Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 – also known as cobalamin – is a very important water-soluble vitamin that plays an essential role in the production of DNA and red blood cells. Vitamin B12 also helps maintain the proper functioning of our nervous system.
Unfortunately, B12 deficiencies are incredibly common, especially in adults. Vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anemia can cause a number of symptoms that usually develop gradually, but can worsen if the condition is left untreated. So with that, here are some signs and symptoms of a true vitamin B12 deficiency.
Symptoms Of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Pale, Jaundiced Skin
Those who suffer from a B12 deficiency can often look very pale or even have a slightly yellow tinge to their skin and whites of their eyes – this is called jaundice and it can happen when a lack of B12 causes problems with red blood cell production within your body.
Vitamin B12 has a very important role in the production of the DNA that is needed to create red blood cells, without adequate B12 levels the instructions for building cells are incomplete, meaning cells are unable to divide. This can then lead to a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia – this is when the red blood cells produced within your bone marrow are large and fragile.
These red blood cells are too big to be able to pass through bone marrow and into circulation, meaning you will not have enough red blood cells circulating around your body, leaving your skin paler in colour.
Fatigue & Weakness
Another fairly common symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency is weakness or fatigue, this happens because your body does not have enough B12 to make red blood cells, which are what help the oxygen to travel around your body, this can leave you feeling drained, weak or tired.
Numbness, Pins & Needles
A more serious side effect of a long-term B12 deficiency is nerve damage. This is something that can occur over time due to the fact that B12 is a very important contributor to the metabolic pathway that produces the fatty substance, myelin. Myelin is what surrounds your nerves to protect them and keep them insulated.
When you are deficient in vitamin B12, myelin is produced differently, and your nervous system is not able to function as it normally would. A common sign of this happening is when you experience pins & needles/paresthesia.
It is important to note, however, that pins & needles are a common symptom with many different causes, so if you are experiencing this symptom alone, you probably do not need to worry about a B12 deficiency.
Dizziness & Shortness of Breath
If you are experiencing anemia due to a B12 deficiency, you might feel shortness of breath or suffer from dizzy spells, especially after you exert yourself, this is due to the lack of red blood cells needed to get enough oxygen to your body’s cells.
There are, however, other reasons you might be suffering from dizziness and shortness of breath, so it is important that you consult a doctor to investigate the cause.
Changes in Vision
Blurred vision or altered vision can be another symptom of a vitamin B12 deficiency, this can happen when an untreated B12 deficiency results in nervous system damage to the optic nerve that leads to your eyes.
This damage can negatively affect the nervous signal that travels from your eyes to your brain, impairing your vision – this is known as optic neuropathy. Although this sounds scary, it is often reversible by supplementing with B12.
Where to Find Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 can be found naturally in animal foods such as meats, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy – but it can also be found in certain products that have been fortified with B12 such as some breads and plant-based milks.
Alternatively, there are a number of excellent B12 supplements available online and in health stores. It is important to discuss with your doctor before taking B12 supplements, as taking supplements on top of having a diet high in vitamin B12 can cause negative side effects.