Vitamin B12 is crucial for carrying out several essential functions in the body. In combination with B vitamin folate, B12 is responsible for creating the genetic matter in the body. It is vital to the manufacture of red blood cells which supply oxygen-rich blood to various parts of the body. B12 also plays an important role in the regulation of amino acid homocysteine.
Low B12 can result in the development to vitamin B12 deficiency anemia. Minor cases may cause only mild symptoms. However, as the condition aggravates, it may lead to the below listed symptoms:
- Tiredness, weakness, or lightheadedness
- Pale skin
- Easy bleeding or bruising, which includes bleeding gums
- Rapid breathing and heartbeat
- Weight loss and stomach upset
- Sore tongue
- Constipation or diarrhea
Untreated cases of low B12 can lead to nerve cells damage. This may in turn cause the following symptoms:
- Numbness or tingling in toes and fingers
- Confusion, memory loss, and even dementia
- Depression or other mood changes
- Difficulties in walking
It is important to note that untreated instances of low B12 in infants can result in serious and permanent nervous system damage. Strictly vegetarian or vegan mothers who have recently given birth should visit a doctor to check the B12 levels in the newborn.
Causes of low B12
Low vitamin B12 can be caused due to many reasons. It usually affects individuals with digestive systems that are incapable of sufficiently absorbing B12 from the consumed foods. This may arise due to:
- A condition called pernicious anemia that is characterized by lack of a protein known as intrinsic factor. This protein is produced in the stomach and is important for absorption of vitamin B12.
- Surgical removal of a part of the small intestine and/or the stomach
- A condition called atrophic gastritis which causes thinning of the stomach lining. It afflicts about 30 percent of individuals aged 50 years or more.
- Celiac disease, parasitic infection, bacterial overgrowth, Crohn’s disease, and other disorders which affect the small intestine.
- Autoimmune conditions like SLE or Graves’ disease
- Increased alcohol intake
- Prolonged use of acid-decreasing medications
The best sources of vitamin B12 are animal products. Hence strict vegetarians can also suffer from low B12. Vegans are the most vulnerable group. Vegetarians who consume dairy products and eggs are also susceptible to low B12 as they intake less than 50 percent of adult RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) of the vitamin.
Newborns of vegetarian mothers may also experience low B12
- Treatment of low B12 is dependent on the underlying cause. If it is caused due to pernicious anemia or other absorption anomalies, then doctors will suggest B12 replacement therapy. It is usually given via injections. A few patients may also be given vitamin supplements.
- Some patients may require B12 supplements for their lifetime. Vegans and vegetarians will be asked to include animal products in the diet. B12 tablets and injections are also prescribed.
- It is important to note that nerve damage caused due to low B12 is permanent.