What Happens When Your Vitamin B12 Is Low? (Explained)
Vitamin B12 is a vital nutrient that keeps your body's nerves and blood cells healthy. It also helps in DNA synthesis, the genetic material in all cells. Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal food, including meat, fish, and dairy products.
Most people consume enough vitamin B12 in their food. However, age-related factors, medical disorders, or lifestyle choices may make some people prone to deficiencies. For example, veganism is a lifestyle choice that can lead to a vitamin B12 deficiency if you do not adequately supplement your meals.
When you are Vitamin B12 deficient, it can lead to physical, neurological, and psychological problems. Symptoms include anemia, loss of appetite, pale skin, faster heart rate, depression, numbness in the hands and feet, difficulty walking and balance problems, and other serious health problems.
If you're feeling fatigued and having other strange symptoms, you may need to check your vitamin B12 levels. Knowing the signs and long-term health effects of vitamin B12 deficiency is essential for any person of any age, as it can be a hidden cause of some commonly diagnosed health issues.
In this blog, we'll explore what vitamin B12 deficiencies are, including their causes, symptoms, and treatment.
What is vitamin B12 deficiency?
Vitamin B12 deficiency is a health condition that occurs when a person does not have enough vitamin B12 in their blood. And this is often due to inadequate consumption of the vitamin through diet or impaired absorption by the body.
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin vital for the body's normal function, including forming red blood cells and synthesizing DNA.
If left untreated, its deficiency can result in anemia, nerve damage, and even death.
Thankfully, you can obtain it from readily available foods, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and fortified foods. Vitamin B12 can also be obtained through a supplement.
What causes vitamin B12 deficiency?
Vitamin B12 is a crucial food nutrient that helps to keep the body functioning correctly. Unfortunately, lacking this vital vitamin can lead to various health problems, including fatigue, anemia, and nerve damage.
Knowing the common causes of vitamin B12 deficiency can help you identify potential risk factors to prevent it.
That said, the following are some of the causes of vitamin B12 deficiency:
Lack of vitamin B12 in your food
The most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency is your diet's lack of vitamin B12. People who follow vegan or vegetarian diets are especially at risk since animal products are the primary source of this nutrient.
Another cause of vitamin B12 deficiency is a rare medical condition called Pernicious anemia.
Pernicious anemia is an autoimmune condition that reduces your body’s ability to absorb this vital nutrient.
People with pernicious anemia are deficient because their body cannot produce intrinsic factor (a protein produced in your stomach to facilitate Vit B12 absorption).
Transcobalamin II deficiency
One particular medical condition that can lead to vitamin B12 deficiency is Transcobalamin II (TCII) deficiency.
TCII deficiency is an inherited disorder that affects the body's ability to properly absorb and use vitamin B12. People with TCII deficiency may experience fatigue, poor appetite, weight loss, nerve damage, and anemia.
People who have undergone a gastrointestinal procedure, such as a gastric bypass (weight-loss surgery), can find it difficult to absorb vitamin B12. Hence, they may become vitamin B12 deficient.
People with digestive system diseases such as Crohn's and Celiac may become vitamin B12 deficient as the condition prevents their body from fully absorbing the vitamin.
Gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining, is a typical reason for vitamin B12 deficiency. Gastritis can cause vitamin B12 deficiency because your stomach lacks hydrochloric acid, which is necessary for vitamin B12 absorption.
Alcohol use disorder
Another cause of vitamin B12 deficiency is alcohol use disorder (AUD). Alcohol consumption can meddle with the absorption of vitamin B12 from food sources and decreases the amount of this nutrient stored in the body.
People with AUD are also more likely to have poor diets that lack foods rich in B12, further exacerbating their deficiency. Furthermore, AUD can damage your digestive system and impair your body's ability to absorb vitamin B12 for bodily functions.
Other potential risk factors include age-related changes in digestive function. If you think you are deficient in vitamin B12, we recommend speaking to your doctor and taking a test to confirm if you are lacking.
Depending on the cause of your deficiency, your healthcare provider will determine the best treatment for you.
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What are the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency?
Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause neurological, physical, and psychological problems. Symptoms depend on the severity of the deficiency, but they generally include the following:
- Having a sore mouth or tongue
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Having a sore mouth or tongue.
- Having yellowish skin
- megaloblastic anemia
- Numbness in the hands and feet
- Vision problems
- Having difficulty walking and balance problems
- Feeling irritable
- Mood swing
It is essential to begin treatment once you become aware of your deficiency. Vitamin B12 deficiency can result in permanent nerve damage and even death if not treated.
What is Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia?
Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia is a condition that appears when your body does not have enough healthy red blood cells due to a deficiency of vitamin B12.
This vitamin is vital for the nervous system's normal functioning and the formation of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all body parts.
People with this condition may experience fatigue, pale skin, shortness of breath, and other symptoms.
Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia can lead to serious complications such as nerve damage and an increased risk of heart disease without proper treatment and management.
Who is at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency?
Vitamin B12 is a critical food nutrient that helps keep the body's nervous system and blood cells healthy. Unfortunately, vitamin B12 deficiency is relatively common, especially among certain groups of people, including:
- People 60 years old or older are at risk because their bodies often cannot absorb vitamin B12 fully.
- Vegetarians and vegans can become deficient if they don’t eat enough fortified foods with vitamin B12.
- People with digestive disorders such as celiac disease and Crohn's disease can have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12 in their bodies.
- People taking certain medications, like metformin, proton pump inhibitors, oral birth control pills, and histamine H2 blockers. These drugs can cause low levels of vitamin B12.
- People with Sjögren's syndrome.
- People with Alcohol use disorder (AUD).
- People who have had surgery to remove part of their stomach or intestine.
If you belong to any of the categories mentioned above, it is best to speak with your doctor about whether you need to get tested for vitamin B12 deficiency.
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How does my body absorb vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is essential for maintaining good health; however, your body cannot absorb it. To absorb this vitamin, your body must first use hydrochloric acid in your stomach to extract it from the meal you consumed.
Next, the extracted vitamin combines with a protein called intrinsic factor, which helps transport it into your bloodstream through the small intestine. From there, it travels to the liver, where it is stored for later use.
How is vitamin B12 deficiency treated?
A lack of Vitamin B 12 can be treated using supplements, vitamin B 12 shots, or by improving your diet, depending on what caused your deficiency.
For example, if your deficiency is due to lifestyle choices, such as being a vegan, you may need to complement your meal with Vitamin B 12 supplements which you can get over the counter or by prescription.
If your deficiency is due to your body’s inability to absorb the vitamin, you may need to get vitamin B 12 shots. These shots are usually given intramuscularly (into the muscle) or subcutaneously (under the skin).
Other options for vitamin B12 treatment include:
If you are worried that you may be deficient, it is best to consult your healthcare provider to help you find out through a simple blood test.
Takeaway: Discover the effects of Vitamin B 12 deficiency on your health
Vitamin B12 is vital for many bodily functions, including the synthesizing of DNA, the formation of red blood cells, and neurological function.
Foods such as fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products all contain vitamin B12. However, since vitamin B12 is absent from plant foods, those who eat strictly vegetarian or vegan diets are at risk of lacking this vitamin.
Other factors that can also lead to a deficiency include a poor diet, gastric surgery, old age, certain medications, and medical conditions.
When your vitamin B12 is low, you may experience various symptoms, including fatigue, weakness, anemia, memory problems, constipation, and weight loss.
If you suspect you lack vitamin B12, talk to your doctor and do some blood tests to determine if you are deficient.
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