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A lack of vitamin B12 can cause serious anaemia, nerve damage and degeneration of the spinal cord. When this occurs a loss of coordination, pain in the hands or feet, sensory loss or weakness may occur. Why?
A study published in the BMJ looked at loss of coordination amongst the elderly and the possible cause for this.
The study noted: “One important factor not addressed is vitamin B12 deficiency, which has a prevalence in the elderly of up to 24.8 percent, as a consequence of both ageing and co-morbidity.
“The literature has described the impact of B12 deficiency on the brain and spinal cord (demyelination) for over 100 years and this can present clinically with paraesthesia of peripheral neuropathy to subacute combined cord degeneration.
“Neuropsychiatric symptoms may also present before anaemia.
“Signs can include loss of vibration and/or position sense; ataxic gait; reduced sensation with a sensory level; positive Romberg’s test and muscle weakness.
“These symptoms and signs are obviously risk factors for falls in the elderly, even in the absence of anaemia.”
A lack of B12 damages the myelin sheath that surrounds and protect nerves.
Without this protection, nerves cease to function properly and conditions such as peripheral neuropathy occur.
Even B12 deficiency that is relatively mild may affect the nervous system and the proper functioning of the brain.
The nerve damage caused by a lack of B12 may become permanently debilitating, if the underlying condition is not treated.
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What is peripheral neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy, a result of damage to the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord (peripheral nerves), often causes weakness, numbness and pain, usually in your hands and feet, said the Mayo Clinic.
The health site added: “It can also affect other areas of your body.
“People with peripheral neuropathy generally describe the pain as stabbing, burning or tingling.
“In many cases, symptoms improve, especially if caused by a treatable condition.
“Medications can reduce the pain of peripheral neuropathy.”
A strict vegetarian diet may promote a B12 deficiency because animal-based foods such as red meat, dairy products, fish, poultry and eggs are the only recognised source of dietary B12, said the Center for Peripheral Neuropathy.
The health site continued: “A lack of B12, or the inability of stomach acids to aid in the absorption, also causes this deficiency.
“Consequently, drugs that reduce stomach acid should be taken with B12 supplements.
“A number of other conditions, procedures, and drugs are associated with a reduced the ability to absorb B12.
“These include autoimmune diseases, pernicious or unexplained anaemia, pancreatic diseases, ileal resection, Crohn’s disease, HIV infection, gastritis, gastric or small intestine surgeries, malabsorption syndromes, multiple sclerosis, and use of histamine2 receptor antagonists or proton pump inhibitors.”
How is B12 deficiency treated?
The treatment for vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia depends on what’s causing the condition.
Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia is usually treated with injections of vitamin B12.
There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:
“If your vitamin B12 deficiency is caused by a lack of the vitamin in your diet, you may be prescribed vitamin B12 tablets to take every day between meals,” explains the NHS.
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