Vitamin B12 (cobalmin) is an essential component for a healthy diet. It is necessary for the production of red blood cells which in turn transport oxygen to body tissues. On a more basic level, it converts the food we eat into fuel and energy for our bodies. B12 deficiency can be c
aused by several factors, but typically is found in patients with digestive illnesses where B12 is inadequately absorbed in the digestive tract. B12 deficiencies are also common in the over 60 population (approx. 15%).
A lack of B12 can have long-term negative consequences which we will address here, along with some of the early symptoms.
Symptoms of B12 Deficiency
One of the first symptoms which may give cause for concern is feeling weak and tired. Since B12 deficiency eventually leads to anemia, this makes sense. Other symptoms which are related to the anemic state are easy bruising, fast heartbeat, pale skin, digestive changes such as diarrhea, constipation, upset stomach and weight loss. Since B12 is necessary to properly digest foods, a deficiency of B12 results in these digestive maladies.
Causes of B12 Deficiency
As previously stated, lack of absorption in the GI tract is a leading cause of deficiency. Atrophic gastritis, gastric bypass, Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease, excessive alcohol consumption, autoimmune diseases such as Lupus and Grave’s disease, all impede the absorption of B12 in the GI tract. A relatively recent finding is that long-term use of acid reducing drugs such as proton pump inhibitors, can also interfere with B12 absorption.
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Sources of B12
The best food sources of B12 include animal products like meat, eggs and milk. Vegans and those who do not consume an adequate intake of these are at risk for B12 deficiency and anemia. Those who consume only eggs and milk are also at risk because on average their daily intake is less than half of the recommended dietary allowance.
Long term effects of B12 Deficiency
If B12 deficiency goes unchecked it can lead to nerve damage. Some of the presenting symptoms are numbness and tingling of the extremities, difficulty walking, mood changes, depression, memory loss and even dementia.
Steps you can take if you suspect you have B12 deficiency
Talk with your physician about your symptoms. A blood test may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis. If you do have B12 deficiency, the physician may prescribe weekly doses of intramuscular B12 until your symptoms subside. Dietary cause of B12 deficiency can be addressed by eating foods rich in B12. Some of these are; oysters, mussels, beef, liver, fish, eggs, and dairy products such as milk and cheese. Vegans have to be especially careful and may require daily supplements to avoid B12 deficiency and anemia. Those who lack the intrinsic factor antibody and those who have had gastric bypass, will also need to supplement their diets to avoid deficiency, anemia and even becoming malnourished.
Whatever you do, don’t ignore your symptoms. Talk with your health care provider. Long term effects of deficiency can lead to several types of anemia, severe nerve damage, and an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. B12 supplements are available in oral tablets, trans-dermal patches and nasal spray.
Eduardo Dieguez is a creative writer at www.RejuveHealthClinics.com. He is a 1st generation American born Cuban that is in pursuit of his AA Degree.