Vitamin b12 is an important vitamin, responsible for the production of red blood cells in the body and for keeping nerves healthy. It’s best gained through diet from B12-rich foods, which tend to be from sources of an animal origin, such as meat and cheese. This means vegans and vegetarians can be at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, unless they include B12 fortified foods in their diet or take supplements. A person may also struggle to get enough B12 from their diet as a result of a health condition, such as pernicious anaemia – this affects the body’s absorption of B12 from foods.
No matter the cause, if someone lacks vitamin B12, their red blood cell count will be low and the nerves can begin to be affected.
When this happens, symptoms of vitamin b12 deficiency develop.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to vision problems, memory loss, loss of physical co-ordination, and heart failure if left untreated, so recognising the symptoms is very important.
Three symptoms of the condition may appear when you go to the toilet and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Gas, constipation and diarrhoea can all point to a vitamin b12 deficiency, according to the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
These are all symptoms linked to the digestive tract, which can be impacted in the case of a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Your digestive health relies on the healthy function of your stomach, small and large intestines, the colon and the rectum, and these tissues rely on B vitamins.
Low intake of vitamin B12 affects the digestive tract, and a severe deficiency paralyses the muscle tissue in the lining of the digestive tract, hindering intestinal function.
Other vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms
Bupa lists six symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency. These include:
- Feeling very tired
- Breathlessness even after little exercise
- Heart palpitations
- A reduced appetite
- A sore mouth and tongue
The health organisation adds: “If you have vitamin B12-deficiency anaemia, you may also look pale or jaundiced (have a yellowy tinge to your skin and the whites of your eyes).
“As well as the symptoms of anaemia, vitamin B12-deficiency may cause symptoms related to your nerves. This is called vitamin B12 neuropathy. It may affect your movement and sensation, especially in your legs, cause numbness or pins and needles and decrease your sensitivity to touch, vibration or pain. It can also cause confusion, depression, poor concentration and forgetfulness.”
But it also advises: “These symptoms aren’t always due to vitamin B12-deficiency anaemia, but if you have them see your GP.”
Treatment of vitamin B12 deficiency
If a person if not getting enough vitamin B12 from their diet they may be advised by a GP to eat more food fortified with vitamin B12 or to take regular supplements.
Vitamin B12 injections may also be recommended, and for those with pernicious anaemia, injections may be required for the rest of their lives.
Experts say adults aged 19 to 64 require around 1.5 micrograms (mg) a day of vitamin B12, and unless you have pernicious anaemia, you should be able to get this through your diet.
If vitamin B12 deficiency is triggered by not including enough B12 in the diet, Harvard Health Publishing, part of Harvard Medical School, offers the “A list of B12 foods” on its website.