▷Symptoms and Causes of a Vitamin B12 Deficiency【2019】 Blog about Fitness, Nutrition, Health, and Sport | HSN Blog
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A deficiency of Vitamin B12

A deficiency of Vitamin B12

InOur body does not excrete Vitamin B12 as quickly as other vitamins, rather, it stores it in the liver. That is why a vitamin B12 deficiency is not easily detected, but it can still have negative consequences for our organism.

A Vitamin B12 deficiency develops slowly

Vitamin B12, is a water-soluble vitamin that is scientifically known as cobalamin. But unlike other water-soluble vitamins, our body does not excrete it immediately through the urine. In fact, it is stored in the liver, kidneys and other organs.

Therefore, low levels of vitamin B12 may go unnoticed for years. Its supply will depend on the type of food that we eat and our ability to absorb it.

A lack of vitamin B12 accumulated for years can cause serious problems, because it can produce irreversible brain damage after seven years approximately.

Vitamin B12 is called the energy vitamin, because our body needs it to perform multiple vital functions, including: the production of energy, hematopoiesis, synthesis of DNA and the formation of myelin. Myelin is the layer that isolates and protects the nerve endings while allowing the communication between them.

Vitamin B12 is a very valuable vitamin for many reasons:

  • Increasing the energy and reducing the fatigue and tiredness.
  • Helping with the digestion, the absorption of iron and carbohydrates consumed through food and the proper metabolization of fats.
  • Ensuring the proper functioning of the nervous system.
  • Supporting the production of red blood cells.
  • Regulating the cell division process and encouraging longevity.
  • Protecting the heart and circulatory system from homocysteine.
  • Being involved in the production of the adrenal hormone.
  • Keeping the immune system healthy.
  • Supporting female reproduction and a healthy pregnancy.
  • Encouraging a state of serenity and regulating the mood.
  • Enhancing mental clarity, concentration and memory.
  • Increasing the physical, emotional and mental energy.
  • Find out all you need to know about vitamin B12

As you can see, the vitamin B12 levels affect the essential systems of our metabolism, from the DNA to the feeling of well-being. If you think that you suffer a deficiency, you must adopt the necessary measures to reach a healthy level.

Causes of a lack of vitamin B12, why does it happen?

Vitamin B12 is available in foods of animal origin. This is one of the reasons why those who follow a pure vegetarian or vegan diet run the risk of suffering brain anomalies or blindness , according to several documented cases.

A deficiency due to a poor or inadequate diet

The older you are, the more likely you are to have a vitamin B12 deficiency. In fact, as we age we tend to eat less food with vitamin B12 while the stomach loses its ability to process it.

Vitamin B12 and coffee

Above all, the results of the clinical studies have shown that drinking four or more cups of coffee a day lowers vitamin B12 levels.

A lack of vitamin B12 and age

What happens when we lack Vitamin B12?

As we grow old, our digestive system weakens, specially if we do not follow a healthy diet. Particularly, the stomach lining gradually loses its ability to produce hydrochloric acid, which is responsible for dissolving the vitamin B12 we consume through food.

If you are 50 or older, you should know that you no longer absorb it optimally.

Vegetarians and vegans

In fact, recent clinical studies have shown that an 80 per cent of adults who live in India suffer a vitamin B12 deficiency. This is due to the fact that their diet is essentially vegetarian.

Strict vegetarians and vegans tend to suffer from a vitamin B12 deficiency frequently. Consequently, this entails a serious risk for the health of our organism by not consuming foods of animal origin. Plants, fruit and vegetables do not contain vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 is available almost exclusively in foods of animal origin. For example, meat, beef liver, lamb, fish, venison, salmon, shrimps, scallops, poultry and eggs.

The few vegetables that could be a source contain analogues of vitamin B12. An analogue is a substance that blocks the absorption of vitamin B12, which is the opposite of what we want.

If you are not a pure vegan/vegetarian and yet you have a deficiency of vitamin B12, it can be due to one of the following reasons:

Intake of antacids or medicines to treat ulcers

Taking antacids or medications to treat ulcers will reduce the production of acid in the stomach and, therefore, its ability to absorb vitamin B12.

Gastric acid (hydrochloric acid) is vital so that our body will be able to absorb vitamin B12. If you are taking medications to reduce the production of stomach acid, your body’s ability to absorb this vitamin from foods will be significantly hindered.

Low levels are a potentially dangerous risk for our lives. In fact, a vitamin B12 deficiency means that your health is not in its optimal state.

Elderly Couple

If you belong to one of the following groups, you should check if you have a vitamin B12 deficiency:

  • Vegan or vegetarian
  • Over 50 years old
  • Taking antacids or medicines to treat an ulcer
  • Taking Metformin© against diabetes
  • Other medicines that empty your the vitamin B12 from your organism
  • If you drink four or more cups of coffee a day
  • You have suffered an H. pylori bacterial infection, indigestion, heartburn or esophageal reflux
  • If you have undergone surgery to lose weight
  • You have been exposed to nitrous oxide

Symptoms or signs that warn of a possible deficiency:

  • Memory problems or mental confusion
  • Mood swings, lack of motivation or apathy
  • Fatigue, lack of energy, muscle weakness, tingling in the arms or legs

If you do not eat enough B12 through the foods you eat or you suspect that your body does not effectively absorb this vitamin, we suggest taking a vitamin B12 supplement immediately.

Above all, optimal level can significantly improve your quality of life: avoiding states of physical and mental weakness, preventing the onset of diseases caused by a deficiency of this basic nutrient.

Symptoms of a lack of vitamin B12

Symptoms of a Vitamin B12 deficiency

A lack of vitamin B12 is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies that is suffered by those who follow a healthy diet. It is one of the most important nutrients for the health of the nervous system and the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the organism.

A lack of vitamin B12 affects mainly vegans and vegetarians but, surprisingly, it also happens to those who eat lots of meat. Why?

It can only be absorbed in the small intestine. Even those who eat a lot of meat can have problems to absorb vitamin B12 through the intestine due to frequent bowel diseases.

This causes many apparently “mysterious” symptoms, which actually have a very simple answer: A lack of vitamin B12!

This deficiency is unstoppable and it is constantly spreading. In fact, the studies show that around a 40% of the population may suffer a deficiency.

The most common symptoms of a deficiency include:

  • Fatigue, weakness, lack of energy
  • Dizziness, fainting, balance problems
  • Disorientation and mental confusion
  • Memory loss or dementia
  • Chest pain or difficulty to breathe
  • Cold, numbness, tingling in the hands and feet
  • Slow reflexes or hindered nervous system function
  • Paleness or yellow skin
  • Pain in the mouth or tongue
  • Mood swings
  • Lack of motivation and apathy
  • Muscle weakness

In addition, a deficiency can cause a loss of brain matter, according to a study conducted by the University of Oxford. But, this has yet to be studied in more depth, the researchers have already established a connection between a vitamin B12 deficiency and Alzheimer’s disease.


As we have said, this deficiency is more common in vegans and vegetarians because they do not consume the main sources of vitamin B12 (meat, milk, fish, etc.).

But even those who consume meat can suffer a vitamin B12 deficiency due to a bad digestion. This is very frequent among the elderly because their small intestine absorbs less nutrients.

Moreover, the medicines that are used to treat diabetes and even analgesics can interfere with the absorption of B12. Intestinal parasites can also block its absorption.

One of the main functions of vitamin B12 is the formation of the myelin structure. Myelin isolates the nerve endings, protecting them and allowing them to communicate with each other.

In fact, you can suffer serious health problems if you have a B12 deficiency and your myelin is consumed. Some of them are depression, dementia and even symptoms which are similar to those of multiple sclerosis.

Vitamin B12 and depression

Depression is related to a lack of connections, called monoamines, which are produced by the central nervous system. Vitamin B12 helps to create these connections.

There is also evidence that high levels of homocysteine due to a lack of B12 can lead to depression.

A B12 deficiency can cause dementia and Alzheimer

The research also shows that a lack of this nutrient can cause serious cognitive problems and irreversible dementia in the elderly. This type of dementia is different from Alzheimer, although a lack of vitamin B12 can also play an important role in this growing epidemic.

A study conducted with more than 100 old volunteers with low levels of vitamin B12 showed that their brain matter deteriorated and was lost. Atrophy is one of the most well-known signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Vitamin B12 and anemia (pernicious anemia)

A lack of vitamin B12 can trigger a disease known as pernicious anemia. Pernicious anemia produces a lack of healthy red blood cells and the enlargement of existing cells.

It is necessary for the formation of red blood cells, so a chronic deficiency of vitamin B12 reduces the body’s ability to produce red blood cells, which eventually causes anemia.

This disease was lethal before it was discovered that it was caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency, which is why it is called “Pernicious”.

Pernicious anemia can cause serious damage to the body if it is not treated properly, since it can increase the risk of suffering heart problems and strokes.

Moreover, it can damage the nerve endings, alter the balance and the sense of taste. Finally, it can even change the surface of the digestive system, increasing the risk of suffering gastric cancer.

Vitamin B12 and sleep disorders

Man yawning

Having a high quality sleep is essential to be healthy. If you experience sleeping problems, it could be due to a lack of melatonin. Melatonin is known as the “sleep hormone.” The body’s ability to produce this hormone deteriorates with age.

Vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in the production of melatonin, which highlights how important it is to always have a proper amount of this vitamin in the blood.

Vitamin B12 and neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders

The deficiency is related to Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological diseases, such as spinal cord disease and peripheral neuropathy.

Peripheral neuropathy is a peripheral nerve disease or dysfunction that causes numbness, tremors, and their opposite sensations such as tingling, pain, and itching.

The skin becomes too sensitive to the point that it can no longer bear contact, and even clothes and sheets can cause pain.

It also affects the muscles resulting in weakness, spasms, tremors and pain.

A deficiency of vitamin B12 can be related to migraines and Parkinson, which are neurological diseases.

In addition, a deficiency is also related to psychiatric diseases that can have the following symptoms:

  • Mood disorders: apathy, depression, eating disorders and behavior disorders, which mainly occur during the night
  • Hyperactivity: irritability, euphoria, lack of inhibitions and psychomotor disorders
  • Psychosis: hallucinations and delusions

Optic neuropathy is another consequence of a vitamin B12 deficiency. A chronic deficiency affects the optic nerve, causing blindness. This is an irreversible situation.

A vitamin B12 deficiency and its connection to cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases

Cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases have a common risk factor: increased levels of homocysteine in the blood.

The clinical studies show that a lack of folic acid and vitamin B12 increase the homocysteine levels which can potentially increase the risk of suffering heart diseases and strokes.

Vitamin B12 and other diseases

We know that it plays an important role in the synthesis of DNA and that its presence in the cells, along with folic acid, helps to reduce the deterioration of genetic material. A damaged DNA is a risk factor that increases the chances of suffering cancer.

Low levels of vitamin B12 increase the risk of breast cancer and cervical cancer.

Check if you have a lack of vitamin B12

Blood tests are not as clear when it comes to checking a deficiency of vitamin B12. The standard tests to measure the concentration of vitamin B12 are very limited and not entirely accurate.

Researchers have issued the following advice to diagnose a vitamin B12 deficiency:

  • If your vitamin B12 concentration is below 150 pmol/L, you suffer a vitamin B12 deficiency, which means that you must identify the causes and follow a treatment.
  • If your vitamin B12 concentration is between 150 and 200 pmol/L, MMA value (methylmalonic acid), you have to assess through blood serum if your situation should be studied and treated. Research shows that high levels of MMA (a natural compound in the body) is a clear sign of a deficiency.

Testing for vitamin B12 and MMA levels in blood is a possibility, especially if you need an “official” test result.

If you suspect that you suffer a deficiency, it is much more practical to take vitamin B12 dietary supplements and to check if your symptoms improve.

Vitamin B12 dietary supplements have no side effects and are relatively affordable, especially when compared to the cost of performing a laboratory test.

 

The first treatment that most doctors and health professionals advise against a deficiency, is to take a vitamin B12 dietary supplement.

Therefore, it is common to start taking a dietary supplement to see if the symptoms disappear.

Vitamin B12 deficiency caused by medication

If you take metformin (brand name Glucophage, Glucophage XR, Fortamet, Riomet, Glumetza and others) to treat diabetes, the intake of vitamin B12 could be reduced, altering the function of calcium in the body. Calcium is another important component that affects the body’s ability to absorb this vitamin.

A recent study shows that when those who suffer from type 1 diabetes and take also metformin, they have a higher risk of suffering a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Other prescribed medicines can also potentially reduce the amount of vitamin B12. Including:

  • antibiotics
  • anti-cancer drugs
  • anticonvulsant medications
  • anti-gout medication
  • antihypertensive agents
  • medicines for Parkinson’s disease
  • antipsychotics
  • medicines against tuberculosis
  • contraceptive pills
  • cholesterol-lowering medications
  • potassium supplements

Patients who have undergone surgery to lose weight may suffer a vitamin B12 deficiency

If you have undergone a gastric bypass surgery, you can be suffering from a lack of vitamin B12. The surgery often interferes with the functioning of your body as well as the absorption of vitamin B12 and other vitamins.

Contact with nitrous oxide

Several studies indicate that the contact with nitrous oxide can destroy the body’s reserves of vitamin B12.

Dentists use nitrous oxide to reduce the pain and in operating rooms as a narcotic.

The use of nitrous oxide can cause a B12 deficiency in people who already have it or in those who are not diagnosed or treated.

Those who work in the health sector run a higher risk because they are regularly exposed to nitrous oxide. The misuse of this gas by medical personnel, adolescents and young people, due to its euphoric effect, is very irresponsible, since it can cause serious neurological damage.

Pregnant woman doing physical exercise

Vitamin B12 deficiency and its effect on fertility, pregnancy and lactation

The high levels of homocysteine as a result of an insufficient supply of the nutrient increase the risk of heart problems and strokes.

However, it is less known that high levels of homocysteine are dangerous during pregnancy and can lead to complications in childbirth and defects in the fetus.

Pregnant women with a vitamin B12 deficiency run a higher risk of having a baby with neural tube defects, a type of congenital defect that affects the brain and spinal cord of the newborn, including spina bifida (open spine) that can cause paralysis, and anencephaly, which is lethal.

If you are planning to become pregnant you should ensure you reach healthy levels in the bloodstream, to prevent the fetus from suffering defects in the neural tube in the first four weeks of gestation.

Check your vitamin B12 levels before becoming pregnant, otherwise, it could be too late. But if you have trouble becoming pregnant, or you have had a miscarriage, you should control your levels. The lack of vitamin B12 is related to infertility and recurrent miscarriages.

If your diet contains no animal products and you are breastfeeding, your baby runs the risk of developing brain abnormalities because of a vitamin B12 deficiency.

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