Vitamin B12 helps keep the body’s nerves and blood cells healthy, plays an essential role in making DNA and it also helps to prevent anaemia – the general term for having either fewer red blood cells than normal or having an abnormally low amount of haemoglobin in each red blood cell. Haemoglobin (Hb) is a protein found in the red blood cells that carries oxygen in your body and gives blood its red colour.
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Lacking the vitamin can cause a wide-range of symptoms, and these usually develop gradually, but can worsen if the condition goes untreated.
According to the NHS, if you have anaemia caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency, you may experience changes in the way that you walk and move around.
Lacking the vitamin may impair your balance and coordination, making you more prone to falling.
Research into the relationship between vitamin B12 deficiency and movement revealed that this symptom is often seen in undiagnosed B12 deficiency in the elderly, as people over the age of 60 are more prone to a B12 deficiency.
Fortunately, studies also suggest preventing or treating a vitamin B1 deficiency in this age group may improve their mobility.
Other symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency can include:
- A pale yellow tinge to your skin
- A sore and red tongue (glossitis)
- Mouth ulcers
- Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
- Disturbed vision
- Changes in the way you think, feel and behave
- A decline in your mental abilities, such as memory, understanding and judgement (dementia)
As the NHS explains, some of these symptoms can also happen in people who have a vitamin B12 deficiency but have not developed anaemia.
When to see a GP
You should see a GP if you’re experiencing symptoms of vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia, advises the NHS.
As the health body notes, these conditions can often be diagnosed based on your symptoms and the results of a blood test, and it is important to get diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms: This sign when you eat could mean you’re lacking B12 [INSIGHT]
Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms: What can you smell? Sign you could be lacking B12 [INSIGHT]
Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms: This sign on your arm could mean you’re lacking B12 [INSIGHT]
Although many of the symptoms improve with treatment, some problems caused by the condition can be irreversible if left untreated, and the longer the condition goes untreated, the higher the chance of permanent damage.
All types of anaemia, regardless of the cause, can lead to heart and lung complications as the heart struggles to pump oxygen to the vital organs, explains the NHS.
Adults with severe anaemia are at risk of developing:
- An abnormally fast heartbeat (tachycardia)
- Heart failure, where the heart fails to pump enough blood around the body at the right pressure
A lack of vitamin B12 can cause neurological problems, which affect your nervous system, and if neurological problems do develop, they may be irreversible.
Neurological problems include:
- Vision problems
- Memory loss
- Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
- Loss of physical coordination (ataxia), which can affect your whole body and Cause difficulty speaking or walking
- Damage to parts of the nervous system (peripheral neuropathy), particularly in the legs
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How to treat vitamin B12 deficiency
A vitamin B12 deficiency is usually treated with injections of vitamin B12 and there are two types of vitamin B12 injections:
After the initial course of injections, your treatment will depend on whether the cause of your vitamin B12 deficiency is related to your diet or whether the deficiency is causing any neurological problems, such as problems with thinking, memory and behaviour, explains the NHS.
The most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency in the UK is pernicious anaemia, which is not related to your diet, says the health site.
If your vitamin B12 deficiency is caused by a lack of the vitamin in your diet, you may be prescribed vitamin B12 tablets to take every day between meals, according to the NHS.
Certain foods provide rich sources of vitamin B12 too, including:
- Salmon and cod
- Milk and other dairy products
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, or are looking for alternatives to meat and dairy products, there are other foods that contain vitamin B12, such as yeast extract (including Marmite), as well as some fortified breakfast cereals and soy products, explains the health site.
To ensure you pack enough B12 in your diet, check the nutritious labels while food shopping to see how much vitamin B12 different foods contain.
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