Vitamin B12 is a 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 vitamin B12.
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 have a digestive disorder, you may be prone to a vitamin B12 deficiency. If a vitamin B12 deficiency is left untreated, anemia, intestinal problems, fatigue, mood disturbances, muscle weakness and nerve damage can occur. Let's take a look at dangers associated with a vitamin B12 deficiency.
• Jaundiced or pale skin – When you suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency, the body creates red blood cells that are too large and fragile. This condition is known as megaloblastic anemia. Due to the size of your red blood cells, they cannot move out of the bone marrow and into the blood. When this occurs, you do not have enough red blood cells circulating through the body, resulting in pale skin. Additionally, 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.
• Weakness and fatigue – One common symptom of a vitamin B12 deficiency is weakness and fatigue. When the body does not produce enough red blood cells, the oxygen throughout your body can decrease, resulting in fatigue and weakness. Red blood cells travel through your body delivering oxygen and vital nutrients to your tissues and organs.
• Nerve damage – A serious side effect of long-term vitamin B12 deficiency is nerve damage. Vitamin B12 is used to produce myelin. Myelin surrounds the nerves and insulates and protects them. A vitamin B12 deficiency causes paresthesia, which causes pins and needles sensations.
• Mouth ulcers and an inflamed tongue – Vitamin B12 deficiencies cause a swollen tongue that causes your tongue to become swollen, painful and red. It can affect the way you speak and eat. In addition to this, a deficiency can cause nerve damage to the tongue resulting in itching and burning sensations in the oral cavity as well as mouth ulcers.
• Dizziness and breathlessness – Shortness of breath and dizziness is a common symptom of a vitamin B12 deficiency. When you are deficient in vitamin B12, the body does not produce enough red blood cells to provide ample amounts of oxygen to the cells in your body.
• Visual disturbances – Because vitamin B12 deficiencies can damage the nervous system, including your optical nerve, vision disturbances can occur. When this nerve becomes 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. Luckily, this condition can typically be reversed with a vitamin B12 supplement.
• Changes in your mood – Vitamin B12 has been linked to dementia and depression. The National Institutes of Health has found that vitamin B12 deficiencies increase the risk of depression. When vitamin B12 supplements are taken long-term, the symptoms of depression can decrease and may be totally reversed.
• Cardiovascular disease – Vitamin B12 can contribute to atherosclerosis, which results in clogged arteries. Vitamin B12 converts homocysteine into methionine, which is one of the building blocks for protein. When the body does not have enough vitamin B12, homocysteine is not broken down properly, resulting in higher levels in homocysteine in the body. High homocysteine levels have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke. It is one of the most important vitamins that the body needs.
Vitamin B12 is used for a plethora of functions throughout the body, including homocysteine regulation, nerve function, red blood cell production and mood regulation. If you are a vegan or a vegetarian, have a gastrointestinal disorder that prevents the body from breaking down proteins effectively, suffer from pernicious anemia or are elderly, your risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency is increased. A vitamin B12 supplement can help you avoid the many dangers associated with a B12 deficiency.