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Vitamin B12 performs a number of essential roles in the body, such as helping to keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helping to make DNA. Becoming deficient in the vitamin therefore disrupts these vital mechanisms; producing extensive symptoms. The type of symptoms you may experience can depend on the underlying cause of your B12 deficiency.
Pernicious anaemia – the leading cause of B12 deficiency in the UK – can produce a number of distinct symptoms.
Pernicious anaemia is an autoimmune disease that prevents the body from making intrinsic factor – a protein made by the stomach and needed to absorb vitamin B12 in the intestine.
According to the Pernicious Anaemia Society (PAS), one telltale sign you have B12 deficiency caused by pernicious anaemia can be spotted when putting on your underwear.
As PAS explains, difficulty putting on underwear (the knicker dance) may indicate low B12 levels is leading to “general unsteadiness”.
This symptom may also become apparent when having to hold on to something whilst showering, says the health body.
Inability to stand up straight with closed eyes or when it is dark can also be a sign of unsteadiness associated with B12 deficiency, it adds.
Other telltale signs include:
- Dizziness/Feeling Faint
- Numbness/Tingling/Pins and Needles
- Burning Legs and/or Feet
- Neuropathic Pain
- Loss of smell, taste and/or touch.
How should I respond?
You should see a GP if you’re experiencing symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, advises the NHS.
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“These conditions can often be diagnosed based on your symptoms and the results of a blood test,” explains the health body.
It’s also important for vitamin B12 to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
As the NHS explains, although many of the symptoms improve with treatment, some problems caused by the condition can be irreversible if left untreated.
“The longer the condition goes untreated, the higher the chance of permanent damage,” it warns.
How to treat B12 deficiency
The treatment for vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia depends on what’s causing the condition.
Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia is usually treated with injections of vitamin B12.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), anaemia is a condition whereby the number of red blood cells in the blood, or the amount of hemoglobin in them, is lower than normal, causing a condition in which red blood cells are not able to supply enough oxygen to all the tissues in the body.
There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:
“If your vitamin B12 deficiency is caused by a lack of the vitamin in your diet, you may be prescribed vitamin B12 tablets to take every day between meals,” notes the NHS.
It adds: “People who find it difficult to get enough vitamin B12 in their diets, such as those following a vegan diet, may need vitamin B12 tablets for life.”
Why are vegans more prone to B12 deficiency?
Vitamin B12 is found naturally in a wide variety of animal foods and is added to some fortified foods.
According to the NIH, plant foods have no vitamin B12 unless they are fortified.
You can get recommended amounts of vitamin B12 by eating a variety of foods including the following:
- Beef liver and clams, which are the best sources of vitamin B12.
- Fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and other dairy products, which also contain vitamin B12.
Some breakfast cereals, nutritional yeasts and other food products that are fortified with vitamin B12. To find out if vitamin B12 has been added to a food product, check the product labels.
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