Vitamin B12 is the water soluble vitamin that does a lot of things in the human body. It helps make the DNA, gives proper functioning in the nervous system and also helps in the production of red blood cells in the body.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is also known as cobalamin. Its deficiency may lead to a reduction in healthy red blood cells causing anemia, and the nervous system may be affected. This brings problems such as vision problem, memory loss etc.
Since the body lacks vitamin B12, the only way vitamin B12 can be found in the body is by eating animal foods, such as meat, fish, poultry,eggs and dairy products.
Eating of animal foods should be done on a regular basis because the body doesnt store vitamin B12 for a long time.
Causes of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
There are some risk factors that can cause Vitamin B12 deficiency.Some of theme are;
1. Vegan diet
Vegan diet means when you abstain from animal product (meat, egg, milk, cheese etc) . The food you focus on during this veganism are legumes, nuts, butter, seaweed, nutritional yeaast etc. This can increase the risk of vitamin b12 deficiency.
2. Immune system disorder
Immune system disorder such as Graves disease or lupus causes Vitamin B12 deficiency. Lupus occurs when the immune system attacks the body tissues and organs.
Inflammation caused by lupus can affect the body system such as the joint , skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs.
3. Conditions that affects the small intestine
Small intestine is a part of intestine that runs between the stomach and the large intestine, the duodenum, jejunum,and ileum collectively.
This intestine helps in the digestion and absorption of food.Vitamin B12 deficiency, can cause some diseases such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, bacterial growth or a parasite when the small intestine is affected.
4. Pernicious anemia
Pernicious anemia is a condition where the immune system attacks healthy cells in the stomach. This affects the absorption of Vitamin B12 in the body. The risk of developing stomach cancer is very high.
Taking certain medications can interfere with the absorption of B12. The medication includes some heartburn medicines including proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as rabeprazole, omeprazole, esomeprazole, lansoprazole and pantoprazole.
6. Atrophic gastritis
Atrophic gastritis is a process of chronic inflammation of the gastric mucosa of the stomach. The Gastric Mucosa helps with food digestion.
Gastritis simply means any condition that leads to inflammation of the stomach. Inflammation of the atrophy of stomach glans leads to intrinsic factor deficit with consequent failure to absorb Vitamin B12.
The inflammation of Atrophic gastric, damages the stomach lining, causing digestive problems and nutrient deficiencies but it can also be an autoimmune condition.
Also gastric achylia predisposes to Giardia infection which in itself leads to exhaustion of Vitamin B12. Otherconditions that increases risk factor of having Vitamin B12 deficiency include:
- Those who’ve had surgery that removes the part of the bowel that absorbs B12.
- The elderly
- People who are on certain diabetes medicines such as metformin are at a risk of vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency is a risk factor to People who take H2 Blockers such as cimetidine, famotidine and ranitidine. This, blocks the action of histamine at the histamine H2 receptors of the parietal cells in the stomach. This decreases the production of stomach acid.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency is also a risk factor if you have had weight loss surgery or another operation that removed part of your stomach, or if you drink heavily.
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency.
Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms takes longer period to show or it may cause no symptoms at all, but if is not treated on time it may lead to symptoms such as:
These are common symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency. They take place in the body because your body does not have enough vitamin B12 to make red blood cells, which help in transporting oxygen throughout the body. Because of this it can lead to weakness and tiredness.
2. Pale/Jaundice skin
The lack of vitamin B12 causes problems with the red blood cell production and people with this deficiency often look pale and have a slight yellow tinge to their skin and white of the eyes known as jaundice.
With this symptoms there is a cause of anemia known as megaloblastic anemia, in which the red blood cells produced in your bone marrow are large and fragile.
3. Vision Loss
B12 deficiency can cause blurred or disturbed vision. It damages and disrupt the nervous signal that travels from the eyes to the brain, losing your sight. This condition is known as optic neuropathy.
4. Depression/Memory loss
This happens because of the low levels of B12 vitamins in the body which is linked to mood and brain disorders like depression and dementia (memory loss).
5. Mood Swing or behavioural changes
The “homocysteine hypothesis of depression” has been suggested as a potential explanation for this.
This theory suggest that high levels of homocysteine caused by low levels of B12 vitamin could interfer with signals to and from the brain, leading to mood swing.
6. Heart palpitations and shortness of breathe
The body needs to get enough oxygen to breath well, but due to vitamin B12 deficiency found in the body, the body tend to lack red blood cells.
Also if you become anemic because of the deficiency, you may feel short breath.
7. Nerve problems like numbness or tingling, muscle weakness, and problems walking
If the body lacks vitamin B12, the damage to the nervous system could cause change to mobility.
This is found in people who have a severe, untreated deficiency. It’s been suggested that increasing vitamin B12 foods in the elderly could help improve their mobility.
8. A smooth tongue
When a tongue is inflammed, it is called Glossitis. The tongue tend to change colour and shape making it painful, red and swollen.
The tiny bumps on the tongue that contain the taste buds stretches and disappear due to the inflamed tongue. Some other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are
- Constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or gas
- High temperature
- Mouth ulcer
- Burning and itching sensation in the mouth
- Weight loss
- Chest pain/heart burn.
Treatments Options For Vitamin B12 Deficiency
- If you are a vegetarian or you are on vegan diet, that is not eating animal product, you still have options to change your diet.
- You can also treat it by taking B12 injections which are slowly decreased over time.
- Have a blood tests to monitor replacement treatment.
- Complete blood counts to measure vitamin B12 and iron levels in blood serum.
- You can take a high dose of oral vitamin B12 if you are deficient.
- If you don’t eat animal products, or you have a medical condition that limits how well your body absorbs nutrients, as an older adult, take multivitamin that contains vitamin B12 and also take a vitamin B12 supplements daily.
Vitamin B12 deficiency builds up over time and can cause serious problems. Improvement in lifestyle and taking the right medications ca help a lot.
Some of the symptoms listed up there can also be symptoms for other types of sickness. Do not hesitate to visit the doctor if you notice any changes.