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Vitamin B12 Deficiency - How it Effects your Body & Health

<p>Vitamin B12 Deficiency - How it Effects your Body &amp; Health</p>
Dr. Constance Odom, MD Picture of Dr. Constance Odom, MD

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Written by our editorial team.

Last Edited 4 min read

If you want to stay healthy and avoid Vitamin B12 deficiency, it is advisable you get enough amounts of Vitamin B12. There are so many great things that Vitamin B12 does for your body. For example, Vitamin B12 is used to make red blood cells and DNA. Our bodies do not naturally make Vitamin B12. So where can we get Vitamin B12 so as to stay healthy? The answer is from supplements or animal foods. Vitamin B12 is normally found in dairy products, eggs, meat, fish and poultry. Since your body cannot store Vitamin B12 for long periods, it is advisable you take Vitamin B12 supplements and foods on a regular basis. Failure to do so may lead to Vitamin B12 deficiency, which can cause health problems. What health problems are associated with Vitamin B12 deficiency? A case report that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed a 62 year old man suffering from numbness in hands, severe joint pain, difficulty walking, shortness of breath, and yellowing of skin because he did not have enough Vitamin B12 in his blood. Severe Vitamin B12 deficiency can result in more serious conditions such as memory loss, severe depression, incontinence, delusions and paranoia, loss of smell and taste among others. 

Why is Vitamin B12 so important?

Our bodies require Vitamin B12 so that it can be used to make DNA, nerves, red blood cells among other functions. How much Vitamin B12 should you get? This will depend on different factors such as your age, medical condition, eating habits, and medications you are using. Kids between the age of 4 to 8 years should get 1.2 mg, children between 9 to 13 years should get 1.8 mg, teenagers between 14 to 18 years and adults should get 2.4 mg of Vitamin B12. The problem comes in when people don’t get enough amounts of Vitamin B12, or their bodies cannot absorb enough amounts even if they take too much. This can result in Vitamin B12 deficiency, which is more common in older people. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, an estimated 3.2 percent of adults above the age of 50 have severely low levels of Vitamin B12. They also report that another 20 percent lie in the borderline Vitamin B12 deficiency. There are so many benefits that come with having sufficient amount of B12 in your body, you can read more about these benefits here.

Who is at risk of Vitamin B12 deficiency?

There are different factors which can contribute to Vitamin B12 deficiency. Unbelievably, two of the causes that are used to improve your health can lead to Vitamin B12 deficiency. They include weight loss surgery and vegetarian diet. Having a vegan diet can cause Vitamin B12 deficiency because plants do not make Vitamin B12. Therefore, if you want to get this vitamin, you must eat animal foods or dairy products such as poultry, meat, fish and eggs. If strict vegetarians do not take Vitamin B12 supplements or grains that contain the vitamin, they risk suffering from Vitamin B12 deficiency. People who have had weight loss surgery or stomach stapling are also at risk of suffering from Vitamin B12 deficiency. Other conditions such as atrophic gastritis where your stomach lining has thinned, or conditions that disrupt food absorption such as celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease, can cause Vitamin B12 deficiency.

How to tell if you have Vitamin B12 deficiency

Vitamin B12 deficiency usually develops slowly while the symptoms manifest gradually before becoming serious over time. They can also develop fast. The symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency can be confused with other conditions because they are many. It is recommended you treat this condition once it is detected. If Vitamin B12 deficiency is left untreated, it can lead to serious blood disease and neurologic problems. Symptoms of Vitamin B12 include the following:

· Anemia

· Jaundice

· Fatigue

· Weakness

· Tingling feeling in feet, hands or legs

· Paranoia

· Memory loss or cognitive problems

· Swollen tongue

· Problems walking

Read more about Vitamin B12:

Proactive measures against becoming B12 Deficient

The best way to prevent Vitamin B12 deficiency is by being proactive. Most people living in the United States get enough Vitamin B12. If you think that you are at risk of suffering from Vitamin B12, it is recommended you have your Vitamin B12 levels checked by your doctor. As you grow older, it becomes difficult for your body to absorb Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 deficiency can also occur if you had a weight loss surgery or stomach operation. The following factors will determine whether you should check your B12 levels:

· You are above the age of 50.

· You are using diabetes drug called metformin.

· You strictly follow vegetarian diet.

· You are taking H2 blocker (for example Zantac or Pepcid) or proton pump inhibitor (for example Prevacid or Nexium).

· You have undergone weight loss surgery or have a medical condition that interferes with food absorption.

In case you are suffering from severe Vitamin B12 deficiency, there are two ways to treat it. One is by taking Vitamin B12 injections every week or by taking a high dose of Vitamin B12 pills every day. On the other hand, if you have mild Vitamin B12 deficiency, it can be treated by taking standard multivitamin. Most of the time Vitamin B12 deficiency can be prevented. If you are above the age of 50, doctors recommend that you take Vitamin B12 supplements. This is because you may not get enough vitamins via the normal food you eat. In this case, you can take a standard multivitamin to supplement the vitamins you are missing from your diet.

Vitamin B12 is NOT a Cure

Forget what the internet is saying that Vitamin B12 can be used to prevent chronic conditions such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease or reverse eczema, fatigue, infertility or other health complications. Vitamin B12 is not a cure to these conditions. Reports that suggest Vitamin B12 can be used to treat such conditions do not have solid evidence to back up their claims. Take for example Alzheimer’s disease. It is true that there is a link between cognitive decline and low amounts of Vitamin B12. However, there is no clinical evidence to show an improvement in memory or cognitive function as a result of taking vitamins in higher doses. Doctors advise people to get enough amounts of Vitamin B12 so as to prevent the risk of a deficiency, but they should not see it as a remedy to treat a medical condition.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your physician about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Nu Image Medical may not offer the medications or services mentioned in this article.