Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin essential for a variety of functions in the body and most body systems, so any deficiency can show up in a number of different ways.
The most common signs and symptoms I see in clinical practice are:
- Fatigue. There may be a number of reasons why you feel fatigued, but I would always urge you to rule out a B12 deficiency when investigating underlying causes as I see it so often.
- Feeling sleepy during the day
- Poor sleep (the irony when you’re fatigued all day, many people find they then can’t get to or stay asleep)
- Poor memory, poor word recall and confusion
- Loss of balance, falls
- Anxiety, panic attacks and depression
- Shortness of breath with small exertions e.g. going up the stairs
- Pale skin
- Nerve problems such as pins and needles or tingling in one side, or your hands and feet
There is a good resource to look at with a very comprehensive list of low B12 signs and symptoms available here.
There may be a number of other reasons that these signs and symptoms can appear, so it’s always important to check with your GP if you have a new or persistent symptom appear.
B12 deficiency can be due to:
- Low intake from dietary sources. Vegans and vegetarians are at risk, but also please do not assume if you eat meat and fish you do not have low levels. You may get plenty of B12 in your diet but have absorption issues that contribute to low levels.
- Absorption problems – pernicious anaemia is an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the parietal cells in the stomach, which reduce your ability to create a substance called intrinsic factor and prevents proper B12 absorption
- Low or suboptimal stomach acid levels. This can be due to ageing, stress or medications that suppress stomach acid such as PPI’s
- Conditions that affects your gut e.g. Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis, Coeliac disease, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or a parasite
- Atrophic gastritis which causes the stomach lining to thin
Risk factors for B12 deficiency may include:
- A family history of low B12
- Already having an autoimmune condition such as Hashimoto’s or Grave’s disease, Lupus or MS
If you’re in doubt about whether low B12 is affecting your health, get in touch to make an appointment. A simple at home blood test can let us assess your levels and if needed we can improve these with diet and supplements. High dose professional strength supplements may be needed if a deficiency is found, as the amount of B12 found in foods may not be enough.