Vitamin B12 is a water soluble essential vitamin that is responsible for many functions within the body, including nerve function, DNA production, cellular metabolism, and red blood cell formation. It is found in dairy products, fish, poultry, and meat. If you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, consuming these foods as well as taking a B12 supplement can help counteract the effects of low levels of this important nutrient.
Your body has the ability to store several years of vitamin B12; therefore, a deficiency is rare. However, if you are a vegan or a vegetarian, or if you have a digestive disorder, you may be prone to becoming deficient in this important vitamin.
If you have a deficiency that is left untreated, a number of health issues can occur. You may experience anemia, intestinal problems, fatigue, mood disturbances, muscle weakness, and nerve damage. As you can see, there are many symptoms associated with a deficiency of this nutrient.
Who Is at risk for a B12 deficiency?
Certain individuals have an increased risk of experiencing a deficiency, including:
- Individuals who have a history of long-term antacid usage
- Individuals who take Metformin for diabetes
- Individuals who have had a portion of their bowel removed
- Individuals who are elderly
- Individuals who are vegan or vegetarian
What are the side effects of a B12 vitamin deficiency?
Jaundiced Or pale skin – When you suffer from B12 vitamin deficiency, the body creates red blood cells that are too large and fragile. This condition is known as megaloblastic anemia. These large red blood cells cannot move out of your bone marrow and into your blood. As the condition continues, you begin to not have enough red blood cells circulating through your body, which can cause you to develop pale skin.
Furthermore, because your red blood cells are fragile, they can break down quickly, resulting in excess bilirubin in the body. Bilirubin occurs when the liver breaks down old red blood cells. When there is too much bilirubin in the body, your eyes and skin can develop a yellow tinge, which is known as jaundice.
Changes in the way you move and walk – If your B12 deficiency is left untreated, it can alter the way you move and walk. Your balance and coordination can be impacted, and your risk of falling increases.
If you begin to experience an increase in falls or your coordination becomes altered, it may be due to a vitamin deficiency. Although this symptom often affects the elderly, it can affect young people suffering from an untreated B12 deficiency. Contact your doctor immediately if the way you move changes for no apparent reason.
Weakness and fatigue – Two of the most common symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency are weakness and fatigue. When your body does not produce an ample amount of B12, it cannot make the red blood cells that your body needs.
One function of red blood cells is the transporting of oxygen throughout your body. Red blood cells travel through the body delivering oxygen and vital nutrients to your organs and tissues. When the body does not receive enough nutrients and oxygen, it can cause you to feel weak and fatigued.
Nerve damage – A serious side effect of long-term vitamin B12 deficiency is nerve damage. This nerve damage causes your hands and feet to feel like they are getting pricked by pins and needles. This condition is called paresthesia.
Paresthesia occurs when the production of myelin is altered. Myelin surrounds your nerves and insulates and protects your nerve endings. When myelin is not produced correctly due to a vitamin B12 deficiency this type of nerve damage can occur.
Mouth ulcers and an inflamed tongue – When your body is not getting an ample amount of B12, it can impact your oral health. Your tongue can become swollen, red, and painful. This condition is called glossitis and can affect the way you speak and eat. Furthermore, the inflammation can cause your taste buds to disappear, making your tongue look smooth.
A deficiency can also cause nerve damage to your tongue. You can experience burning and itching in your mouth. In addition to this, you can develop mouth ulcers/ lesions on your tongue, jaws, gums, and the roof of your mouth.
Dizziness and breathlessness – If you experience a deficiency, it can cause you to feel dizzy and short of breath upon exertion. This is due to the decrease in red blood cell production. When the body does not receive an ample amount of oxygen, it can cause you to become breathless. As oxygen levels continue to decline, your brain health can be affected resulting in dizziness.
Visual disturbances – A deficiency of vitamin B12 can damage all aspects of the nervous system including your optical nerve. When this occurs, vision disturbances can happen.
When your optic nerve is damaged, the signal that travels from your eyes to your brain can be disrupted, leading to vision impairment. This vision condition is called optic neuropathy.
Changes in your mood – Individuals who suffer from a B12 deficiency are at an increased risk of experiencing changes in their mood. Low B12 levels have been associated with brain and mood disorders, including dementia and depression.
Low B12 levels can increase homocysteine in the body, which can damage the tissues in the brain and interfere with the signals going to and from the brain. This interference can increase the risk of changes to your mood.
Studies have shown that taking B12 supplements may help reduce or even reverse symptoms of depression naturally.
Cardiovascular disease – A B12 vitamin deficiency can contribute to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the hardening of the arteries. When this occurs, it can increase the risk of plaque formation in the arteries.
In addition to this, a deficiency can cause your cholesterol levels and triglyceride number to increase, which also negatively impacts your heart health.
Vitamin B12 converts homocysteine into methionine, which is one of the building blocks for protein. When the body does not have enough of this vitamin, homocysteine is not broken down properly, resulting in higher levels of homocysteine in the body. High homocysteine levels have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and stroke.
Vitamin B12 is one of the most important vitamins that your body needs. It is used for a plethora of functions throughout your body. B12 is used for homocysteine regulation, red cell production, mood regulation, and nerve function.
Individuals who are vegan or vegetarian are at an increased risk for a deficiency. Those with a gastrointestinal disorder that prevents the body from breaking down proteins effectively can experience a deficit in this important vitamin. Finally the elderly and those suffering from pernicious anemia are at an increased risk of experiencing a vitamin B12 deficiency. A vitamin and mineral supplement or a B12 supplement can help correct this deficiency and relieve the numerous symptoms associated with this important nutritional deficiency.