Vitamin B12 is important in the production of red blood cells, DNA and maintaining healthy nerve. Our bodies don’t make B12, therefore, we obtain it from animal foods such as meat, fish, eggs, poultry, and dairy. Vitamin B12 is water soluble and you can also obtain it from supplements and plant-based milk. Elderly people and individuals following a strict vegan diet are at high risk of vitamin B12 deficiency if they don’t eat grains or take supplements fortified with vitamin B12. Additionally, if you have undergone weight loss surgery, you are more likely to be low in vitamin B12 because the operation interferes with the body’s ability to absorb B12 from food. Apart from that, in case you experience the below signs and symptoms then the chances are your vitamin B12 deficient.
Exhaustion and Weakness
Commonly, these symptoms occur because your body is lacking enough vitamin B12 to make red blood cells which transport oxygen throughout the body. Since your body’s cells aren’t receiving enough oxygen you’re always feeling exhausted and weak. Vitamin B12 deficiency in elderly people is caused by an autoimmune condition called pernicious anemia. Pernicious anemia makes the body not to produce an important protein called intrinsic factor responsible for preventing B12 deficiency.
Pale Skin or Yellowish
With vitamin B12 deficiency, your skin starts to lose its natural glow and it might even change the color to look slightly yellowish. This is because of the interruptions in the production of the DNA needed to make red blood cells within the body. This condition results in a type of anemia called megaloblastic whereby the red blood cells produced in the bone marrow are large and fragile. The large size of the red blood cells makes it difficult for them to pass from the marrow to your circulation thus less number of red blood cells in your body making your skin appear pale. If the number of fragile red blood cells is high, it means that many of them will break down causing an excess of bilirubin (a slightly red or brown colored substance produced by the liver when it breaks down old blood cells).
If your skin and eyes have a yellowish color, then this condition is called jaundice. It can also be a sign of liver cancer hence, you need to see the doctor immediately.
Mouth Ulcers and Glossitis
Tongue inflammation is referred to as glossitis which changes the color and shape of your tongue. Your tongue may also become painful, red, swollen or change the way you eat and speak. This is a major and an early warning sign of vitamin B12 deficiency. Other oral symptoms include mouth ulcers, burning and itching sensation in the mouth or one might feel as if they have pins or needles in their tongue.
Nerve damage is the more serious and long term effect of B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 is essential in the production of myelin which acts as an insulator and protector of the nerves. If you’re lacking B12, myelin production is done differently thus making the nervous system not to function properly. Paresthesia or sensation of pins and needles is the most common sign of the nervous disorder. Also, neurological symptoms linked with B12 deficiency usually occur alongside anemia. However, one study found that about 28 percent of people with neurological symptoms didn’t show symptoms of anemia.
Anemia caused by B12 deficiency may make you feel short of breath and a bit dizzy. This is caused by lack of enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to all body parts. Nevertheless, breathless can be caused by other health problems hence you should speak to your doctor to determine the cause.
Mood change and depression are highly associated with low levels of B12. In fact, the homocysteine hypothesis of depression has been suggested as a potential explanation for this association. Homocysteine is suggested to be caused by B12 deficiency and is said to damage brain tissues which interfere with signals to and from your brain resulting in mood change. Supplementing with vitamin B12 can help reverse these symptoms. But depression can be caused by other issues which might require therapy rather than vitamin supplements.
Sometimes is hard to clearly identify signs and symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency. But taking a blood test can help confirm the condition. Vegetarians should check with their doctors once in a while to see if their B12 levels are low. If you’ve been diagnosed with B12 deficiency before, improving your diet can help to treat the condition and prevent its reoccurrence.
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