Do you get enough vitamin B12? You need to make sure that you do, in order to stay healthy. B12 plays an essential role in the production of red blood cells and genetic material, as well as the proper functioning of your nervous system.
In this post, we learn more about vitamin B12, it’s importance, and the causes and symptoms of B12 deficiency.
What is vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, is an important B vitamin. It is a water-soluble vitamin. Your body only absorbs a small amount, and the rest is excreted through urine. Therefore, a daily intake of B12 is required in order to stay healthy.
Your body cannot produce its own vitamin B12, so you need to get it from food or supplements.
Why do you need vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is required for the healthy functioning of every cell in the body. It is crucial to the normal function of the brain and the nervous system. It is also involved in the formation of healthy red blood cells and helps to create and regulate genetic material (DNA).
Beyond that, vitamin B12 promotes healthy digestion and helps to enhance mood and energy levels.
Therefore, having adequate levels of B12 is important not only for your physical health but also your mental health.
Which foods contain vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is found naturally in animal products, such as fish, meat, eggs, milk, cheese, and other milk products. It is generally not present in plant foods. Therefore, for vegetarians and vegans (who avoid all animal products), it is harder to obtain vitamin B12.
However, eating foods that are fortified with B12, such as some types of soya milk and breakfast cereal, can help. Moreover, vitamin B12 supplements are also widely available.
What are the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency?
Deficiency of vitamin B12 can lead to anaemia (insufficient red blood cells) and also cause damage to the nervous system. A mild deficiency may not cause any noticeable symptoms, but as the deficiency becomes more serious, the following symptoms may occur:
- Weakness, fatigue, and dizziness
- Heart palpitations and shortness of breath
- Sore tongue that is red and swollen
- Poor appetite and weight loss
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Pale or yellowish skin
If the deficiency is not treated, it can lead to severe, irreversible damage to the nervous system and brain, which may cause the following symptoms:
- Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
- Muscle weakness and difficulty walking
- Vision problems
- Irritability, mood changes, and depression
- Memory loss and confusion
- Symptoms of dementia
What causes vitamin B12 deficiency?
You can get vitamin B12 deficiency if you don’t get enough from your diet or are not able to absorb enough from the food you eat. Factors that might cause B12 deficiency include:
- Vegetarianism: Humans obtain almost all their vitamin B12 from animal products. You can, therefore, get B12 deficiency if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.
- Adults over 50: As you get older, the stomach produces less acid, and stomach acid is important for vitamin B12 absorption.
- Pernicious anaemia: This is a common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency. It happens when the stomach does not make enough of a protein called ‘intrinsic factor’, which helps the intestine absorb B12.
- Digestive disorders: Certain medical conditions, involving the stomach and intestines, can make absorbing vitamin B12 more difficult. These include thinning of the stomach lining, inflammatory bowel disease, gastritis, Crohn’s disease, Coeliac disease, and bacterial or parasite infections.
- Medication: Taking certain medicines may reduce the absorption of vitamin B12, such as medication for acidity, indigestion, and diabetes.
- Surgery: People who have had surgeries that remove certain parts of the intestine or stomach (like weight loss or bariatric surgery), may not be able to absorb vitamin B12 properly.
- Alcoholism: People who drink heavily may lack vitamin B12, as their bodies are not able to absorb nutrients efficiently.
What’s the best way to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin B12?
Most people can prevent vitamin B12 deficiency by eating a balanced diet, containing enough meat, seafood, milk products, and eggs.
If you don’t eat animal products or have a medical condition that affects how well your body absorbs nutrients, you can take vitamin B12 supplements and also eat foods fortified with B12.
Supplements can both prevent and treat a vitamin B12 deficiency. B12 supplements come in tablets, liquids, and other forms. If necessary, doctors can also give it by injection.
Disclaimer: All material on Hidoc.co is provided for informational purposes only and should not be taken as a substitute for professional medical or health advice. Always seek the advice of your physician for any questions regarding your symptoms or medical condition and before taking any home remedies or supplements.