Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is one of the eight vitamins belonging to the B-group. It plays a key role in the proper functioning of the brain as well as the maintenance of the nervous system. This is achieved through the synthesis of myelin as well as the red blood cells that oversee the transportation of oxygenated blood to the tissues.
In addition to this, it is involved in the metabolic reactions carried out by cells across different systems in the body. The most notable processes are those that involve the production of DNA as well as the metabolism of amino acids.With its numerous functions, it does come as a surprise that the human body cannot produce Vitamin B12. This means that the vitamin must be sourced from external food sources. Some of the rich sources of the vitamin include red meat, shellfish, liver, dairy products, eggs, turkey, salmon and oysters.
Fortified foods and cereals are also great sources of the vitamin. Dietary supplements are also excellent sources of Vitamin B12. It is important to take these foods regularly simply because Vitamin B12 is not stored in the body for a long period of time.
What Causes Vitamin B12 Deficiency:
When the body does not get adequate Vitamin B12, it creates a deficiency which has a number of effects on the body. In addition to this low intake, there are a number of factors that can contribute to Vitamin B12 deficiency. These include:
- Pernicious anemia, a condition which makes it difficult for the body to absorb Vitamin B12 from the diet.
- A strict vegan lifestyle without using dietary supplements or fortified foods. This happens because plants don’t synthesize Vitamin B12, and this can only be obtained from animal products such as eggs, dairy products, poultry and meat.
- By avoiding these animal products, vegans are predisposed to Vitamin B12 deficiency. This is why it is recommended to take foods, cereals and grains fortified with Vitamin B12 or opt for supplements.
- Conditions that interfere with optimal food absorption from the digestive system. These include Crohn’s Disease and Celiac diseases.
- The use of prescription medication to treat heart burns. A number of these medications work by reducing the production of stomach acid to provide relief from the heartburn. Coincidentally, this same stomach acid is required for the absorption of Vitamin B12. In the absence of the acid, people who take heartburn drugs are at risk of Vitamin B12 deficiency.
If you take this medication on a regular basis, consider talking to your doctor about protecting yourself from the deficiency. Note that when absorption of the vitamin is a challenge, increased Vitamin B12 foods do not serve any purpose.
NOTE: Senior citizens are at risk of Vitamin B12 deficiency because with aging comes a natural decrease in the production of stomach acid, eventually causing reduced absorption of Vitamin B12.
The low levels of the stomach acid in older adults has also been linked to the proliferation of normal bacterial population in the gut – these bacteria use up the available Vitamin B12, thus reducing its availability for the body.
What are the Symptoms of Vitamin B12?:
Vitamin B12 deficiency typically has a slow onset so that its symptoms appear steadily and tend to increase in intensity as the days go by. In some cases however, it has a rapid onset with symptoms manifesting really fast.
One of the things that you should note about this deficiency is that its symptoms can easily be confused for a different condition, given their traits. Look out for these symptoms to determine whether you could likely be suffering from Vitamin B12 deficiency.
A Tingling Sensation in the Hands and Feet
One of the main symptoms associated with Vitamin B12 deficiency is a tingling sensation in the hands and feet. Most people with this deficiency describe this sensation as a feeling of pins and needles. This happens because, as mentioned above, Vitamin B12 is involved in the maintenance of the body’s nervous system.
When the body’s levels of the vitamin are depleted, this leads to damage of the nervous system. It manifests as the tingling sensation mentioned above, body tremors as well as poor balance. All these are long-term consequences of the deficiency.
Note however, that since these symptoms could also be attributed to other factors such as post-surgery recovery and old age, it is important to seek professional medical help first. A diagnostic test should clear the matter and ascertain the presence of Vitamin B12 deficiency.
One of the symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency is a rapid heartbeat. Also referred to as heart palpitations, this happens because of interrupted blood flow resulting from the depletion of vitamin B12. This is closely associated with the formation of bruises that do not heal quickly as one of the side effects.
Other signs that occur as a result of the deficiency include a pale ashen skin, a sore tongue as well as the formation of mouth sores. It is important to mention that these seemingly unconnected signs do not manifest in all people with Vitamin B12 deficiency.
Vitamin B12 is one of the vitamins required for optimal function of the nervous system. With long-term deficiency however, the nervous system is not able to work as usual. Left unchecked, some of the resulting symptoms include memory loss, poor focus and disorientation.
Affected people will also have difficulties reasoning (these are termed as cognitive difficulties) and the inability to think clearly. This interferes with daily tasks and predispose the affected to danger. There are additional side effects that result from this damage.
These include inability to control bladder function and bowel movements, insomnia and poor functioning of the cells in the nervous system. In men, this may be evident with the development of erectile dysfunction. Such damage has a sense of permanence that makes it vital to address Vitamin B12 deficiency.
It may Trigger Pernicious Anemia
Pernicious anemia (whose name pernicious means ‘dangerous’ because in years gone by, it was a killer disease) is a condition characterized by a deficiency of red blood cells. This occurs when the stomach does not produce enough intrinsic factor.
Intrinsic Factor is a protein that helps with the intestinal absorption of Vitamin B12. What’s more, this form of anemia can also be linked to autoimmune disorders. The development of pernicious anemia requires treatment with the administration of Vitamin B12 shots. It is evident that a deficiency of this vitamin places an affected person at risk of the form of anemia.
You can Barely Stay Awake During the Day – Fatigue
Constant fatigue is one of the first symptoms that show up when someone suffers from Vitamin B12 deficiency. If you can barely stay awake all day, even after a good night’s sleep, then it is likely you are not getting enough Vitamin B12.
That’s because vitamin B12 is required for the synthesis of red blood cells. The red blood cells transport oxygenated blood to the organs. When this does not happen, then the organs do not get enough oxygen and this is what causes the fatigue and general body weakness.
Some people will also find that they are very sluggish, and often cannot keep up with their daily tasks. Take note however, that fatigue is not the only symptom used to diagnose Vitamin B12 deficiency. Diagnosis is carried out by looking at a combination of symptoms alongside appropriate medical tests.
You Experience Anxiety Attacks
Do you find that you feel more anxious than ever? While this could be linked to mental health conditions, it can also be as a result of a Vitamin B12 deficiency.
Research shows that this is attributed to the role the vitamin plays in the production of compounds found in the brain. The most notable of these compounds include dopamine and serotonin. Here is the most interesting bit: both chemical compounds have a big effect on mood regulation.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is one that may take a while to diagnose accurately, but the presentation of these symptoms should make it easy for a professional and qualified doctor to do so. That said, it is important to get these symptoms checked, especially when they appear in combination.