Warning Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency and How to Fix It

Warning Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency and How to Fix It

Vitamin B12 (also called cobalamin) is a water-soluble vitamin which plays an important role in the production of red blood cells and is required to keep nerve cells healthy.

Vitamin B12 deficiency, also called cobalamin deficiency, is a medical condition of low B12 levels in the blood. According to studies, one in every five adults in the United States suffers from vitamin B12 deficiency. (1)

Vitamin B12 is dubbed the energy vitamin and its shortage can result in an array of health problems, including some potentially very serious conditions.

The average adult should get 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 daily. (2) Your body cannot produce vitamin B12 and you must get it from food or supplements. Good food sources of vitamin B12 include dairy products, eggs, fish, meat, and poultry.

Despite being a water-soluble, vitamin B12 gets stored in your liver, kidneys and other body tissues, so vitamin B12 deficiency can go unnoticed for a long time. That is where the danger lies. By the time the condition gets detected, there might be some irreversible damage done already.

Some of the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are fatigue, cognitive problems, and tingling in hands and feet. (8)

In this article, you will find out about the role of vitamin B12 in the body, causes and symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, how to treat this vitamin deficiency and how long it takes to fix B12 deficiency.

What is Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) and What Does it Do?

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is an important micronutrient that is essential for DNA synthesis and providing your cells with energy.

The reason why it is so important to correct a vitamin B12 deficiency is that a lack of this vitamin can lead to macrocytic anemia. This type of vitamin-deficiency anemia causes large red blood cells and low hemoglobin.

According to research published in the journal Nutrients, vitamin B12 is usually found in protein in most animal foods. To prevent a vitamin B12 deficiency, your body needs to absorb this vitamin during digestion. You get vitamin B12 from foods such as liver, beef, chicken, eggs and dairy foods. (3)

Vitamin B12 and intrinsic factor are closely linked. Researchers from the University of Rochester say that intrinsic factor is a protein in the lining of the stomach that helps absorb vitamin B12. Sometimes, doctors check for this protein to see if an autoimmune condition is causing inadequate intrinsic factor that is associated with a cobalamin (vitamin B12) deficiency. (4)

If you have been diagnosed with vitamin B12 deficiency anemia, you will no doubt wonder how long it will take to fix a B12 deficiency.

How Long it Takes to Correct Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Bringing levels of vitamin B12 to be within the normal range of between 200 and 900 ng/mL depends on the severity of your B12 deficiency. (5)

To help recover from a vitamin B12 deficiency, doctors will recommend a course of treatment involving oral supplementation or injections.

The journal Blood reports that it should take up to a week for vitamin B12 levels to rise. It is usually possible to completely correct a vitamin B12 deficiency within 6 weeks to 3 months. (6)

However, with the proper B12 supplements, you can start to fix a vitamin B12 deficiency fairly quickly. The journal Annals of Surgery reports that B12 levels start to quickly rise after taking B12 supplements. (7)

Causes of Cobalamin Deficiency (Vitamin B12 Deficiency)

There are a number of reasons for having low B12 levels in your blood. The main reasons for a cobalamin deficiency are connected with inadequate absorption from food, or a diet lacking in vitamin b12.

Let’s look in more detail as the main reasons for showing symptoms of a B12 deficiency.

Diet as a Cause of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

One of the main reasons for developing below normal B12 levels is not getting enough vitamin B12 from your diet.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that vitamin B12 is mainly found in meat, dairy product, and eggs. Eliminating sources of B12 from your diet can result in gradually developing B12 deficiency signs. (9)

Many people who switch to a strict vegan or vegetarian diet are at risk of developing low B12 levels if they don’t supplement their diet with B-group vitamins. (8)

According to the journal Nutrients, nori (edible seaweed) is a good food to help prevent a vitamin B12 (cobalamin) deficiency in people who are vegan. (9)

Impaired Absorption Can Results in Lack of Vitamin B12

Malabsorption could be one reason for showing signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency even if you include meat in your diet.

Inadequate B12 absorption can occur for a number of reasons. For example, low vitamin B12 levels are sometimes seen in persons who have had gastric bypass surgery. Also, digestive problems that are caused by intestinal diseases such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or intestinal bacterial overgrowth can also affect vitamin B12 absorption. (9)

Having a tapeworm infection in your body can cause many symptoms, including having a lack of B12. A tapeworm infection will also make it more difficult to recover from a B12 deficiency.

Also certain prescription drugs can affect your ability to absorb vitamin B12, including anti-ulcer drugs, antacids and Metformin – a drug taken by diabetic patients. (34, 35)

Autoimmune Reaction Can Result in Cobalamin Deficiency

Another reason for needing to address a vitamin B12 (cobalamin) deficiency is if you don’t have enough intrinsic factor to help with digestion.

You need adequate levels of the protein intrinsic factor to help absorb vitamin B12. In some cases, an autoimmune condition can affect intrinsic factor and lead to pernicious anemia. (8)

Symptoms of Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) Deficiency

It is important to address symptoms of a cobalamin deficiency as it can have serious consequences. Because B12 anemia can become debilitating, doctors warn that a chronic vitamin B12 deficiency can be life-threatening. (10)

The symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are often not very specific, so vitamin B12 deficiency can go unnoticed for a long period of time. It is also easily mistaken for other conditions, and therefore remains misdiagnosed.

Fortunately, a B12 deficiency is reversible if you spot the symptoms in time and take steps to fix a lack of vitamin B12.

Fatigue and Extreme Weakness

One of the most common signs that you may lack sufficient levels of vitamin B12 is extreme tiredness.

Fatigue is a common symptom with most types of anemia because a lack of red blood cells results in not enough oxygen feeding your cells.

Doctors from the National Health Service say that a vitamin B12 deficiency anemia caused by B12 malabsorption can cause extreme tiredness. (11)

In some cases, doctors recommend B12 supplementation for people suffering from chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia. (12)

In many cases, correcting a B12 deficiency results is having more energy. However, did you know that there could be other reasons why you feel tired all the time?

Shortness of Breath

The lack of energy caused by cobalamin deficiency anemia will also lead to breathlessness.

Doctors report that low intrinsic factor with a B12 deficiency can cause symptoms such as breathlessness. In one case, these low levels of B12 also resulted in extreme tiredness, hair changes, and hyperpigmentation. (13)

Pale Skin

A deficiency of vitamin B12 will also cause you to have skin that lacks in color or has a yellowish appearance.

One of the important roles of B12 is to help produce red blood cells of the proper size in your body. When there is not enough cobalamin in your body, large blood cells cause megaloblastic anemia. One of the symptoms of B12 deficiency anemia is pale-looking skin. (14, 11)

Swollen Tongue

Not having adequate levels of B12 vitamin can also make your tongue look inflamed, swollen, and feel sore.

This B12 deficiency symptom is called glossitis and occurs in around one-quarter of people with B-vitamin deficiencies. Doctors say that the tongue may have red lesions on it and also develop a burning sensation. The tongue should return to normal when the B12 deficiency is fixed. (15)

In one case, the B12 deficiency was corrected very quickly with one injection of 1,000 μg of vitamin B12. (15)

A vitamin B12 deficiency anemia can also cause other oral symptoms apart from a swollen tongue. Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms in adults also include mouth ulcers, oral infections, and burning mouth syndrome. (16)

Cognitive impairment

One of the neurological symptoms associated with a deficiency of B12 is problems associated with brain function and memory.

Some scientific studies have shown a connection with B12 deficiency in adults and the early onset of dementia and Parkinson’s disease. Correcting levels of vitamin B12 in people can help to improve symptoms of cognitive impairment if it was caused by B12 deficiency anemia. (17)

In one case, neurological symptoms were the only symptom for one adult who had lower than normal levels of vitamin B12. Before the vitamin B12 deficiency was reversed, the man experienced difficulty walking, lower limb weakness, and general fatigue. (18)

Tingling in Hands and Feet

One way that B12 malabsorption or a lack of vitamin B12 from your diet can affect your nerves is by causing tingling sensations.

One study involving over 2,200 adults found that not enough vitamin B12 affects peripheral nerve function. This can result in tingling in the feet and hands, weakness in the limbs, and even loss of sensation. Fixing levels of B12 quickly with oral supplementation can help to prevent or treat neurological symptoms. (19)

Other studies have shown that a lack of vitamin B12 or folate (vitamin B9) can result in megaloblastic anemia. Tingling, numbness, dizziness, and even seizures were reported as symptomatic of a chronic vitamin B12 deficiency (20)

If you suffer from constant tingling in your arms, hand, or feet, find out what else could be the cause.

Difficulty Maintaining Balance

The neurological impact of poor levels of vitamin B12 can also affect your balance and gait.

Researchers from Germany say that is it important to correct a vitamin B12 deficiency as early as possible. Elderly people who show signs of low B12 often have difficulty keeping their balance. Supplementing the diet with cobalamin (vitamin B12) helps to normalize metabolism in the body and prevent a worsening of neurological conditions. (21)

Vision Problems

A sign that you may need to fix a vitamin B12 deficiency is if you have blurred vision for no apparent reason.

The European Journal of Internal Medicine reports that vision disturbances can be associated with cobalamin deficiencies. Vision impairments are often reversed within a few months with B12 supplementation if a deficiency was the cause. (22)

Changes in Mood

Low levels of vitamin B12 can result in noticeable mood changes such as depression and mood swings.

A review of trials using vitamin B12 supplementation for depression found that fixing the deficiency can help manage depression. While taking vitamin B12 wasn’t a quick-fix for depressive symptoms, long-term supplementation can help manage depression. (23)

Vitamin B12 deficiency in children and adolescents can also affect mood. In some cases, a lack of adequate levels of vitamin B12 may cause psychotic episodes and mood disorders until the deficiency is corrected. (24)

Vitamin B12 Deficiency Treatment

Depending on the severity of the vitamin B12 deficiency, it could take a few weeks to a few months to correct the symptoms. However, oral supplements or injections can help to fix a B12 deficiency.

What are some of the ways to correct a vitamin B12 deficiency quickly?

Diet Rich in Vitamin B12 to Treat Cobalamin Deficiency

Unless intrinsic factor or malabsorption has caused your cobalamin deficiency, you can help to prevent vitamin B12 deficiency anemia with a proper diet.

Dietary sources of vitamin B12

Sometimes, you can help to fix a vitamin B12 deficiency or prevent anemia through diet. Making sure your diet includes foods rich in vitamin B12 will help keep your levels within the normal range.

The recommended daily intake (RDI) for a person over 14 year old is 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 daily. (33)

Here are some of the best foods to consume to enjoy a diet rich in vitamin B12:

Liver and kidneys. These types of meat are good to get enough iron in your diet as well as plenty of cobalamin.

A 3-oz. (85 g) serving of lamb’s liver can help boost your vitamin B12 levels. One serving of liver contains 65 mcg of vitamin B12 which is 2700% of your recommended daily vitamin B12 intake. (25)

A similarly sized portion of beef kidney will give you 21 mcg of vitamin B12 which is 875% of your recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin B12. (26)

Sardines. Oily fish such as sardines are good to eat to help correct your levels of vitamin B12. One can of sardines contains 8.2 mcg vitamin B-12 which is 341% of your RDI. (27)

Beef. One lean beef steak can provide you with around 11.5 mcg of vitamin B12 which is nearly 480% of your RDI. (28)

Other foods high in vitamin B12 help prevent B12 deficiency anemia due to poor diet. Doctors recommend including foods such as eggs, dairy products, and meat to keep your vitamin B12 levels. (29)

How to get enough vitamin B12 on a vegan diet

If you stick to a strict vegan diet or a vegetarian diet, it can be a challenge to get adequate amounts of vitamin B12.

Some reports indicate that it can take as long as 3 years for a vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms to show up after a person switches to a vegan diet. (8)

Some studies show that over 80% of children who are vegan show signs of a B12 deficiency, and up to 90% of elderly people who are vegans don’t have enough vitamin B12. (30)

Non-animal options of vitamin B12 include nutritional yeast and vitamin B12 fortified products, such as B12 fortified almond milk and cereals, and some breads. One medical study says that dried purple laver (nori) is the most suitable vitamin B12 source presently available for vegetarians. (9)

Supplements to Treat Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Supplements can help to correct a B12 deficiency faster than increasing your dietary intake of vitamins.

Vitamin B12 supplements are usually necessary if malabsorption or digestive problems are the reasons for cobalamin deficiency.

Taking B12 supplements under the direction of your doctor can help to quickly fix a B12 deficiency. The National Institutes of Health reports that taking vitamin B12 is good if you have pernicious anemia, megaloblastic anemia, or absorption problems due to intrinsic factor. (31)

Vitamin B12 is also usually present in many multivitamins.

Vitamin B12 Injections – in Cases of Severe Cobalamin Deficiency

Muscular injections are one type of vitamin B12 treatment if you have a severe deficiency. In critical cases of vitamin B12 deficiency anemia, injections can quickly correct a lack of B12.

However, oral supplements can be just as effective as vitamin B12 injections. Therefore, doctors evaluate the need for using cobalamin injections to correct severe vitamin B12 deficiency anemia on a patient-to-patient basis. (6)

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