Vitamin B12 is vital among B vitamins. It is water-soluble like other B-vitamins and it can travel through the bloodstream through plasma. The human body can store vitamin B12 for up to four years and the excess amount of vitamin B12 is excreted through urine.
Vitamin B12, also known as Cobalamin, is important for the good health of nerve tissues, brain function, and the production of red blood cells. Its deficiency can cause irreversible neurological symptoms and anemia. It is mainly found in meat and dairy products.
People who do not take meat, they can get vitamin B12 in supplement form.
Foods rich in Vitamin B12
Generally plant foods do not contain B12. But animal products, for example, fish, meat, eggs, and dairy products are rich in B12. You can get vitamin B12 from:
- Beef, pork, lamb
- Fish (especially haddock and tuna)
- Poultry and Eggs
- Dairy products, for example milk, cheese, and yogurt
- Soya milk
- Fortified breakfast cereals
It is always advisable to take a balanced diet to stay fit before taking any active treatment. The symptoms of deficiency can be easily avoided with a healthy diet.
Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 plays an important role in the creation of red blood cells and DNA, and also the proper functioning of the nervous system.
It is naturally found in animal foods, including meats, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. But, it can also be found in products prepared with B12, for example, some varieties of bread and plant-based milk.
Mostly, B12 deficiency is common among the elderly. But, people who don’t get enough vitamin B12 from their diet or aren’t able to absorb enough from the food they eat, they may suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency. People at the threat of a B12 deficiency include:
- People who’ve had surgery in which the part of the bowel has been removed that absorbs B12
- The elderly
- People who take the drug metformin for diabetes
- People who follow a strict vegan diet
- Those have been taking long-term antacid drugs for indigestion
The symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency take years to come up and it is more difficult to diagnose. Deficiency of B12 can cause a drop in folate levels. Here are some symptoms of B12 deficiency.
Weakness and Fatigue
B12 deficiency can cause weakness and fatigue. These occur in the absence of enough vitamin B12 in your body to make red blood cells, which transport oxygen all through your body. Therefore, you feel tired and weak.
In the case of the elderly, this type of anemia is usually caused by an autoimmune condition known as pernicious anemia. In this condition, the body fails to produce an adequate amount of an important protein called intrinsic factor. Intrinsic factor is necessary for preventing B12 deficiency, as it combines with vitamin B12 in your gut so that your body is able to absorb it.
Pale or Jaundiced Skin
B12 deficiency leads to jaundice. In this condition, the person usually looks pale or has a slight yellow tinge of the skin and whites of the eyes. These occur due to low levels of red blood cell production.
Vitamin B12 helps in the production of the DNA which is required to make red blood cells. In its absence, the instructions for building the cells are incomplete, and cells cannot divide.
This result a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia. In megaloblastic anemia, the red blood cells produced in the bone marrow are large and fragile and these large red blood cells pass out of the bone marrow and into the circulation. As you don’t have enough red blood cells circulating around your body, your skin looks pale in color.
The fragile cells can break down, causing an excess of bilirubin. It is somewhat red or brown-colored substance, which is produced by the liver by the breaking down of old blood cells and a large amount of it makes your skin and eyes a yellow tinge.
Breathlessness and giddiness
Anemia caused due to B12 deficiency can make you feel short of breath and a bit excited. These happen when your body lacks the red blood cells and by that, your body’s cells fail to get enough oxygen. But, the reason behind these symptoms can have other causes. So, you need to consult a doctor when you feel breathless.
Sensations of numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
Nerve damage is the major serious side effect of a long-term B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 is the main contributor to the metabolic pathway which produces the fatty substance myelin. Myelin gives protection and insulation to your nerves. Due to B12 deficiency, myelin is produced in a different way, and your nervous system cannot function appropriately. Therefore, you may feel the sensation of pins and needles or tingles in the hands and feet.
Changes in mobility
If you leave B12 deficiency untreated, the damage to your nervous system can cause changes in your movement. You may lose your balance and coordination and you may get more prone to falling.
This symptom is mostly found in the elderly. But, checking or treating B12 deficiencies may recover one’s mobility.
B-12 deficiency can also cause changes in mood. It has been seen that low levels of B-12 lead to mood and brain disorders like depression and dementia. Lack of B-12 can damage the brain tissues and interfere with signals to and from your brain, causing mood changes. According to some researches, people with deficient in B-12 if supplementing with the needed vitamin can have reverse symptoms.
Glossitis and Mouth Ulcers
Glossitis is also known as an inflamed tongue. In this condition, the tongue changes color and shape and it becomes red, swollen and more painful. As a result, your way of eating and speaking also change. All these things occur due to vitamin B12 deficiency.
In addition, some people with a B12 deficiency may experience other oral diseases, like mouth ulcers, feelings of pins and needles in the tongue or a burning and itching sensation in the mouth.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is also responsible for blurred or disturbed vision. As B12 deficiency cause damage to the nervous system, it damages the optic nerve which leads to the eyes. Though it is frightening, the symptoms are often reversible by supplementing with B12.
Benefits of Vitamin B12
- Vitamin B12 is essential for the normal functioning of the brain and the nervous system.
- It is also involved in the formation of red blood cells and the production and regulation of DNA.
- B12 is responsible for the metabolism of every cell in the body, as it helps in the synthesis of fatty acids and energy production.
- B12 facilitates the release of energy by helping the human body soak up folic acid.
Every time our body produces millions of red blood cells. These cells require vitamin B12 to multiply properly. If B12 reduces in our body, the production of red blood cells will decrease and anemia will occur.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH):
- Teens and adults over the age of 14 years require 2.4 micrograms (mcg) per day
- Pregnant women need 2.6 mcg
- Lactating women 2.8 mcg.
It has not been found the toxic or harmful qualities of excess intake of vitamin B12. However, it is always better to take supplements according to the instructions of your physician.
There are some medicines, which may interact with vitamin B12. These are metformin, proton pump inhibitors, and h2 receptor agonists, usually used for peptic ulcer disease. The antibiotics, such as chloramphenicol, or chloromycetin, may also interfere with red blood cell production in people who take supplements.