Vitamin B12 deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies. Two main reasons for this condition are the practices often undertaken to improve health: a strict vegetarian diet and weight-loss surgery. The lack of B12 in the blood has a wide variety of symptoms due to the fact that vitamin B12 is a powerhouse for numerous body functions. Frustratingly, many people chalk up symptoms of a deficiency to stress or being too busy.
We listed 10 main symptoms for you of a vitamin B12 deficiency. Check them out to see if you need more of the vitamin.
01. Weakness, lightheadedness, fatigue
According to chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, Michael Roizen, weakness and tiredness are one of the most common symptoms of lagging B12 levels. When the supply of the vitamin decreases, your body produces fewer red blood cells that are necessary for spreading oxygen. As a result, you feel sleepy, tired, exhausted, and even lightheaded.
Many people confuse these symptoms with a poor sleep schedule, long working hours, and stress. However, if your overall state is getting worse, consult with your doctor and take a blood test to check your B12 levels.
02. Shortness of breath
One of the possible physiological signs of vitamin B12 insufficiency is shortness of breath on exertion. Vitamin B12 contributes to the production of hemoglobin — the oxygen-transport protein in your bloodstream. Deficiencies in the vitamin can diminish oxygen flow to your tissues causing anemia that leads to shortness of breath and weakness. Contact your doctor for a physical exam if you experience unexplained fatigue, palpitations, shortness of breath, a sore tongue, or any other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.
03. Nerve damage and the sensation of “pins and needles”
A lack of B12 can deteriorate nerve cells, leading to a pins-and-needles sensation in your hands and feet. If you ignore it, the symptom will become permanent and turn into paresthesia. In the nervous system, vitamin B12 is necessary for the formation of myelin, a white sheath around nerve fibers that increases the speed at which impulses are conducted. Vitamin B12 deficiency can result in degeneration of the spinal cord, optic nerves, cerebral tissue, and peripheral nerves.
Without B12 protection, the nerves of the spinal cord can decay and you’ll feel wobbly. As a result, you’ll stumble and lose balance more often even while walking on flat surfaces.
04. Pale or jaundiced skin
Another physical indication of a low level of vitamin B12 is jaundice on your skin or the whites of your eyes. Production of red blood cells is dependent on vitamin B12. The improper production of red blood cells causes an anemic condition called megaloblastic anemia. With this condition, the red blood cells are large, fragile, and are unable to divide. They are too large to pass out of your bone marrow and into your blood circulation. Therefore, you don’t have as many red blood cells circulating around your body and your skin can appear pale in color.
Bilirubin is a slightly red or brown-colored substance which is produced by the liver when it breaks down old blood cells. Large amounts of bilirubin, which are trying to break down large red blood cells, are what give your skin and eyes a yellow tinge.
05. Swollen, inflamed tongue
If you are vegan, have certain digestive system illnesses, or go overboard with alcohol, you risk a vitamin B12 deficit. Oral manifestation of the lack of B12 in your blood is glossitis characterized by a beefy, red, smooth tongue. Since your body doesn’t have enough vitamin B12, DNA synthesis becomes impaired. As a result, epithelial cells of the mouth begin to divide rapidly and cause glossitis, angular cheilitis, recurrent oral ulcers, and oral candidiasis. Symptoms of glossitis can come and go intermittently and may worsen as the day progresses.
If you notice any of these symptoms, try to change your eating habits — include more animal products like meat, poultry, fish, clams, oysters, eggs, or cereal fortified with B12.
06. Constipation, loss of appetite, gas
There are many different reasons that can cause digestive issues like constipation or gas, and a vitamin B12 deficit is one of them. If ignored, a B12 deficiency can lead to chronic constipation, upset stomach, gas, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. Low levels of the vitamin affect the normal functioning of the gastrointestinal tract. To restore the normal vitamin B12 level and for relief from constipation, you may take a vitamin B12 supplement.
Most people with a vitamin B12 deficiency lack intrinsic factor — a protein secreted by the stomach that is necessary for absorption of vitamin B12. It attaches to vitamin B12 and takes it to the intestines to be absorbed. Due to its lack, your digestive system can’t absorb B12. In this case, the only thing you can do is to take vitamin B12 injections.
07. Vision loss
A deficiency in the vitamin can lead to optic neuropathy and decreased vision since vitamin B-12 plays an important role in the function of nerves and the nervous system. Vision loss may be diagnosed among people suffering from malnutrition or who do not consume any animal products. Recent research showed, that the combination of Vitamin E, DHA, and Vitamin B12, improved visual fields and retinal sensitivity among patients with glaucoma. In general, long-term intake of B12 supplementslowers the risk of cloudy and decreased visual acuity.
08. Depression, behavioral changes
It’s natural that deficiency of some of the vital vitamins can lead to depression and behavioral changes, and B12 is not an exception. The lack of the vitamin has a strong impact on the serotonin production in your brain. Serotonin helps to regulate your mood. If you have low levels of vitamin B12, talk to your doctor and try to find out what treatment plan suits you best. In the majority of cases, taking B12 supplements can significantly improve your mood.
09. Weakened bones
Just like calcium and vitamin D, vitamin B12 plays a very important role in the formation of the body’s bone-building cells, osteoblasts. Vitamin B12 deficiency compromises the proper work of their function and can lead to osteoporosis. The disease is characterized by fragile, weak, or brittle bones as a result of tissue loss caused by the nutrient deficiency. The accelerated bone loss can lead to falls, bone fractures, and breaks. The elderly are at greater risk than anybody else, that’s why having regular blood tests is a must for them.
10. Subtle symptoms among the elderly
Vitamin B12 deficiency is estimated to affect 10-15% of people over the age of 60. People may have a severe deficiency or may have an underlying health condition that causes their B12 to drop. Surprisingly, many elderly people usually don’t have the main symptoms of B12 deficiency or they reveal themselves in a subtle manner. However, it’s a fact that absorption of protein-bound vitamin B12 can decrease with age.
Don’t delay treatment and reverse the damage before it becomes irreversible. The worst-case scenario could result in mental confusion, dementia, and a decline in mental abilities (memory, judgment). Simple screening and a blood test are all you need to figure out if you have this deficiency. It’s recommended to obtain the proper amount of vitamin B12 with supplements or fortified foods to boost the absorption of nutrients by the digestive tract.
Bonus: Are you at risk?
Since most B12 in our diets comes from animal products, vegans are at risk for B12 deficiency. Inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease, weight loss surgery, and chronic alcoholism can all obstruct a person’s ability to absorb the nutrients they need. The elderly have more problems with nutrient absorption as well.
If you have moderate symptoms, you may start with taking a blood test and talking to your doctor. If you have to, take the oral B12 supplements, a vitamin B12 nasal spray, or vitamin B12 injections, which you will need less frequently.
Do you know more symptoms of B12 deficiency? Share your knowledge with us in the comments.