Dr Dawn Harper on signs of vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency
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In the majority of cases, a vitamin B12 deficiency is caused by a condition called pernicious anaemia, which is when the body’s immune system turns in on itself and attacks the stomach cells. Stomach cells are responsible for creating a protein called intrinsic factor (IF), which binds to vitamin B12, which you gain from the foods you eat. When IF binds to vitamin B12, as foods move along the intestines, vitamin B12 is able to be reabsorbed back into the body.
Without IF, the vitamin B12 is lost via stools, which then leads to a deficiency.
Another way to experience a vitamin B12 deficiency is by not eating enough meat, fish or dairy products.
Regardless of which way a deficiency emerges, a lack of vitamin B12 causes red blood cells to develop abnormally.
Consequently, signs of anaemia emerge, which the NHS listed as:
- Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- Lack of energy (lethargy)
- Feeling faint
- Pale skin
- Noticeable heartbeats (palpitations)
- Hearing sounds coming from inside the body, rather than from an outside source (tinnitus)
- Loss of appetite and weight loss.
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Other symptoms might include a pale yellow tinge to the skin, a sore and red tongue, and mouth ulcers.
A deficiency can also lead to “irreversible” neurological problems, such as memory loss.
The condition can also lead to vision problems, pins and needles (known as paraesthesia), and a loss of physical co-ordination, known as ataxia.
Ataxia can “affect your whole body and cause difficulty speaking or walking”.
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Another possible permanent issue that could develop is peripheral neuropathy.
Peripheral neuropathy is damage to the nervous system, particularly in the legs.
Five possible “irreversible” neurological problems that can arise from a B12 deficiency:
- Vision problems
- Memory loss
- Peripheral neuroapthy.
The NHS emphasised: “If neurological problems do develop, they may be irreversible.”
How can a B12 deficiency be identified?
Should you be experiencing any troubling symptoms, do speak to your doctor.
Based upon your discussion surrounding how you feel, and anything unusual that you have been noticing, a blood test can confirm whether you are deficient or not in the vitamin.
The blood test will check in a number of ways. Firstly, whether you have a lower level of haemoglobin than normal.
To note, haemoglobin is a substance in red blood cells that transports oxygen around the body.
A blood test will also check whether your red blood cells are larger than normal, and the level of vitamin B12 in your blood.
Moreover, the blood test will reveal the level of folate in your blood – and further testing could uncover whether or not you have pernicious anaemia.
Most people can successfully have their B12 deficiency corrected by supplementing with B12 tablets or having B12 injections.
The key is to have your doctor identify a deficiency as soon as possible so that long-term and, possibly, irreversible damage does not take place.
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