Vitamin B12 is one of the most important vitamins for our health. Here we will try to understand the importance of this vitamin and to see what are vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms.
Vitamin B12 does a lot of things for your body. It helps make your DNA and your red blood cells, for example.
Since your body doesn’t make vitamin B12, you have to get it from animal-based foods or supplements. And you should do that regularly because your body doesn’t store vitamin B12 for a long time.
Why vitamin B12 is important
The human body needs vitamin B12 to make red blood cells, nerves, DNA, and carry out other functions. The average adult should get 2.4 micrograms a day. Like most vitamins, B12 can’t be made by the body. Instead, it must be gotten from food or supplements.
And therein lies the problem: Some people don’t consume enough vitamin B12 to meet their needs, while others can’t absorb enough, no matter how much they take in. As a result, vitamin B12 deficiency is relatively common, especially among older people.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey estimated that 3.2% of adults over age 50 have a seriously low B12 level, and up to 20% may have a borderline vitamin B12 deficiency.
How Much to Get?
The answer depends on things including your age, your eating habits and medical conditions, and what medications you take.
The average recommended amounts, measured in micrograms (mcg), vary by age:
- Infants up to age 6 months: 0.4 mcg
- Babies age 7-12 months: 0.5 mcg
- Children age 1-3 years: 0.9 mcg
- Kids age 4-8 years: 1.2 mcg
- Children age 9-13 years: 1.8 mcg
- Teens age 14-18: 2.4 mcg (2.6 mcg per day if pregnant and 2.8 mcg per day if breastfeeding)
- Adults: 2.4 mcg (2.6 mcg per day if pregnant and 2.8 mcg per day if breastfeeding)
Risks of vitamin B12 deficiency?
There are many causes of vitamin B12 deficiency. Surprisingly, two of them are practices often undertaken to improve health: a vegetarian diet and weight-loss surgery.
Plants don’t make vitamin B12. The only foods that deliver it are meat, eggs, poultry, dairy products, and other foods from animals. Strict vegetarians and vegans are at high risk for developing a B12 deficiency if they don’t eat grains that have been fortified with the vitamin or take a vitamin supplement. People who have weight-loss surgery are also more likely to be low in vitamin B12 because the operation interferes with the body’s ability to extract vitamin B12 from food.
Read More: Vegetarian Food Sources Of Vitamin B12
Conditions that interfere with nutrient absorption, such as celiac or Crohn’s disease, can cause B12 trouble. So can the use of commonly prescribed heartburn drugs, which reduce acid production in the stomach (acid is needed to absorb vitamin B12). The condition is more likely to occur in older people due to the cutback in stomach acid production that often occurs with aging.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Most people in the U.S. get enough of this nutrient. If you’re not sure, you can ask your doctor if you should get a blood test to check your vitamin B12 level.
With age, it can become harder to absorb this vitamin. It can also happen if you have had weight loss surgery or another operation that removed part of your stomach, or if you drink heavily.
You may also be more likely to develop vitamin B12 deficiency if you have:
- Atrophic gastritis, in which your stomach lining has thinned
- Pernicious anemia, which makes it hard for your body to absorb vitamin B12
- Conditions that affect your small intestines, such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, bacterial growth, or a parasite
- Immune system disorders, such as Graves’ disease or lupus
- Been taking certain medications that interfere with the absorption of B12. This includes some heartburn medicines including proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as rabeprazole, omeprazole, esomeprazole, lansoprazole, and pantoprazole; H2 Blockers such as cimetidine, famotidine and ranitidine; and certain diabetes medicines such as metformin.
You can also get vitamin B12 deficiency if you follow a vegan diet (meaning you don’t eat any animal products, including meat, milk, cheese, and eggs) or you are a vegetarian who doesn’t eat enough eggs or dairy products to meet your vitamin B12 needs. In both of those cases, you can add fortified foods to your diet or take supplements to meet this need.
Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms
Vitamin B12 deficiency can be slow to develop, causing symptoms to appear gradually and intensify over time. It can also come on relatively quickly. Given the array of symptoms a vitamin B12 deficiency can cause, the condition can be overlooked or confused with something else. Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms may include:
- strange sensations, numbness, or tingling in the hands, legs, or feet
- difficulty walking (staggering, balance problems)
- swollen, inflamed tongue
- difficulty thinking and reasoning (cognitive difficulties), or memory loss
While an experienced physician may notice the symptoms and be able to detect a vitamin B12 deficiency with a good interview and physical exam, a blood test is needed to confirm the condition.
It’s a good idea to ask your doctor about having your B12 level checked if you are a strict vegetarian or have had weight-loss surgery or have a condition that interferes with the absorption of food.
Early detection and treatment are important. If left untreated, the deficiency can cause severe neurologic problems and blood diseases.
If you have pernicious anemia or have trouble absorbing vitamin B12, you’ll need shots of this vitamin at first. You may need to keep getting these shots, take high doses of a supplement by mouth, or get it nasally after that.
If you don’t eat animal products, you have options. You can change your diet to include vitamin B12-fortified grains, a supplement or B12 injections, or a high-dose oral vitamin B12 if you are deficient.
Older adults who have a vitamin B12 deficiency should take a daily B12 supplement or a multivitamin that contains B12.
For most people, treatment resolves the problem. But, any nerve damage that happened due to the deficiency could be permanent.
Most people can prevent vitamin B12 deficiency by eating enough meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, and eggs.
If you don’t eat animal products, or you have a medical condition that limits how well your body absorbs nutrients, you can take vitamin B12 in a multivitamin or other supplement and foods fortified with vitamin B12.
If you choose to take vitamin B12 supplements, let your doctor know, so he or she can tell you how much you need, make sure they won’t affect any medicines you’re taking.
What vitamin B12 can’t do
The Internet is full of articles lauding the use of vitamin B12 to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and other chronic conditions or reverse infertility, fatigue, eczema, and a long list of other health problems. Most are based on poor or faulty evidence.
Take Alzheimer’s disease as an example. Although there is a relationship between low vitamin B12 levels and cognitive decline, clinical studies—including those involving people with Alzheimer’s disease—have not shown improvement in cognitive function, even doses of the vitamin as high as 1000 micrograms.
For now, it’s best to get enough vitamin B12 to prevent a deficiency, and not look to it as a remedy for what ails you.
Conclusion: Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms mentioned here are showing you that your body is in low levels of vitamin B12.You need to change your diet by consuming foods rich with vitamin B12 or taking supplements but first consult with your doctor.