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Vitamin B12 Deficiency

It’s not easy to keep track of all the vitamins and minerals out there and ensure that we’re getting the recommended daily allowances of every one of them. Who does that? It’s nearly impossible to know if we’re getting the right amounts. So...should we worry about vitamin deficiency?

I'm writing this article because I've seen several cases where a person who had been taking prescription medications for a variety of symptoms, was healed by simply increasing the intake of a vitamin (or mineral), when a long-term vitamin deficiency was the root cause of illness.

Most of us will do perfectly fine on a balanced and varied healthy diet. We don’t have to worry about taking supplements in such a case. However, if you agree that your diet isn’t optimal, and you have symptoms such as fatigue, headache, muscle weakness, shortness of breath, or depression, it may be worth reading further.

Certain vitamins are difficult to get on certain diets. For example, if you don’t drink vitamin-fortified milk, and you generally stay out of the sun, you may develop a vitamin D deficiency, which can cause numerous health problems (see my article relating to Vitamin D). Another similar vitamin is B12. If you’re a vegan, you’re most likely going to have a B12 deficiency (as I did when I wasn’t supplementing). Even though B12 is found in dairy products, you may still be deficient as a vegeterian, since the amount of B12 in dairy is much lower than in some meats and seafood. It’s important to get your lab reports to determine your actual levels of B12, and do something if you are low.

People with diabetes are at higher risk of developing B12 deficiency, especially with long term use of Metformin. Diabetes along with low vitamin B12 can put you at increased risk of developing cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy (CAN), a condition that occurs when nerve damage affects the heart. Elderly persons in their late 70’s are at a higher risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency also. Research studies mentioned that 20% of people above 65 years have lower levels of vitamin B12 in their body.

If this health disorder is not diagnosed or becomes severe, permanent damage may eventually occur to the nervous system, cardiovascular system and digestive tract. It’s serious.

Symptoms & Signs of B12 deficiency

The symptoms are sometimes not noticed immediately and in some cases, it might take years for the symptoms to develop. Several signs and symptoms show up initially before anemia develops.

Initial signs and symptoms

A few common initial symptoms that occur due to inadequate amounts of vitamin B12 in body are listed below:

  1. Fatigue

  2. Intermittent diarrhea

  3. Constipation

  4. Heart palpitations

  5. Shortness of breath

  6. Paleness

However, when stores of vitamin B12 in body reduce further or when deficiency becomes severe, the symptoms that can appear are many.

Severe Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency
  1. Pernicious anemia

  2. Reduced cognitive function

  3. Poor memory

  4. Difficulty in maintaining balance and walk

  5. Redness and soreness in mouth or burning mouth

  6. Redness and soreness in tongue or burning tongue

  7. Muscle weakness

  8. Chest pain

  9. Leg pain

  10. Weight loss

  11. Headache

  12. Loss of appetite

  13. Color blindness

  14. Decrease in sensitivity towards vibration

  15. Depression

  16. Numbness and tingling sensation in hands or feet

  17. Abdominal pain

  18. Difficulty with body coordination

  19. Dizziness

  20. Menstrual problems

  21. Fainting

  22. Shortness in breath

  23. Reduced sense of touch

  24. Memory loss

  25. Dementia

  26. Confusion

  27. Hallucinations

Even a moderate vitamin B12 deficiency and its counterpart folic acid, may lead to Alzheimer’s disease and other cases of dementia.

Are you vitamin B12 deficient?

Your doctor can check whether you are suffering from vitamin B12 deficiency through blood or urine test known as Methylmalonic acid test (MMA test). This test shows accurate results unlike the standard blood test conducted by doctors for testing pernicious anemia. Depending on the results of this test, you may be treated with supplements, diet rich in B12 or you might be injected with a dose of vitamin B12, when proper absorption is ineffective through the digestion process.

If you want to be on the safe side, there’s no harm in starting a supplement now (check with your physician first if you’re on prescription medications). 2.4 micrograms per day is the daily requirement for adults. You don’t have to worry about taking too much as excess quantities of B12 will be excreted from your body or stored in liver for usage when supplies are limited. Stores of Vitamin B12 last up to a year.

It’s important to select a vitamin that will be absorbed efficiently in the body. I recommend taking a liquid form of B12, on it’s own (not combined with other vitamins).

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