B12 Deficiency Health

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

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Vitamin B12 deficiency, also known as ‘cobalamin deficiency’ or the tongue-twisting ‘hypocobalaminemia’, is simply a low level of this particular vitamin in the blood. But it can have serious and devastating effects – if left untreated, B12 deficiency can even lead to premature death, so it isn’t something to be taken lightly.

B12 Deficiency Symptoms
For people with only a slight deficiency, the risks are low – unless the level of B12 in the blood drops further. If the deficiency never worsens, symptoms tend to be minor, but they might include fatigue, depression and impaired memory.

Unfortunately these symptoms can be caused by lots of other illnesses, so they’re too nonspecific to safely diagnose B12 deficiency based on them alone. This means that unless you make an effort to keep your B12 intake high through supplementation, you probably won’t know you’re suffering from vitamin B12 deficiency until the situation becomes serious.

If the condition develops further, a range of unpleasant symptoms present themselves, which can include any combination of the following:

  • Poor or absent reflexes
  • Impaired soft touch and vibration sensation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pale appearance
  • Bleeding gums
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Changes in personality
  • GAVE syndrome (a gastrointestinal problem)
  • Depression
  • Bruising more easily than normal
  • Poor memory
  • Psychosis
  • Dementia

Symptoms In Infants
The most common symptoms of B12 Sick Babydeficiency in infants are:

  • Apathy
  • Irritability
  • Weight loss
  • Reverse development
  • A general sense that they are not thriving and flourishing as you would expect.

The Effects Of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Apart from a significantly lower quality of life (thanks to the symptoms that hypocobalaminemics present), cobalamin deficiency can have a number of unpleasant long-term effects.

If the condition is left untreated for more than six months, it is likely that irreversible damage will be done to the nervous system. If the deficiency is caused by pernicious anemia (see below) and left untreated, then the affliction will kill most sufferers within three years.

Nervous SystemThere is also a possible link between B12 deficiency and Alzheimer’s disease, although there is still significant debate over this.

It is however certain that B12 deficiency will cause severe and permanent damage to the brain and nervous tissue. The longer the condition is left untreated, the worse the damage is likely to be and the smaller the chance of recovery.

So you should see a doctor asap if you have any of the symptoms listed above, especially if you have multiple symptoms. The sooner you find out you have a problem, the sooner your treatment can begin.

The Causes Of B12 Deficiency
There are two primary causes of cobalamin deficiency: insufficient dietary intake of B12 and impaired absorption of the vitamin.

Vegetarians And VegansVegetarian Vegan Heart
Vegans and vegetarians stand the greatest risk of not ingesting enough vitamin B12 from their diets, as the best natural sources tend to be meat and animal products.

Newborn babies with vegetarian mothers should also be checked by a professional to ensure they’re not suffering from B12 deficiency. Deficiency in infancy can lead to stunted development, as well as lasting brain and nerve damage.

Fortunately, taking regular B12 supplements should solve the problem for non-meat eaters. These supplements are fairly cheap and in come in a great deal of variety – simple oral tablets like these vegetarian ones are available, as well as vegan sublingual tablets. You can also find vegan B12 mouth sprays, vegan multivitamins, vegan skin patches, vegetarian B12-fortified foods and more.

Impaired Absorption
Impaired B12 absorption can be caused by a number of underlying issues, all requiring different treatments. Perhaps the most common problem is pernicious anemia, where your body can no longer produce and secrete an important protein called intrinsic factor (IF). Doctor Syringe InjectionWithout IF, your ability to absorb B12 from dietary foods is greatly reduced.

The underlying condition cannot be cured and requires lifelong treatment. This usually involves a few injections of vitamin B12 to begin with, which should boost blood levels to a healthy point and alleviate any symptoms.

This is followed up either with further regular injections or with daily high dosage oral B12 supplementation. If a high enough dose is given, the gut is capable of absorbing enough B12 through a process known as passive diffusion, even without IF.

Achlorhydria is a lack of gastric acid in the stomach,Doctor with Supplement Tablet which prevents B12 (and various other vitamins) from being absorbed from food effectively. It most often affects the elderly, putting them at greater risk of B12 deficiency.

People suffering from achlorhydria cannot get sufficient B12 because it’s bound to proteins in food, and without enough gastric acid, you can’t break it down. Fortunately this is easily treatable with vitamin tablets, as the B12 in supplements is unbound and thus readily available.

If the supplements contain the methylcobalamin form of B12 rather than cyanocobalamin, then even less work needs to be done.

Other Causes
Other groups with an above average risk of vitamin B12 deficiency are diabetics (the drug metformin can interfere with absorption of B12), patients with conditions that affect their small intestine (which includes celiacs, sufferers of Crohn’s disease and people with various parasitic infections), and substance abusers of alcohol or nitrous oxide.

There are also some hereditary causes of B12 deficiency.

If you fit into any of the above categories, you should consult your doctor for advice on the best way to supplement your intake of vitamin B12, whether as prevention or cure.

There’s a lot of bad science and false information being spread around when it comes to birth control. Recent research suggests that there is no link between oral contraceptives and B12 deficiency. We wrote an article about it recently – How Birth Control Affects B12 Levels.

Reading ResearchFurther Reading
If you’d like to see the B12 supplements that we recommend, please take a look at our Recommended B12 Supplements page. This includes oral and sublingual tablets, skin patches, sprays, fortified foods, multivitamins and even lollipops!

We’ve also compiled a list of good external websites for more information on the conditions and technical terms mentioned above. These are in addition to the Wikipedia pages already linked to in this article.

For more information on…

We hope that helps!

From top to bottom, images are courtesy of cooldesign, Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot, sheelamohan, nirots, jscreationzs, Boians Cho Joo Young, and Keattikorn, all at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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3 thoughts on “Vitamin B12 Deficiency”

  1. hello, I had low b12 defieciency and got injection once a week for 4 weeks. got re tested but never heard back, (so must have been ok). I have very bad back pain, pain in right breast and sometimes shoulder pain.
    Not too sure if this has to do with deficiency or not.
    Thank you

    1. Hi Anna,
      Those don’t sound like typical B12 deficiency symptoms. The course of injections should have been enough to bring your B12 back up to a healthy level as well.
      I wouldn’t try to diagnose someone online without seeing them in person, so it’s probably best if you see your doctor about these symptoms. They might turn out to be easily treatable, and any chronic pain should always be checked out anyway.
      Best of luck! 🙂

  2. For 7
    years I was experiencing off and on, hands and feet tingling, burning, pain, difficulty walking, extreme fatigue and depression. Countless visits to the ER and Dr. Office,checking for everything but B12. It then started where I had extreme difficulty getting dressed, had trouble feeding myself, could not write or hold a pen. Bending my neck sent electric shocks thru my body. Went to the hospital for MS testing. MRI, spinal tap,Lyme,brain scan. After more testing, one Dr. checked my B12 level, it was 80. I spent 10 days in the u and 10 days in rehab. They were not sure if I would recover. Left untreated, B12 deficiency can cause permanent brain damage. I was lucky, everything reversed. Maybe if B12 methylcobalamin supplements were given early on, we might be able to prevent MS and other brain and nerve related diseases.
    If that one Dr. didn’t check my B12 level,I would have been diagnosed with MS, because the symptoms are the same.
    B12 is vital for our health. It helps make DNA & RNA, your red blood cells.
    Helps with Depression,Dementia,Sleep Disorders.
    Protects &a rebuilds the Myelin sheath covering your nerve fibers.
    Slows brain shrinkage up to 80%.
    Lowers Homocysteine levels associated with heart disease.
    If low levels are left unchecked, brain damage will occur and can become permanent.
    Helps with age related macular degeneration.
    By supplementing with sublingual Methylcobalmin B12 around 40 or 50 years of age, we could help prevent problems before they start.
    Everyone should supplement and maintain blood levels of B12 in the range from 600 to 2000 pg/ml in order to avoid and, if this is the case, help recover from the wide range of problems that result from B12 deficiency or insufficiency. Health care practitioners: this is the first thing you should check for every patient that comes in, independently of their age or condition

    Methylcobalamin: This is the neurologically active form of B12. It is technically a `coenzyme` of vitamin B12 and it is almost never prescribed by doctors despite being effective, readily available and inexpensive. It is also available in an injectable form. Degenerative neurological conditions are where methylcobalamin shows its greatest benefits over other cobalamin preparations. Brilliant news for MS’ers! Not only has Methylcobalamin been shown to work in neurologic diseases, it also helps with the elimination of toxic substances in
    the body.

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