Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) forms numerous substances in your body. It forms DNA and red blood cells. It is also vital in the development and function of brain and nerve cells.
This article will describe what a vitamin B12 deficiency is, the symptoms/signs of this deficiency, and what to do if/when it happens.
What is a vitamin B12 deficiency?
Vitamin B12 deficiency occurs when you do not have an adequate amount of this vitamin in your body. It can cause many symptoms and lead to other health complications if not treated properly or in a timely manner.
What are the symptoms and signs of vitamin B12 deficiency?
Vitamin B12 deficiency is likely to make you feel weak and fatigued because not having enough vitamin B12 can decrease your body’s production of healthy red blood cells, which reduces the delivery of oxygen to your body’s tissues. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause megaloblastic anemia (also called vitamin B12-deficiency anemia), which hinders DNA synthesis and causes your body to make abnormal, large, immature red blood cells. It is important to note that you can experience weakness, tiredness, and other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency even if you have vitamin B12 levels that are within the normal range or borderline low.
Pale or yellow skin can also be an indication of vitamin B12 deficiency because pale skin is a sign of vitamin B12-deficiency anemia and yellow skin is a sign of a condition called jaundice, which is caused by high levels of bilirubin in your body. Bilirubin is a waste product that is made as your body breaks down red blood cells.
Headaches are the most common symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency for both children and adults. Some evidence suggests that people who have frequent migraine headaches are more likely to have vitamin B12 deficiency.
Vitamin B12 is essential to the maintenance of your central nervous system’s health. You are more likely to develop depression if you have vitamin B12 deficiency. This is because having low levels of vitamin B12 can increase the level of an amino acid called homocysteine, which increases cell death, DNA damage, and oxidative stress in your body. Having low or insufficient B12 can also cause psychosis or the development of mood disorders such as bipolar disorder.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause bloating, constipation, diarrhea, gas, nausea, and other gastrointestinal symptoms in adults and children. However, many of these symptoms are not exclusive to vitamin B12 deficiency and could have other causes, such as food intolerances, infections, and medications.
You may experience brain fog and have a hard time completing tasks and concentrating if you have low levels of vitamin B12. This is especially common in older people because your risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency increases as you get older. However, studies have shown that cognitive impairment caused by low levels of B12 is likely to recover as B12 levels increase.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause a condition called glossitis, which causes inflammation, pain, and redness on your tongue. You may also develop stomatitis, which causes inflammation and sores in your mouth. You can have glossitis and stomatitis at the same time. However, glossitis can also be caused by deficiencies in riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), and folate (vitamin B9).
Adults and children with vitamin B12 deficiency often report experiencing paresthesia, which is a condition that causes you to feel like there are pins and needles in your feet and/or hands and that your feet and hands are burning. However, this symptom can also point to diabetic neuropathy, which is nerve damage that is caused by high blood sugar and can lead to numbness and pain in your hands and feet. If you have diabetes and you take metformin, you are more likely to develop vitamin B12 deficiency because metformin can make it more difficult for your body to absorb vitamin B12. If you have diabetes, B12 deficiency could be misdiagnosed as peripheral neuropathy, so you should regularly be screened for vitamin B12 deficiency.
Vitamin B12 deficiency impairs the function of your motor and sensory nerves. This can cause muscle cramps and weakness.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause ataxia, a neurological condition that affects balance and coordination. For this reason, you may have trouble walking and balancing if you have vitamin B12 deficiency.
This vitamin deficiency can cause erectile dysfunction in men because of elevated levels of homocysteine.
B12 deficiency can also damage your optic nerve and cause vision disturbances.
What should I do if/when I become deficient in vitamin B12?
If you think you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor to talk about the symptoms you are experiencing so that your doctor can test you for vitamin B12 deficiency.
How can I avoid a vitamin B12 deficiency?
There are a number of ways you can avoid vitamin B12 deficiency. You can eat foods rich in vitamin B12. Animal products such as dairy products, eggs, fish, meat, and poultry. Non-animal foods are often fortified with vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 supplements are also available. You can take a supplement that is only vitamin B12, take a B-complex vitamin, or another multivitamin that contains vitamin B12.
If you have a severe vitamin B12 deficiency and need to replenish your levels quickly, one beneficial option is vitamin B12 intravenous (IV) infusions. IV therapy is the fastest way to increase your vitamin B12 levels, despite the treatment taking several hours to complete. This is because the vitamin goes directly into your bloodstream and takes effect immediately. Food and oral supplements need to go through your digestive system first, which takes hours, and then they can begin to work.
If you begin to develop any signs or symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency or if you have another health condition that puts you at a higher risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency, you should talk to your doctor about what you should do to increase your vitamin B12 levels.