hormones that regulate many of the body’s functions. Vitamin B12 is one of those nutrients.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association reports that vitamin B12 deficiency is common in primary hypothyroidism. Supplementation leads to improvement in symptoms.
The study emphasized screening for vitamin B12 levels in all hypothyroid patients, irrespective of their thyroid antibody status.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can affect both male and female fertility.
A 2001 study published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine reports that vitamin B12 deficiency is linked to infertility and recurrent miscarriages.
The study explains that hypercoagulability due to raised homocysteine levels may lead to fetal loss during the initial stage of vitamin B12 deficiency.
More prolonged deficiency may cause changes in ovulation or development of the ovum, or changes leading to defective implantation and ultimately infertility.
This vitamin deficiency not only makes it difficult to conceive, it can even make it hard to carry the baby to full term.
If you wish to conceive, opt for a B12 test to improve your chance of getting pregnant naturally.
Tips to Fix Vitamin B12 Deficiency
If you think you have symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, you can ask your doctor for a blood test. To correct a deficiency, you can:
- Eat foods high in vitamin B12, such as fish, shellfish, meat (especially liver), eggs, milk and milk products.
- Those who do not eat animal-based products can try foods fortified with B12, such as breakfast cereals, soy products, energy bars and nutritional yeast. As the risk for a B12 deficiency is much higher if you eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, get a B12 test on a regular basis.
- Those who take medications for diabetes or acid reflux must also opt for a B12 test, as some of these medications can interfere with healthy B12 levels.
- You can opt to take supplements in pill or injection forms. Be sure to consult your doctor, as supplements can affect the effectiveness of certain medications.