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Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Symptoms, causes, prevention and treatments

Team AckoSept 2, 2022

Vitamin B12 Deficiency is a common condition amongst Indians. That is why it is important to be aware of its symptoms, causes, preventions and treatments. For your benefit, we have highlighted these topics in this article. Read on!

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

What is Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

Vitamin B12 Deficiency is a condition wherein there is less-than-optimal amount of a nutrient called cobalamin in the body. Cobalamin is necessary for crucial metabolic activity. Being deficient in this nutrient can even damage the nervous system. The primary source of Vitamin B12 is food. Thus, since older adults generally lose the ability to absorb nutrients from food because of age, they are more likely to develop this deficiency.

What is Vitamin B12 Deficiency anaemia?

Vitamin B12 Deficiency Anaemia or Cobalamin Deficiency Anaemia is when there are low levels of red blood cells in the blood. Cobalamin is responsible for producing platelets, red blood cells and white blood cells. So, when this nutrient is deficient, there is also a deficiency of red blood cells in the blood.

Signs and symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Typical Vitamin B12 Deficiency symptoms include the following.

  • Mouth ulcers

  • Anxiety

  • Psychosis

  • Canker sores

  • Memory loss

  • Dementia

  • Mood or behaviour swings

  • Numbness of your legs or feet

  • Pale yellow skin colour

  • Vision disturbances

  • Confusion 

  • Constipation

  • Depression

  • Difficulty in walking

What are the causes of Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

Common Vitamin B12 Deficiency causes include the following.

Intestinal issues: Health conditions that cause the lining of the digestive tract to become inflamed can cause Vitamin B12 Deficiency. Some examples of such conditions include crohn's disease, chronic tropical sprue, celiac disease, etc.

Pernicious anaemia: Generally, Vitamin B12 is absorbed in the body by using an intrinsic factor protein in the stomach. In the case of pernicious anaemia, the body’s immune system prevents the intrinsic factor proteins from binding with the Vitamin B12 in the blood.

Dietary lack: Diet is the primary way nutrients are administered to the body. Not eating enough Vitamin B12-rich food can cause a deficiency in the body.

Stomach problems: Certain stomach-related problems like atrophic gastritis have a high probability of causing Vitamin B12 Deficiency.

Surgery: In rare cases, surgical removal of parts of the whole intestine or stomach can cause insufficient absorption of Vitamin B12.

How to diagnose Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

Vitamin B12 is difficult to diagnose because it shows similar symptoms to other nutritional deficiencies. So, the main way to detect this condition is by regular Vitamin B12 blood tests and complete blood count (CBC) tests. Vitamin B12 Deficiency is usually diagnosed if the blood tests show less than 150 per/ml of the vitamin in the blood.

Treatments for Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Vitamin B12 Deficiency treatments generally include administering a manmade version of the vitamin called cyanocobalamin. Doses are either given for a short period or a lifetime, depending on the extent of the deficiency. Supplements for Vitamin B12 Deficiency are usually provided in the following forms.

  • Vitamin B12 nasal spray

  • Vitamin B12 oral medication

  • Vitamin B12 nasal gel

  • Vitamin B12 intramuscular injections

Prevention of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

The following are some of the key preventive measures against Vitamin B12 Deficiency.

  • Consume Vitamin B12-rich food products: This is an obvious preventive measure. Consume Vitamin B12-rich food like milk, egg, fish, red meat, etc.

  • Add fortified foods to your diet: Apart from the natural sources mentioned previously, you can also get this nutrient from fortified foods. These are foods that are artificially induced with vitamins and minerals. Examples of these types of foods include certain bread, breakfast cereals, plant milk, etc.

  • Use Vitamin B12 dietary supplements: If you are unable to control your vitamin deficiency by your diet alone, ask your doctor if supplementation is required.

  • Avoid alcohol: Avoid drinking alcohol regularly as it can affect the regions in your body responsible for absorbing Vitamin B12.

  • Try to manage your digestive disease: Digestive diseases can cause Vitamin B12 Deficiency by hampering the absorption process of the vitamin. So, if you suffer from one, try to keep it under control with medical help.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency risk factors

The following are the common risk factors for Vitamin B12 Deficiency.

  • Being older is a risk factor for this kind of deficiency. This is because, with age, the body's ability to absorb nutrients from food reduces.

  • Digestive diseases and disorders may cause this deficiency.

  • If you are a vegan or vegetarian, you risk developing this deficiency. This is because there are not many vegetarian sources of Vitamin B12. Alternatively, you can consume fortified foods to compensate.

  • The consumption of certain medications can cause a deficiency of Vitamin B12. So, check with your doctor about the side effects of medications before buying them.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some of the frequently asked questions regarding Vitamin B12 Deficiency.

What are the common signs of Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

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Common signs of Vitamin B12 Deficiency include mouth ulcers, unclear vision, anaemia, shortness of breath, sore tongue, etc.

What is an MMA test?

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An MMA test is a test that measures the methylmalonic acid (MMA) levels in the body. It is one of the tests used to determine Vitamin B12 Deficiency. Generally, higher levels of MMA usually indicate lower levels of Vitamin B12.

When are Vitamin B12 levels considered abnormal?

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Having a Vitamin B12 level of less than 160 pg/ml is usually considered abnormal.

Which is the best way to get rid of Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

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The best way to get rid of Vitamin B12 Deficiency is by increasing Vitamin B12-rich food in your diet.

How long does it take to recover from Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

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The duration of recovery usually depends on the extent of the deficiency and the steps taken to counter it.

Does exercise impact Vitamin B12 levels?

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No, there is no direct correlation between exercise and Vitamin B12 levels.

References:

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. As this content piece is not vetted by a medical professional, please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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