The Importance Of Recognizing A Vitamin B12 Deficiency

2013-10-20 | |
Last updated: 2014-11-25

Many people assume nutrient-related illnesses are confined to third-world countries. While poor nutrition is commonly an issue in such countries, developed nations are at risk too. In fact, according to Tufts University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at least 40% of the population suffers from a vitamin B12 deficiency.

What Does Vitamin B12 Do?

Vitamin B12 is a complex nutrient involved in many important functions of the body. The vitamin works together with vitamin B folate to form new blood cells and keep the nervous system running properly. For some people, a deficiency in vitamin B12 can be mostly harmless, only resulting in a little fatigue. However, if a person’s vitamin B12 level drops too low, it can lead to some serious health problems.

Why Do Vitamin B12 Deficiencies Happen?

One of the reasons that deficiencies can develop is because Vitamin B12 is only found in animal sources including bacteria. As a result, people who live a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle are at a higher risk for a deficiency of B12 than those who eat meat, fish, eggs and dairy.

While the health concern is commonly associated with this diet-conscious population, other people are at risk for a deficiency too. Some people simply cannot absorb the nutrient properly. For example, those who suffer from the medical condition pernicious anemia are unable to get enough vitamin B12 – no matter how many steaks they might try to eat. This is because their stomach linings have lost the cells necessary to help in B12 absorption.

There are other conditions that can interfere with absorption too – including excessive alcohol consumption, atrophic gastritis or chronic inflammation of the stomach lining, various digestive system surgeries, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, Grave’s disease and the use of acid-reducing drugs. The details of these conditions are not described here but are listed simply to highlight the many possible causes of B12 deficiency.

What Are The Symptoms Of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

To avoid the more serious effects of B12 deficiency, a person should stay alert to any unusual feeling in the body. Weight loss, constipation, tiredness, mood changes, depression, difficulty walking, and numbness of the fingers or toes, are all symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency.

According to a report from Massachusetts General Hospital, which was later published in The New England Journal of Medicine, a 62-year old man faced intense health problems from a low level of vitamin B12 in his bloodstream. The man first noticed a numbness in his fingers, which quickly evolved into yellow-hued skin, difficulty walking, severe joint pain, and a shortness of breath.

Another symptom caused by low B12 levels is memory loss. According to a study posted in the New York Times, an 85-year old woman thought her forgetfulness was due to her old age, when it was really caused by a low daily intake of vitamin B12. The woman was prescribed vitamin B12 injections and was monitored by her daughter. The daughter reported her mother’s memory improved significantly.

Similarly, research published in the May 2013 edition of the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences linked low vitamin B12 levels with cognitive decline or reduced mental abilities, dementia, and reductions in brain material. The researchers in the study showed that a high dose of a vitamin B combination (vitamin B12, vitamin B6, and folic acid) slowed the shrinking process of the brain as a whole.

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Category: Disease Prevention, General Health, Health Risks, Symptom Information

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