Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms: The hidden warning sign you could be lacking B12

Vitamin B12 deficiency can occur if a person isn’t getting the vitamin from the foods they’re eating. Vitamin B12 is essential for the production of red blood cells and healthy nerves, and if it’s in short supply, a person will lack red blood cells and nerves can become damaged. If the condition is left untreated, serious and even life-threatening complications can occur, including heart failure. Vegans and vegetarians are at risk of being deficient in vitamin B12 because the best sources of the vitamin come from foods of an animal origin.

Memory loss and/or disorientation can signal even borderline vitamin B12 deficiency

Certain health conditions can also affect a person’s absorption of B12 from food, such as pernicious anaemia.

And a number of medicines can affect a person’s absorption of B12. 

If vitamin B12 deficiency is spotted early it can be easily treated and complications can be avoided.

But not all the symptoms of the condition are easy to detect.

According to Thyroid Patient Advocacy, memory loss and/or disorientation can signal even borderline deficiency.

It explains: “For borderline deficiency, these should be mild if they occur at all.”

But if vitamin B12 deficiency is more extreme, memory loss may be more severe.

Other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency

Bupa lists other signs of vitamin B12 deficiency to watch out for:

  • Feeling very tired
  • Breathlessness even after little exercise
  • Heart palpitations
  • Headaches
  • A reduced appetite
  • A sore mouth and tongue

The health organisation adds: “If you have vitamin B12 deficiency you may also look pale or jaundiced (have a yellowy tinge to your skin and the whites of your eyes).”

But it’s important to note these symptoms aren’t always due to vitamin B12 deficiency.

However if you experience them you should still see your GP.

Treatment of vitamin B12 deficiency

If a person isn’t getting enough vitamin B12 from their diet they may be advised by a GP to eat more foods fortified with vitamin B12 or to take regular supplements.

Vitamin B12 injections may also be recommended, and for those with pernicious anaemia, injections may be required for the rest of their lives.

Experts say adults aged 19 to 64 require around 1.5 micrograms (mg) a day of vitamin B12, and unless you have pernicious anaemia, you should be able to get this through your diet.

If vitamin B12 deficiency is triggered by not including enough B12 foods in the diet, Harvard Health Publishing, part of Harvard Medical School, offers the “A list of B12 foods” on its website.

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