Vitamin B-12 is critical for the proper functioning of your body, and a deficiency could lead to severe health problems, including fatigue, depression, memory loss, and joint pain. This vitamin actually creates red blood cells in the body, which, if you remember anything from your high school science class, are critical for bodily function. Plus, it helps generate DNA and even maintains a healthy nervous system. Sound pretty important, right?
Since vitamin B-12 is not naturally occurring in the body, you have to get it from your diet or vitamin supplementation. Many animal-based products such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy contain plenty of vitamin B-12 to meet the daily dietary requirements. Therefore, vitamin B-12 deficiency is primarily a problem among those with a restrictive diet such as vegan or vegetarian.
Older people are also more susceptible because age hampers the absorption of B-12 into the body. You may also be at an increased risk if you have recently undergone a surgical weight-loss procedure, heavily consume alcohol, or have an immune or digestive condition such as Chron’s or lupus.
Signs of a B-12 deficiency
Weakness and fatigue
Though fatigue can be caused by any number of health conditions, it is a good indicator of B-12 deficiency. B-12 is necessary for the production of red blood cells; therefore, when your body doesn’t have enough B-12, it is unable to produce enough blood cells to effectively transport oxygen throughout your body. This can lead to chronic fatigue and weakness.
That tingling in the hands and feet or the sensation of “pins and needles” that comes if you sit on your foot for loo long or fall asleep with your hand under your head, can also be a symptom of B-12 deficiency. Myelin, a coating that helps protect the nerves and allows them to transmit sensations throughout the body, is produced by B-12. Without this vitamin, you may experience peripheral nerve damage in the hands and feet due to an insufficient coating on the nerve endings.
Left untreated, a B-12 deficiency can actually affect your balance and coordination and cause permanent damage to your nervous system. Since people over 60 are more prone to vitamin deficiencies, this condition is often left undiagnosed due to the other factors that contribute to hampered mobility in older citizens.
Shortness of breath and dizziness
Anemia related to a vitamin B-12 deficiency can cause shortness of breath and dizziness with exertion. Unless there is another explanation for excessive shortness of breath or lightheadedness, your body may not be producing enough red blood cells to transport the necessary amount of oxygen throughout your system.
Pale or jaundiced skin
As mentioned above, B-12 is needed for red blood cell production, which means that a deficiency can wreak havoc on the delicate system of cell building and division. When this occurs, there is often a noticeable tinge to the skin because there are not as many red blood cells circulating throughout your body. You may look pale or even slightly jaundiced (yellow), though this symptom may be difficult to spot.
If you believe you have a vitamin B-12 deficiency, talk to your doctor and get a blood test. Usually, B-12 can be added to your diet, but if you have an aversion to certain foods and are not getting enough of this vitamin, consult with your doctor about a B-12 supplement. Remember, if you are vegan or vegetarian, you can also change your diet to include more vitamin B-12 fortified grains.
Persistent B-12 deficiency can also be caused by a condition known as pernicious anemia, which is an inability to absorb the vitamin B-12 needed for healthy red blood cells. In this case, or if you have another reason for poor B-12 absorption, your condition could be severe, and you may need a round of high dose vitamin injections along with daily oral or nasal supplementation.
Listen to your body and give it what it needs!
-The UpWellness Team