Vitamin B12: Signs and Causes of Its Deficiency

By Marcus Clarke, founder of psysci.co

It’s the end of a long day and you’re feeling pretty tired, maybe even a bit nauseous. It’s getting harder to think and focus on work. People are asking if you’re ok because at times you’ve lost your balance and staggered a little. Some are even asking if you opted for a “liquid lunch” today! At one point, your heart begins to race and now you’re sweating for no reason. Your symptoms are even beginning to scare you. Does this sound familiar? You’re thinking maybe staying up late to watch Jimmy Kimmel last night, and downing that third cup of java in lieu of lunch in order to give you that jolt you needed to finish that project was probably not a good idea.  Or could it be something more serious that may actually require your attention?

What is Vitamin B12 and why is it important?

Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that is vital to our everyday functioning. It’s used by the body to create red blood cells, nerve cells, and it’s an important building block in other cells. What’s interesting is that our bodies don’t naturally produce the vitamin, so the approximately 2.4 micrograms per day of Vitamin B12 that our bodies need, we are forced to get via a diet rich in Vitamin B12, or by supplementing. Currently it’s estimated that between three and four million Americans may suffer from a vitamin B12 deficiency.  Could you be one of them?

What can we do about it?

The good news is that once we figure out why we’re deficient, it’s easy and relatively quick to treat.  Usually the first step towards correcting any imbalance of B12 would be to just look at our diets.    Some diets are automatically low in B12 and require us to use supplements to make up that difference.  For example, strict vegetarian diets are often low in B12 but we can fix that by supplementing and consulting with a nutritionist to find creative ways to take more in. Adding more breads, cereals, or other grains is a good start!

Things to be aware of

Some medical conditions can also interfere with our body’s ability to absorb B12 effectively. Lack of an intrinsic factor (often referred to as “pernicious anemia”) can occur if your body doesn’t make enough intrinsic factor.  Vitamin B12 deficiency is something that we need to be mindful of after undergoing weight loss surgery and some people can even develop bacteria in the intestinal tract if they process food too slowly causing a build-up of bacteria to interfere with B12 absorption.  

The consequences of having too little B12

So how would we know if we have a vitamin B12 deficiency?

Anemia (which is a lack of healthy red blood cells in the body) can cause tingling and numbness in the hands and feet (and even organ damage or dementia, in rare cases). Anemia is easily treatable once diagnosed.

Other symptoms can include:

  • difficulty walking, staggering, difficulty in equilibrium
  • a swollen, inflamed tongue
  • yellowed skin (jaundice), especially around the face and eyes
  • nausea, lack of appetite
  • difficulty thinking, concentrating or remembering
  • paranoia or auditory hallucinations
  • depression, sadness, lack of joy or interest in things that were normally pleasurable
  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • heart palpitations, racing heartbeat

This may seem like a laundry list of symptoms that could mean anything. But the important thing is to listen to your body and take charge of your health! Vitamin B12 levels can be checked fairly simply with a blood test by your physician. If you are experiencing these symptoms or anything that doesn’t feel normal, be proactive and schedule a check-up with your doctor.  A B12 deficiency is often easily treatable with changes to diet and nutrition, once the cause is established.  Be aware and be proactive!

 

 

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