Vitamin B12 is a kind of sticking glue in the body – it helps to keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), vitamin B12 also helps prevent a type of anaemia (a low red blood cell count) called megaloblastic anaemia that makes people tired and weak. Given the pivotal role B12 plays, it is understandable that its absence is sorely missed.
The type of symptoms you experience are often dictated by the cause of your B12 deficiency.
The leading cause of B12 deficiency in the UK is pernicious anaemia, according to the NHS.
Pernicious anaemia is an autoimmune disease that prevents the body from making intrinsic factor (a protein made by the stomach and needed to absorb vitamin B12 in the intestine).
B12 deficiency caused by pernicious anaemia can produce a number of behavioural changes.
General symptoms of B12 deficiency
According to the NHS, other symptoms of B12 deficiency include:
A pale yellow tinge to your skinA sore and red tongue (glossitis)Mouth ulcersPins and needles (paraesthesia)Changes in the way that you walk and move aroundDisturbed visionIrritabilityDepressionChanges in the way you think, feel and behave.A decline in your mental abilities, such as memory, understanding and judgement (dementia)
“Some of these symptoms can also happen in people who have a vitamin B12 deficiency but have not developed anaemia,” says the health body.
As it points out, you should see a GP if you’re experiencing symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.
These conditions can often be diagnosed based on your symptoms and the results of a blood test.
B12 deficiency – how to treat it
The treatment for vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia depends on what’s causing the condition.
Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia is usually treated with injections of vitamin B12.
There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:
“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,” explains the NHS.
People following a strict vegan or vegetarian diet are far more likely to become deficient in B12.
Vitamin B12 is found naturally in a wide variety of animal foods and is added to some fortified foods.
As the NIH explains, plant foods have no vitamin B12 unless they are fortified.
There are vegan and vegetarian-friendly sources of B12, however, such as yeast extract (including Marmite), as well as some fortified breakfast cereals and soy products, adds the NHS.