Signs and symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency

It can be hard to comprehend just how damaging the lack vitamin B12 can be on our health. A case study, cited in The New England Journal of Medicine, highlights how important Vitamin B12 is to maintain our overall health. A 62-year old man developed “pins and needles” sensations that started in his hands and grew to affect 40% of his sensations. Symptoms continued to develop and the gentleman had difficulty walking, suffered severe joint pain, developed jaundice, became progressively more short of breath, lost dexterity in his hands and began dropped things. Eventually, he was unable to climb more than four stairs at a time without resting, had difficulty standing, and lost considerable weight, among other symptoms. These symptoms rapidly developed over a span of 2 months because he lacked vitamin B12 in his bloodstream. According to the New England Journal symptoms of severe vitamin B12 deficiency can cause even more detrimental health effects. Examples include paranoia and delusions, deep depression, loss of memory and the ability to taste and smell, as well as incontinence.
Why is vitamin B12 necessary?
According to Harvard Health, Vitamin B12 is responsible for creating nerves, red blood cells, DNA, and many other functions. Most vitamins, including B12, cannot be made in the body. Therefor, 2.4 micrograms should be consumed daily via food or supplements. Symptoms, like the man experienced in the aforementioned case study, occur when individuals do not consume enough vitamin B12 or their bodies are unable to absorb it properly.  Vitamin B12 deficiency is relatively common says Harvard Health. This is especially true among older people, vegetarians, vegans, individuals who have had weight loss surgery or have undiagnosed celiac disease. Up 20% of adults over the age of 50 have  borderline vitamin B12 deficiency, while 3.2% are at seriously low B12 levels, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Why do people become deficient?
Vegans and vegetarians are more likely to lack vitamin B12 because it is exclusively found in animal products, such as meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs. Weight-loss surgery, such as stomach stapling, can negatively affect the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12. A a study published on NCIB reported that 41% of individuals in a celiac disease study suffered from a vitamin B12 deficiency. According to the study, “Vitamin B12 deficiency is common in untreated celiac disease.” The elderly and others who are more likely to lack stomach acid production are also at greater risk of a B12 deficiency because stomach acid is required to absorb vitamin B12. Finally, metformin (a diabetes drug), can also block the absorption of vitamin B12.
Symptoms of a B12 deficiency
Symptoms generally appear gradually over time but sometimes develop quickly. Harvard Health published the  following list of symptoms:
  • numbness or tingling in the hands, legs, or feet
  • difficulty walking (lack of balance, unsteady gait)
  • a swollen tongue
  • yellowed skin (jaundice)
  • difficulty processing cognitive functions or memory loss
  • paranoia or hallucinations
  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • anemia

Symptoms can be easily confused with another health disorders and vitamin B12 is often overlooked by physicians. If you think you may suffer from a vitamin B12 deficiency ask for a blood test as early detection is important.
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