Seven signs you’re low in vitamin B12

Changes in vision? Memory problems? Poor balance? These are all signs you may be low in vitamin B12.

Seven signs you’re low in vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 deficiency is most common in people over the age of 60 and has been associated with age-related cognitive decline.

Vitamin B12 is essential for the healthy functioning of your nervous system and the production of red blood cells and DNA. It is found in animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs, and in some breads and plant-based milk that have been fortified with B12. Most people will get enough of this vitamin naturally through their food if they eat a well-balanced diet. However, you can become B12 deficient by not eating enough of these foods or if your body is unable to absorb it from the food you eat.

People who may be at higher risk of B12 deficiency include seniors, vegans, people who take metformin for diabetes, antacid for heartburn or people who have had surgery to remove parts of their bowel.

B12 deficiency can be hard to diagnose and is sometimes confused with a folate deficiency, as low B12 can cause a drop in folate levels.

Signs of a B12 deficiency include:  

Pale or jaundice skin
B12 is required for the production of functioning red blood cells. Without it, red blood cells become enlarged and fragile, meaning they cannot leave the bone marrow where they are produced to circulate the blood. This will cause the skin to appear pale or can cause a condition known as jaundice, recognisable by the yellowing of the skin and eyes.

Feeling weak, tired or dizzy
When your body can’t produce enough healthy blood cells to carry oxygen around your body, you feel weak and fatigued. This may also cause people to feel breathless and dizzy, especially when doing physical activity.

Pins and needles
Myelin is a fatty substance that surrounds your nerves, protecting and insulating them. Vitamin B12 is essential for its production, so without it the nerves and nervous system struggle to function properly. This may result in paresthesia – the feeling of pins and needles – though it is rarely associated with a B12 deficiency alone.

Decline in balance and mobility
If damage to the nervous system is allowed to progress, you may experience changes in your coordination, balance and movement, increasing your risk of falls. B12 deficiency is more common in older people, and these symptoms may be overlooked as normal signs of ageing. In fact, low levels of B12 is a predictor of subsequent disability in older women.

Smooth tongue and ulcers
Glossitis, the inflammation of the tongue, can cause it to change colour, feel painful and swell, stretching out your tastebuds and making them feel smooth. This can be an early symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency. People may also get ulcers, or feeling of burning, pins and needles and itching.

Changes in vision
If vitamin B12 deficiency causes damage to the optic nerve, it may result in blurry or impaired vision. This is known as optic neuropathy.

Low levels of vitamin B12 have been linked to mood changes, including depression and a decline in brain function. Fortunately, the use of supplements has been shown to reverse damage in some patients. 

If you suspect you are vitamin B12 deficient, consult your doctor. If you are unable to absorb vitamin B12, you may need to receive supplements. These may be regular oral vitamins or reoccurring injections.

Were you aware of the potential problems caused by low levels of vitamin B12?

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    Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.


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    Ted Wards
    21st Oct 2019
    Actually it's not common in vegans. All protein comes from plants, animals who eat plants have a store of protein but it is only created by their bodies stripping the protein and storing it. Humans who do not live on a basically plant diet will have many illnesses because of how the body uses the fuel you give it. Less than 6% of doctors receive any training in nutrition and only every look at symptoms, not causes. Its basically the person's responsibility to make sure they are fueling their body with nutritious food that our bodies can use. Protein from meat is in no way superior to protein from plant because they have converted it, losing many valuable amino acids etc. The 9 essential amino acids that we cannot produce of the 20 we need, are only found in plant based foods!
    22nd Oct 2019
    What absolute rubbish!!! A vegan diet is a deficiency diet and B12 deficiency is common amongst them unless they take supplements. Meat is also the best source of Heme, , iron and trace elements. I agree too much meat is foolishness but so is it's total lack. Ask the majority of dietitians. The whole human system has evolved to have a mixed diet which includes some (but not a lot) of meat. How else do you explain our dentition (presence of canines) and our digestive enzymes...more able to digest meat than plants (cf ruminants). Which is also why a eating a lot of plants is good for you in a mixed diet as the higher fibre content etc, being more poorly digested , tends to move things along.That is why Belgium has passed a law that proclaims raising a child on a vegan diet is child abuse, warranting imprisonment as it results in "failure to thrive" , impaired brain development , with mental retardation, and skeletal deformities, probably because of lack of Calcium, but also interference with thyroid and growth hormones. To whit the recent case in Sydney where the parents were imprisoned because they raised their child on a Vegan diet, at 2 years it was the size of 3 month old, mentally retarded ,unable to speak, or walk with osteoporotic , fractured bones. One of the most famous lifelong Vegans of all (Steve Jobs) died of pancreatic cancer, where as once he turned back to conventional medicine (as those who to try to manage on alternative medicines always do), and was advised to eat some meat, as much of his pancreas removed and therefore unable to absorb nutrients as well, he ignored the advice and sadly died much too young. Interestingly a recent metadata and meta-analytic study in the Lancet pointed to one study that suggest the rate of pancreatic and gall bladder, and bile duct cancers were higher in vegans.
    22nd Oct 2019
    I agree with you Ted, there are no more vegan deficient in B12 than those who consume animal products. I have been on a wholefood plant diet for years and never once tested low and that was without supplements. I only started taking them just recently, though I don't see any difference in my health because I am so healthy. I have read that you can absorb B12 from lightly washed home grown veggies so I pick something from the garden every day or some weeds like dandelion or nasturtium to add to my salads.
    All your comments Agnes is typical from those who do not understand the vegan diet and only go by what they read/hear. Steve Jobs died because he basically did not eat enough calories.And same with the Sydney parents they did not feed the baby enough balanced foods. There are many more healthy vegan children than there are healthy animal protein eaters.
    9th Nov 2019
    I am pretty sure that Agnes is right. It would be interesting to know what your qualifications are Te and KSS for pronouncing in the way you do about food and nutrition. And no, reading a lot of silly stuff by unqualified people on the internet is NOT a qualification!
    Unfortunately because you are obviously well meaning, ignorant people may listen to what you have to say and suffer for it. Quite a responsibility that, is it not?
    9th Jun 2020
    My apologies to KSS
    I think my computer spell check let me down. KSS always contributes educated answers.
    It would be interesting and reassuring only to have to read stuff from people who are properly qualified.
    9th Jun 2020
    Let's not generalise too much. There is more than one type of iron. I had a complete iron study done. I was low in some but high in another one.
    I was low in Ferritin but not some of the others.

    Tags: health, b12,

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