When it comes to your nutrition, the B12 vitamin is one of the most important nutrients your body needs to function properly. From essential daily functions such as red blood cell formation to maintaining the nervous system and brain, B12 serves many functions that affect your daily life. This article is designed as a comprehensive guide to vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms, and will include information on what the vitamin does, minor and severe symptoms that the body is deficient, causes and the current treatments for deficiency, and resources for further research on the subject. If your questions are not answered below, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment and we will add the information to this post.
Importance of B12
To begin with, it is important to be able to answer the question, “What does vitamin B12 do?” This essential nutrient has an impact on every cell that is in your body. By affecting the metabolism of each cell, the vitamin is able to play an important role in the regulation and synthesis of DNA and fatty acids, as well as the body’s production of energy. This is why so many people refer to B12 supplements as an energy supplement. Without this vitamin the body will feel fatigued and tire easily.
The nervous system and your brain are also highly impacted by your levels of B12. In addition to the bodies lack of energy, a low level of cobalamin (another term for B 12, based on the fact that it contains the rare biochemical element of cobalt) can also lead to memory loss and an inability to think clearly, which is often written off as simple tiredness or lack of sleep, but may in fact be a sign you are deficient in b12.
Mild Symptoms of B12 Vitamin Deficiency
The difficulty of understanding the body’s low vitamin b12 symptoms is that in the early stages of being deficient the indications are relatively asymptomatic. This means that the most common symptoms of b12 deficiency are difficult to associate with the cause. Examples are general tiredness; trouble with concentration, memory, and other mental tasks; sleeping difficulty; and mild depression or irritability. Unfortunately, these indicators are often over looked, and even when discussed with a doctor, can be difficult to pin down to one specific cause.
With today’s busy lifestyles and high stress work environment, these symptoms can often be overlooked as signs of not getting enough sleep or having too much going on at the office. It is important that you notice what is going on with your body, adjust your diet in small ways to make sure you are getting the proper nutrient intake, and consult a physician if any of the symptoms begin to get worse.
Neurological signals begin with minor tingling of the hands, back, and legs, but can progress to level akin to small shocks in the body and repeated eye twitches that will not subside. Since the effects of being b 12 deficient can be cumulative on the nervous system, it is essential that you speak with a medical professional if you begin to notice any of the minor signs of neurological distress. Energy levels and red blood cell formation can be returned to normal levels with supplementation, but long term deficiency of b 12 can lead to damage in the spine that is irreversible.
Severe B12 Deficiency Symptoms
As the lack of B12 vitamin extends over a longer timeframe and the depletion becomes more pronounced, the symptoms to indicate that a low intake of b 12 as the issue are more clearly displayed in the forms of anemia and greater neurological problems.
B12 and Anemia
The original discovery of vitamin B12 occurred due to its close ties with a disease called pernicious anemia. In simplest terms, this autoimmune disease affects the body’s ability to absorb B-12 vitamin from the stomach because the body attacks itself and destroys parts of the interior lining of the gut. The result is that even people with the correct diets can still be deficient in b12. A vitamin injection bypassing the intestinal system and going straight into the bloodstream can help return the body to normal health.
In the meantime, those suffering from anemia are unable to produce the red blood cells the body needs to transfer oxygen throughout the cardiovascular system. This will leave them subject to increased issues with fatigue, both mental and physical, as well as immune deficiencies that leave them more open to getting sick.
B12 and Neurological Disorders
Persistent and severe deficiencies in B 12 vitamin will create damage to the nerve cells that can become permanent. The severity of the neurological symptoms increases from those listed above to a complete disturbance in physical coordination and the onset of signs of mania and psychosis. At its most extreme level, the nerve damage can lead to the degeneration of the spinal cord and partial paralysis.
While these symptoms are obviously frightening to contemplate, it is important to understand that these are very extreme cases, and that proper supplementation and diagnosis can prevent these issues. It is one of the many reasons that it is important to be aware of what is going on with your body, and making sure to speak regularly with a physician.
Causes of B12 Deficiency and Those Commonly at Risk
Typically, the cause of a low b12 vitamin levels is an improper diet or problems with the body’s ability to absorb the essential nutrient. The following is a list of the common groups or causes associated with this issue.
B 12 Deficiency in Vegans
Veganism without supplements is a common cause of dangerously low levels of b12 because the typical food sources for the vitamin include various meats and animal products. Lacto-ovo vegetarians can avoid this issue by eating eggs and milk products, but vegans should look for a vegan friendly way to add this vitamin into their diet. While, some foods claim to be fortified with B12, there is a good deal of misinformation as to the level of vitamin present and the body’s ability to take any benefit from it.
Fortunately, there are many non-animal products based b12 supplements. This is possible because this vitamin is not actually created by plants or animals, but is naturally synthesized from specific bacteria. Normally, this bacteria is ingested by animals, which is why animal products are high in b12. In supplements, scientists have been able to replicate the organic synthesis of the bacteria and avoid any connection to animals.
Pregnancy and B12
Expectant mothers need far larger quantities of b vitamins during their pregnancy. This is why they are always recommended to take prenatal vitamins when they begin to plan on having a baby. A prenatal vitamin contains b12 in much higher quantities to compensate for the body’s greater need.
Gastric Bypass and Deficiency
The health effects of losing weight are huge, especially when it comes to issues like diabetes. It is important to understand that there are gastric bypass surgery side effects that you need to be aware of since it may require a few changes in your nutritional needs. In short, B12 is typically absorbed through the stomach walls, but a bariatric surgery lessens the area of the gut that comes into contact with the food. In a way, gastric bypass can be like a surgically induced pernicious anemia as discussed above.
The benefit of the weight loss far outweighs this side effect, but you will want to make sure to discuss proper post surgery nutrition with your doctor.
B12 Absorption Difficulty in the Elderly
As we get older our body begins to breakdown in different ways. Among the elderly a deficiency in B-12 is common due a chronic inflammation of the stomach called atrophic gastritis. This process impairs the parts of the gut that absorb b12 into the body.
In addition, it is important to understand that there is ongoing research that suggests a shortage of b12 can be linked to the onset and advancement of Alzheimer’s disease. At this time, several small studies have reported mixed indicators of connection, so more research is necessary, but it will not hurt to make sure it is a topic that you discuss with your primary physician.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency Treatment
There are many ways to treat a deficiency in b12 vitamin intake. From natural sources to liquid vitamins to sublinguals to injectables, there are many ways to compensate for a diet lacking in b vitamins or an impaired ability to absorb through the gut.
There are many natural remedies to b12 vitamin deficiency for those who need to supplement their diet. For vegans and vegetarians, Brewer’s Yeast is a natural source for b12 and can be added to almost any meal without affecting the taste. In addition, many soy milks and protein bars have been effectively fortified with B12.
Liquid Vitamin B12
Liquid drops are one of the best forms of supplement for vitamin b. This is for two reasons. First, liquid b12 vitamins are far easier for the body to absorb into the blood. Second, it is much easier to get higher dosages of the vitamin. The combination of the two factors allows the body to more of the vitamin and faster than a standard pill, and studies have shown that this can work affectively for those people that suffer from absorption related difficulties like those arising from pernicious anemia, bariatric surgery, or atrophic gastritis.
Sublingual B12 Vitamins
A sublingual supplement is something that you place under your tongue. This allows the vitamin to be absorbed through the mucous membrane and directly into the blood. Typically, the nutrient is used in larger doses in the form of methylcobalamin b12 (sometimes misspelled as methylcobalamine) and can be of great use to those who are unable to absorb the vitamin through the digestive system.
Injections of vitamin b12 are a necessary treatment for those with severely low levels of the vitamin in their body or absorption problems that liquid supplements can’t help. B 12 injections work well because they completely bypass the digestive system and go straight into the bloodstream. Typically, the first few weeks of will see an injection frequency of around 6 treatments, which then relaxes to once a month or quarterly depending on the persons particular needs and doctors recommendations.
Vitamin B12 Injection Side Effects and Toxicity Fears
For many people there is a fear of taking supplements many times over the recommended daily dosage because of the potential for vitamin toxicity in the body. Fortunately, B vitamins are water soluble, which means that most excess nutrients are flushed from the system daily when you urinate. B3, B6, and B9 have some potential for harmful side effects if taken at extreme levels, but b 12 has no known toxicity at this time. Please keep in mind that this does not give you license to take as much of the supplement as possible. Always speak with your doctor before taking any new supplements, especially in large doses.
With that said, there can be minor side effects of a b12 injectable such as low potassium levels due to rapid new growth of red bloods cells. Mild cases of hives, diarrhea, and anxiety have also been reported, but are usually short term. For the best up to date information on vitamin b 12 injection side effects, it is important to speak with your doctor. This way you know what to expect and they can help to make sure a more dangerous reaction is not being caused by an allergic reaction to the shots.
For those who wish to read more on this subject, please read the other B12 articles on this site. In addition, you can find more information at Wikipedia, WebMD, and the dietary supplements page at the National Institutes of Health.
Thank you for reading our Definitive Guide to Vitamin B12 Deficiency Symptoms, and please leave any questions that you might have below.