Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Due to its essential role in the body, a B12 deficiency can cause a wide range of symptoms. These symptoms usually develop gradually, but can worsen if the condition goes untreated.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms: Sign in breath
One warning sign is a slight yellow tinge to the whites of your eyes, a condition known as jaundice.
Research attributes the symptoms to vitamin B12’s role in the production of the DNA needed to make red blood cells.
Without it, the instructions for building the cells are incomplete, and cells are unable to divide.
This causes a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia, in which the red blood cells produced in your bone marrow are large and fragile.
Anaemia is where you have fewer red blood cells than normal or you have an abnormally low amount of a substance called haemoglobin in each red blood cell.
These red blood cells are too large to pass out of your bone marrow and into your circulation.
Therefore, you don’t have as many red blood cells circulating around your body, and your eyes can appear pale in colour.
The fragility of these cells also means that many of them break down, causing an excess of bilirubin.
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Bilirubin is a slightly red or brown-coloured substance, which is produced by the liver when it breaks down old blood cells.
Large amounts of bilirubin are what give your skin and eyes a yellow tinge.
Other common B12 symptoms include:
- A sore and red tongue (glossitis)
- Mouth ulcers
- Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
- Changes in the way that you walk and move around
- Disturbed vision
- Changes in the way you think, feel and behave
- A decline in your mental abilities, such as memory, understanding and Judgement (dementia)
You should see a GP if you’re experiencing symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency because these conditions can often be diagnosed based on your symptoms and the results of a blood test, says the NHS.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms: How to tell if you lack B12
It is also important to act on a B12 deficiency as soon as you recognise the symptoms because the longer the condition goes untreated, the higher the chance of permanent damage, warns the health body.
How to treat a B12 deficiency
Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia is usually treated with injections of vitamin B12.
There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:
The vitamin is also naturally found in meat, salmon, cod, milk and eggs.
Although, as the NHS points out, 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.
“People who find it difficult to get enough vitamin B12 in their diets, such as those following a vegan diet, may need vitamin B12 tablets for life,” notes the health body.
If you are looking for alternatives to meat and dairy products, B12 can be found in foods such as yeast extract (including Marmite), as well as some fortified breakfast cereals and soy products.
“Check the nutrition labels while food shopping to see how much vitamin B12 different foods contain,” adds the NHS.
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