Vitamin B12 deficiency is no laughing matter. When you’re low on B12, things start to go wrong in the body and it can be debilitating. B12 is not only a vegan issue, contrary to popular belief. Like vitamin C, the body doesn’t naturally make its own B12, so it has to be obtained through food. Deficiency risk also increases with age.
We need B12 to convert homocysteine to methionine, an essential amino acid that synthesizes proteins. If you don’t have enough B12 in your system, your cell division is going to be impaired. In short, this means your red blood cells become enlarged, and your immune system will have a tendency to destroy them. None of this is good news for your health, but how do you know it’s happening? The fascinating machine that is your body will usually let you know when something’s wrong, so there will be a few symptoms to look out for.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause a lot of symptoms
For this reason it might not be totally obvious what the problem is. Gastrointestinal and neurological problems are two of the main issues associated with B12 deficiency. For example, if you start to experience numbness or tingling in your fingers and toes, you’ve probably either got circulatory issues or B12 deficiency. The neurological symptoms tend to occur in later stages of deficiency, at which point you may experience tremors and jerking of the limbs. B12 deficiency has even been mistaken for conditions like Alzheimer’s, Gullian-Barre Syndrome, MS and Parkinson’s.
As for the gastrointestinal issues, those who have Atrophic Gastritis (a thinned stomach lining), Pernicious Anemia, Crohn’s or Celiac disease are likely to develop B12 deficiency. B12 can actually cause Pernicious Anemia, which in turn can lead to abdominal cramps, bloating and an enlarged liver.
Your functions might start to let you down
Some of the symptoms of B12 are a little disturbing. Let’s be honest, nobody wants to be incontinent! It doesn’t do the street cred many favors, to say the least. We associate incontinence with the old and infirm, but if you develop a B12 deficiency, you’re a sitting (toilet) duck.
You can find yourself getting out of breath easily when low on vitamin B12. If you used to be able to take the stairs two at a time but can now barely get half way up without panting, or breathing is generally laborious, consider this cause.
You may start shrinking
Weight loss is symptomatic of B12 deficiency. For some that might sound like a good thing, but there are healthier ways to lose weight. The more weight you lose, the more problems you’ll have with insomnia, fatigue and gastrointestinal issues too.
You might stop thinking
Becoming forgetful or easily confused is another B12 deficiency symptom. So if you’ve just thrown your bowl of cornflakes in the bin but still have the empty milk carton in your hand (embarrassing true story), hunger might not be your only problem.
Depression is also a common B12 deficiency symptom. Like the neurological issues, it happens during the advanced stages of deficiency, so if you’re feeling emotionally out of sorts (especially alongside other symptoms), it might be time to get your B12 levels checked. Nutritional deficiencies have a major impact on mental state, so this could be a wake up call to subscribe to a healthier lifestyle.
You might find yourself in an altered state
I’m not talking about a positive one. If psychosis and hallucinations aren’t your thing, having the right amount of B12 in your body should be a priority. B12 deficiency has been known to cause audio and visual hallucinations, which is obviously greatly confusing and in a society where ‘madness’ isn’t exactly embraced, possibly even dangerous.
Again, this symptom is not likely to happen the moment your B12 levels drop; it’s more likely to occur when you’ve been deprived of this crucial vitamin for an extended period but it’s not worth the risk.
Your life force may ebb away
One of the most common signs you’re B12 deficient is chronic fatigue. So if you’ve recently been feeling like you can’t get out of bed in the morning, or you don’t have enough energy to get through your working day, consider lack of this vitamin as a possible culprit. We all suffer from tiredness now and then, but if we are self-honest we can usually pinpoint what the reason is.
Dining out on McDonalds or Krispy Kreme is asking for it, as is burning the candle at both ends with late nights and early mornings… if you’re doing everything else right but you still feel wiped out, it’s time for a B12 test.
You can easily test for and remedy a B12 deficiency
There are tests available to you for diagnosing B12 deficiency. You can go to a Doctor for a blood test, but if not, a sensible course of action would be to do your homework on your diet. If you know which foods are rich in B12, you’re halfway to a self-diagnosis. Vegans are famous for having B12 deficiencies, but these days they’re savvy about it — they make sure they get it in other ways. Those who eat meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, and eggs might be less likely to become deficient, but if they drink a lot of alcohol, it can still happen.
Lots of supplements are available, from sublingual (drops that go under the tongue) to fortified food products like grains and cereals. As with most supplements, there are lots of cheap, low quality options out there. You tend to get what you pay for, and be sure to read the reviews. If you’re really in trouble then you can get a B12 shot from a Doctor. This is the fastest route to getting your levels to where they should be, but you’ll still need to make dietary changes so as not to become deficient again. Bye bye B12 deficiency, hello great health.
This post was written by Caroline Knight, a Freelance Writer based in the UK. Caroline previously worked in nutrition and now runs healing retreats in Europe, alongside fulfilling her love of writing about everything from business to philosophy and transformation of consciousness.
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