Vitamin B12 deficiency occurs when a lack of vitamin B12 or folate causes the body to produce abnormally large red blood cells that cannot function properly. As vitamin B12 helps support the body’s vital functions, including keeping the nervous system healthy, a lack of the vitamin can cause a wide-range of symptoms. If left untreated, it can lead to serious health complications.
According to the NHS, a vitamin B12 deficiency can cause these four complications:
- Problems with the nervous system
- Temporary infertility
- Heart conditions
- Pregnancy complications and birth defects
It can also increase the risk of stomach cancer, as the health site explained: “If you have a vitamin B12 deficiency caused by pernicious anaemia, a condition where your immune system attacks healthy cells in your stomach, your risk of developing stomach cancer is increased.”
In addition, adults with severe anaemia are also at risk of developing heart failure, noted the health site.
“Anaemia is the general term for having either fewer red blood cells than normal or having an abnormally low amount of haemoglobin in each red blood cell,” the health body explained.
It added: “Some complications improve with appropriate treatment, but others, such as problems with the nervous system, can be permanent.”
What are the symptoms?
As the NHS explained, a vitamin B12 deficiency can cause a wide range of symptoms.
- A pale yellow tinge to a person’s skin
- A sore and red tongue (glossitis)
- Mouth ulcers
- Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
- Changes in the way that a person walks and moves around
- Disturbed vision
- Changes in the way a person thinks, feels and behaves
- A decline in a person’s mental abilities, such as memory, understanding and judgement (dementia)
“Some of these symptoms can also happen in people who have a vitamin B12 deficiency but have not developed anaemia,” noted the health body.
Find out more about the warning signs here.
How to treat a B12 deficiency
According to Harvard Health, a vitamin B12 deficiency can be corrected in two ways: weekly shots of vitamin B12 or daily high-dose B12 pills.
There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:
In some cases, the vitamin can also be topped up through one’s diet. “Improving your diet can help treat the condition and prevent it coming back,” said the NHS.
Good sources of vitamin B12 include:
- Salmon and cod
- Milk and other dairy products
If a person is a vegetarian or vegan, or are looking for alternatives to meat and dairy products, there are other foods that contain vitamin B12, such as yeast extract (including Marmite), as well as some fortified breakfast cereals and soy products, noted the health site.
It added: “Check the nutrition labels while food shopping to see how much vitamin B12 different foods contain.”
Supplementation is a suitable alternative for vegetarian and vegans. “A standard multivitamin delivers six micrograms, more than enough to cover the average body’s daily need,” according to Harvard Health.