Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms may develop when a person isn’t getting enough of the vitamin from the foods they’re eating. Two reasons for this could be following a vegan or vegetarian diet or having a certain medical condition like pernicious anaemia. Vegans and vegetarians may lack B12 because the main sources of the vitamin are from foods of an animal origin. Pernicious anaemia affects a person’s absorption of B12 from foods.
Vitamin B12 is vital for the production of red blood cells in the body and for keeping nerves healthy, so if vitamin B12 is in short supply, a person’s red blood cell count can be lower and their nerves risk becoming damaged.
If vitamin B12 deficiency is left untreated for a long time, a number of complications can occur, including cardiovascular disease.
Recognising the symptoms of the condition can help prevent complications arising, and one sign to be wary of is having a metallic taste in your mouth.
Having a metallic taste in the mouth can be caused by vitamin B12 deficiency, according to celebrity doctor Dr Andrew Weil.
“A metallic taste in the mouth is a common complaint and can be due to a variety of causes,” it states on his website.
“In the absence of other symptoms, it is unlikely that a metallic taste in your mouth indicates serious disease.
“Metallic taste is commonly associated with a deficiency of vitamin B12, D or zinc.
“You also might consider visiting your dentist, because the funny metallic taste in your mouth could be a symptom of gum disease.”
A metallic taste in the mouth can also be caused by taking certain medicines, like antibiotics, advises the NHS.
Having a cold, indigestion and being pregnant could also be to blame.
Alongside a metallic taste in the mouth, an itchy or tingling tongue can be a sign of vitamin B12 deficiency.
The tongue may suddenly itch from time to time without waring, states Thyroid Patient Advocacy.
It explains: “This occurs on the edge of the tongue, along one side or the other or at the tip. There is an irresistible urge to scratch the tongue on the teeth to stop the itching. Some individuals experience stinging, pain, or tingling instead of itching.”
Other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency
Other symptoms of the condition are listed by Bupa as:
- Feeling very tired
- Breathlessness even after a little exercise
- Heart palpitations
- A reduced appetite
- A sore mouth
The health organisation adds: “If you have vitamin B12-deficiency anaemia, you may also look pale or jaundiced (have a yellowy tinge to your skin and the whites of your eyes).
“As well as the symptoms of anaemia, vitamin B12-deficiency may cause symptoms related to your nerves. This is called vitamin B12 neuropathy. It may affect your movement and sensation, especially in your legs, cause numbness or pins and needles and decrease your sensitivity to touch, vibration or pain. It can also cause confusion, depression, poor concentration and forgetfulness.
“These symptoms aren’t always due to vitamin B12-deficiency anaemia, but if you have them see your GP.”
Avoiding vitamin B12 deficiency
Experts say adults aged 19 to 64 require around 1.5 micrograms (mg) a day of vitamin B12, and you should be able to get this through your diet.
Certain foods contain vitamin B12 and Harvard Health Publishing, part of Harvard Medical School, offers the “A list of B12 foods” on its website.
Five foods rich in B12 include:
- Beef – 3 ounces contains 1.5mcg of B12
- Eggs – 1 large egg contains 0.6mcg of B12
- Fortified cereal – one cup contains 6mcg of B12
- Salmon – 3 ounces contains 4.9mcg of B12
- Low-fat milk – 1 cup contains 1.2mcg of B12
Vitamin B12 is primarily found in almost all foods of animal origin. This means, those with plant based diets, such as vegans, are at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency if they don’t eat the right foods.
For vegans, they should look to the following food sources:
- Yeast extract (for example Marmite)
- Soya milk, yoghurts and desserts
- Breakfast cereals
- Certain brands of rice drinks and oat drinks
Vitamin B12 deficiency treatment
If you consume very little vitamin B12 foods you may be advised by your GP to take a vitamin B12 supplement or to have vitamin B12 injections.
This may be the case for pregnant or breast feeding women and vegan or vegetarians.
You may also want to consider taking vitamin B12 supplements. The Department of Health advises you don’t take too much as this could be harmful.
Taking 2 milligrams or less a day of vitamin B12 in supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.