Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin which is important for the body to make red blood cells, nerves, DNA and other functions. It is not synthesised by the body and thus Vitamin B12 rich foods should be included in the diet. Vitamin B12 deficiency can be caused in cases if vitamin B12 is not absorbed from the food properly, pernicious anemia, improper absorption due to post surgical treatment and insufficient intake of Vitamin B12 in the diet.
Following are the signs and symptoms which could be seen in person with Vitamin B12 deficiency:
- Pale skin
- Feeling of pins and needles
- Change in walking pattern
- Ulcers in mouth
- Redness of tongue
- Shortness of breath
- Blurring of vision
- Mood swings
The deficiency of Vitamin B12 results in macrocytic anemia (size of red blood cells larger than normal).
Megaloblastic anemia is a type of macrocytic anemia, in which large size red blood cells called as macrocytes are produced. These red blood cells are fewer in number. There is a decrease in white blood cell count and platelet count. Megaloblastic anemia occurs due to acquired deficiency of Vitamin B12. The reason can be an inadequate dietary intake of Vitamin B12 or any problem in the absorption of Vitamin B12 from the intestines.
The abnormal or poor absorption of Vitamin B12 can be seen in conditions like pernicious anemia (decrease in red blood cells due to deficiency of Vitamin B12), celiac disease (immune reaction to gluten), inflammatory bowel diseases (inflammation of digestive tract), overgrowth of bacteria or presence of parasites such as tapeworms in the intestines, reduction in stomach acid production (due to long term use of antacids), gastric bypass (surgery that removes part of the stomach), insufficiency of pancreas (inability to digest food properly).
Factors such as smoking, drinking heavy alcohol or chronic (from a long time) alcoholism, pregnancy can cause a deficiency of Vitamin B12.
To treat Vitamin B12 deficiency, Vitamin B12 rich foods in the diet can be included such as fish, red meat, eggs, milk and milk products, legumes, nuts, seeds and soy products. The chances of Vitamin B12 are high in vegetarians as vegetarian foods do not provide complete recovery from the Vitamin B12 deficiency. It can also be taken in form of oral supplements. Vitamin B12 injections are also available in the form of cyanocobalamin which can be administered parenterally or via intramuscular route.
In case, the cause of deficiency of Vitamin B12 is pernicious anemia, parenteral administration of Vitamin B12 is preferred.
Vitamin B12 is also available in the form of gel which can be applied intranasally, which is an alternative to Vitamin B12 injections.
Vitamin B12 deficiency should not be ignored as severe deficiency can lead to blood diseases and neurologic problems.
You can get your Vitamin B12 levels checked by a simple blood test. The normal range of Vitamin B12 is 211 – 911 pg/mL irrespective of sex and age.
High levels of Vitamin B12 may be seen in kidney failure, diabetes, liver disease etc.
Low levels of Vitamin B12 may be seen in anemia, hyperthyroidism (high levels of thyroid), worm infection etc.