Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that is involved in the metabolism process. It is also known as cobalamin. A vitamin B12 deficiency rises when there is an inadequate level of vitamin B12 in your body. This vitamin is essential for the healthy functioning of your nervous system as well as the production of red blood cells. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause several health ailments including anemia. In most cases, a healthy diet provides more than enough vitamin B12 for the human body. Some excellent sources of vitamin B12 include eggs, fish, and dairy products.
While there might be different factors behind vitamin B12, one of the more common ones is pernicious anemia. This condition causes your immune system to reduce its ability to absorb vitamin B12. Some other causes include conditions where the intestines or the stomach play havoc with the absorption of vitamin B12, unhealthy diet, medications and so on.
Symptoms Of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
In most cases, the symptoms caused by vitamin B12 deficiency worsen over time. This is why it is essential to see a doctor as soon as you start noticing any of these symptoms. Interestingly, some people experience B12 deficiency symptoms even if they do not have anemia, while others display no symptoms at all, despite low levels of vitamin B12. Since the situation cannot be assessed without a blood test, doctors often prescribe a test to check vitamin B12 levels. Toddlers or babies with a low vitamin B12 level tend to thrive normally and may even display movement difficulties along with a delay in reaching developmental milestones. Here are a few of the symptoms brought forth by a deficiency in vitamin B12:
- Painful, red tongue
- Pale, yellow skin color
- Mouth ulcers
- Canker Sores
- Vision disturbance
- Pins and needles
- Difficulty in balance
- Differences in behavior and feelings
- Memory loss
Treating Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 deficiency is often treated by high dose injections or oral supplements until the symptoms start clearing up. If the cause behind the deficiency is determined to be an inadequate diet you will be asked to make dietary changes because you probably need more vitamin B12, as supplements. You also need to shift to a more balanced and healthy diet. People who exhibit pins and needles symptoms due to vitamin B12 deficiency might get referred to a hematologist for more intrinsic management of the deficiency. At the end of the day, it is essential to keep a close watch on your meals to ensure that your body is getting the nutrients it requires in the right proportions.
Causes behind B12 Deficiency
As mentioned earlier, pernicious anemia is a condition where the immune system attacks intrinsic factor proteins, preventing them from combining with vitamin B12. This ultimately prevents the vitamin from being absorbed into the body. This condition is often seen among people over 50 years. It also affects people who have autoimmune conditions like Addison’s disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and so on. A simple blood test can help determine whether you suffer from pernicious anemia or not.
Certain stomach conditions like atrophic gastritis lead to thinning of the stomach lining. This causes a lack of intrinsic factor proteins, preventing the body from absorbing vitamin B12.
Certain intestinal conditions like Crohn’s disease cause the lining of the digestive tract to get inflamed. This prevents the body from absorbing Vitamin B12. Some other intestinal conditions that cause this condition include chronic tropical sprue, celiac disease and so on.
If the surgery involves removing the end of the small intestine, a part or all of your stomach, you are most likely to develop vitamin B12 deficiency. This is because the body loses its ability to absorb Vitamin B12 anymore.
Certain medicines interfere with the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12. This will lead to a vitamin B12 deficiency if the necessary precautions are not taken. For example, metformin, neomycin, colchicine, chloramphenicol and so on are just a few of the medicines that prevent vitamin B12 absorption by the human body.
Some people develop a vitamin B12 deficiency due to an inadequate diet that is lacking in the proper minerals and nutrients. This is why medical professionals always recommend eating a healthy and balanced diet. If you are a strict vegan, you need to consider alternative sources of vitamin B12 to prevent becoming vitamin B12 deficient. Some excellent sources of vitamin B12 include meat, dairy products, fish, eggs, soy products, and so on. Fortified fruits and vegetables also offer your body Vitamin B12.
Once you start improving your intake of vitamin B12, your body can store it for two to five years without having to replenish it. This is why vitamin B12 deficiency might take a while to develop. If you plan on making any long term dietary changes, you will have to add fortified food products to your diet or opt for supplements to reduce your risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency.
Diagnosing Vitamin B12 Deficiency
If you are not sure whether you have a deficiency, you need to visit a doctor as soon as possible. The doctor will perform a physical examination and take your medical history before proceeding further. In case they suspect a vitamin B12 deficiency, they prescribe blood tests. These tests can accurately pinpoint whether your Vitamin B12, folic acid, and red blood cell levels are normal or not. However, some people who experience vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms might have normal blood results. It is essential to take into account the symptoms as well as the blood results before reaching a diagnosis. Once the doctor determines that you are suffering from vitamin B12 deficiency, the next step is finding out the cause behind it. This involves further tests for conditions like pernicious anemia and so on. In some cases, the doctor might refer you to a specialist like a gastroenterologist or a hematologist.
In case your blood tests are normal and yet you display symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, there is a chance that you are suffering from functional vitamin B12 deficiency. This can be treated with high doses of vitamin B12 supplements.