vitamin b12 deficiency

Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

With the talk about vitamin C, iron, and calcium, sometimes vitamin B12 gets left out of the loop. But the truth is, it’s a very important vitamin that helps with a number of functions in the body from maintaining heart health to providing a boost of energy.

However, like any vitamin or nutrient, you can drop to low levels of B12 and there will be health consequences that may not be obvious right away. Let’s take a look at 12 things to know about a vitamin B12 deficiency, and how to avoid it…

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1. About B12

The National Institutes of Health explains that vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in some foods. It “exists in many forms” and contains cobalt, giving B12 compounds the name “cobalamins,” adds the source.

The forms of B12 that play a role in human metabolism include Methylcobalamin and 5-deoxyadenosylcobalamin, it says. It’s important for red blood cell production and neurological functions, it adds.

2. Getting The Right Dose

Like many vitamins and nutrients, too much or too little is not a good thing. The amount of B12 you should be getting is also based on your age, according to the National Institutes of Health.

For example, teenagers and adults (14-and older) should strive for 2.4 mcg of the vitamin per day, which is the same for men and women. Children and adolescents aged 9 to 13-years should be getting 1.8 mcg, while infants (up to 6-months) should be regulated to 0.4 mcg daily, it adds.

3. What Leads To a B12 Deficiency?

There are several factors that can cause your B12 levels to drop off, according to Harvard Medical School. “Surprisingly, two of them are practices often undertaken to improve health: a vegetarian diet and weight-loss surgery,” it explains.

For the vegetarians, they aren’t getting B12 from plants, and they need to eat foods that have been fortified with the vitamin, it adds. Those who have had their stomach stapled (or another form of weight control surgery) have impacted ability to extract B12 from foods, it adds.

4. Possible Medical Causes of Low B12

WebMD says age can be a factor, as it can become more difficult for the body to absorb B12 as your age progresses. But other possible causes according to the source include atrophic gastritis (thinning of the stomach lining).

Pernicious anemia – which can result from loss of stomach cells, possibly from an autoimmune response – can make it tougher for your body to absorb B12, as could immune system disorders such as Graves’ disease or lupus, it adds.

5. Crohn’s Disease and B12

If you’ve had surgery related to Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine, then you may be missing an important component of your digestive system that’s important for B12 absorption, explains

The source says the vitamin is absorbed by the terminal ileum at the end of the small intestine, which is a “very common site of Crohn’s disease.” If you can no longer absorb B12 through pill form supplements, then you’ll need monthly injections, a weekly nasal spray, or even a patch that is relatively new, it notes.

6. Side Effects of Birth Control

Scientific American explains that birth control pills – used by more than 10-million women in the U.S. – can deplete your body of certain vitamins, including B12. “And because contraceptives are often taken over extended periods of time, even subtle effects could add up,” it adds.

According to the source, birth control pills can also rob your system of B6 and folic acid, as well as vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc, which all play an important role. Hormone replacement therapy can have the same impacts.

7. Drinking Away the B12

If you’re taking in large amounts of alcohol, you may be limiting how much B12 gets absorbed into your system. explains that alcohol irritates the mucus lining of the stomach and intestines, and when it does this, your body produces less hydrochloric acid leading to reduced B12 absorption.

It explains that “alcohol not only impairs nutrient absorption by damaging the lining of the gastrointestinal system, but it also prevents nutrients from being fully utilized in the body by altering their transport, storage and excretion.” Also, when you produce less acid, you can end up with more intestinal bacteria that thrive on B12 – which basically means you’ll have more hungry mouths to feed, with less B12 available to actually benefit you.

8. Burning Through B12

The Mayo Clinic explains the drugs you take to control your heartburn may inadvertently also be controlling your B12 levels. The source says some studies have drawn a link between prescription heartburn medications and a B12 deficiency.

These drugs that treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) suppress stomach acid, which has been suspected in blocking B-12 absorption, adds the source.

9. Symptoms of Low B12

If you’re flying a bit low on B12, you may not notice any obvious symptoms, according to WebMD. However, if the deficiency progresses, you could become anemic, it adds.

When the B12 deficiency becomes more obvious, you’ll likely notice symptoms such as weakness, lightheadedness, pale skin, constipation or diarrhea, nerve tingling, vision problems, health palpitations, shortness of breath, and even psychological impacts like depression or memory loss, it adds.

10. Damage Could Be Permanent

While in most cases symptoms of a vitamin deficiency can be reversed when you start getting the right amounts of that particular vitamin, there could be long-lasting damage if your B-12 deficiency isn’t tended to.

The NHS in the UK explains that a lack of B12 can cause neurological issues from vision loss or memory loss, but can also cause loss of physical coordination (affecting speech and walking), a condition called ataxia. It can also cause damage to the nervous system, particularly in the legs, called peripheral neuropathy, it adds. “If neurological problems do develop, they may be irreversible,” it warns.

11. Correcting a B12 Deficiency

If you have a serious deficiency in B12 that’s been confirmed by a doctor, there are generally 2-ways to fix it – weekly injections of B12 or daily “high-dose” B12 pills, says Harvard Health.

If you have a milder deficiency without some of the more alarming symptoms that we’ve mentioned, then a standard multivitamin is probably enough to take care of the deficit, it adds.

12. Preventing a B12 Deficiency

Of course, the best course of action is to not let your B12 levels get so low that they start to impact your health. Harvard Health says in most cases, a deficiency of this vitamin can be avoided with a daily multivitamin that delivers 6 mcg (which is more than enough).

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, also make sure your cereals and other grains have been fortified with B12 (if you’re not taking the multivitamin.) If you’re 50-or older, you may also want to consider a supplement, as your body may not be getting enough from food alone, it adds.

*Think you may have a Vitamin B12 Deficiency? Consider purchasing Amazon’s best-selling Vitamin B supplement (rated 4.5 stars with over 650 consumer reviews): NatureMade Super B Energy Complex.

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Jeff Hayward

Jeff Hayward

Jeff has more than 15 years of experience writing professionally about health, travel and the arts among other subjects. He continuously looks to improve his own overall health through exercise, diet and mindfulness. He is also a proud stay-at-home dad that loves taking photographs both professionally and as a hobby.