Vitamin B12 deficiency, often found alongside deficiencies in other vitamins and minerals, can be extremely dangerous to your health if left untreated. While it’s important to ensure you’re getting enough B12 through diet and supplementation, it’s also helpful to learn the signs of deficiency so you can address them immediately if necessary. In this article, we discuss some of the most common warning signs that could indicate you have low B12 levels and should seek treatment quickly.
What is Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin essential for the proper functioning of the brain, nervous system, and energy production. It’s also essential for cell division and the creation of fatty acids, so your body can properly use the energy you consume from food. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to various symptoms, including anemia, memory loss, and even mood disorders like depression.
Vitamin B12 occurs naturally in some foods, mainly animal-based but minimal in plant foods. It’s also available in fortified foods and as a dietary supplement. Vitamin B12 deficiency is relatively common and occurs when there’s an insufficient dietary intake, certain medical conditions, malabsorption, or medications that deplete its stores in the body.
Unlike other B vitamins that cannot be stored, the body can store some of the B 12 you consume. This should make its deficiency rare, but it’s not always the case.
Deficiencies still occur, especially in people following a plant-based diet. Such individuals may present with symptoms that may seem unrelated at first glance, which can make it difficult to tell if you don’t know what to look for.
More Vitamin B12 Benefits
Did you know that vitamin B12 could improve your mood? That’s right, this essential nutrient plays a role in producing feel-good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. Low levels of vitamin B12 have been linked to depression, so if you’re feeling down, a B12 supplement may be just what you need.
Prevents heart disease
Vitamin B12 has been shown to lower homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid that’s been linked to heart disease. By keeping homocysteine levels in check, vitamin B12 may help prevent heart disease. In addition, a new research indicates that having high blood levels of homocysteine may raise the risk for Alzheimer’s Disease. One study found that people with high levels of the chemical were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those with low levels.
Promotes strong bones
One of the many benefits of vitamin B12 is that it helps build stronger bones. This is because vitamin B12 helps the body absorb calcium, which is essential for bone health. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to become weak and brittle.
Vitamin B12 is known for its energy-boosting properties. It helps the body convert food into fuel, which can boost your metabolism and help you lose weight. In addition, vitamin B12 helps the body produce red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the muscles and other tissues. This can give you more energy and help improve your endurance.
As we age, our memory starts to decline. This is a natural part of the aging process. However, vitamin B12 has been shown to improve memory, especially in older adults. A study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry found that people with vitamin B12 deficiency were more likely to have memory problems. The study found that supplementing with vitamin B12 improved memory in those with memory problems.
One of the most common benefits of vitamin B12 is that it promotes healthy hair. This is because vitamin B12 helps your body produce keratin, a protein that makes up your hair. Keratin helps to keep your hair strong and prevent it from breaking. It also gives your hair its structure and keeps it looking smooth and shiny. Plus, if you have thinning hair or bald patches, then it can help promote new growth as well.
Did you know that vitamin B12 can help promote healthy skin? This essential vitamin helps keep your skin cells healthy and can even help prevent some types of skin problems. Here are just a few ways vitamin B12 can benefit your skin: It promotes the production of collagen, which keeps your skin elastic, supple, and looking youthful. It also helps regulate oil production in the skin’s sebaceous glands, which means less acne for many people. B12 is also needed for the formation of red blood cells, which delivers enough oxygen to the cells, which can then boost wound healing. So if you cut yourself while cooking or gardening, those wounds will heal faster with enough vitamin B12 in your diet.
Vitamin B12 has been shown to play a role in cancer prevention. In one study, people who took a daily vitamin B12 supplement had a lower risk of developing colorectal cancer. Another study found that vitamin B12 may help prevent breast cancer. Vitamin B12 may also help prevent other types of cancer, such as ovarian cancer.
Top Warning Signs of Low B12 Levels
If you often feel exhausted, regardless of how much sleep you’ve gotten or how much energy you’ve exerted, it could be a sign that your body is lacking in B12. The nutrient is responsible for producing red blood cells—and without it, your body won’t have enough oxygen to sustain your normal energy level. This leads to feelings of fatigue.
2. Mood swings
Do you find yourself experiencing a variety of emotions throughout any given day? If so, you might be experiencing mood swings. Mood swings can result from various things: most commonly, they’re caused by hormones that are out of balance or low levels of vitamin B12 and/or folic acid. These nutrients help maintain your nervous system, allowing for smooth communication between your brain and body. When your diet is deficient in these vitamins, mood swings may occur as a result.
3. It may result in depression
Depression is a serious mental disorder characterized by persistent sadness and apathy. It may be described as a medical condition that affects how you feel, think, and act. It can affect your moods, feelings, thoughts, behavior, personality, and physical health. Depression can also lead to substance abuse or suicide.
If you are feeling down or depressed and it doesn’t seem to be tied to any particular event, such as a death in your family or a breakup with your significant other, consider having your doctor test you for vitamin B12 deficiency. A lack of adequate vitamin B12 can affect your mental health. In fact, low levels of vitamin B12 have been associated with higher rates of clinical depression.
Low vitamin B12 has been shown to increase homocysteine, a sulfur-containing amino acid associated with increased oxidative stress, DNA damage, and cell death, all of which contribute to the development of depression.
In one study, participants with depression were shown to have low vitamin B12 but high homocysteine compared to those without depression.
4. Digestive issues
The most common sign that you might be suffering from B12 deficiency is digestive issues. According to a report in Gastroenterology Nursing, these symptoms may include irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, cramping, gas, and loose stools. These are typical signs of an underactive stomach and large intestine—an issue that can be caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency.
So, if you have any digestive issues, it’s important to see your doctor—especially if you have reason to believe that your dietary intake may not be sufficient.
5. Inflammation of the mouth and tongue
If you have a sore and inflamed mouth or tongue, it could be another early sign of vitamin B12 deficiency. These symptoms are also common in vitamin B12 deficiency anemia. However, they can sometimes occur without anemia. Also, keep in mind that other nutrient deficiencies such as niacin and folate can also present with the same symptoms. So it’s always good to get tested.
A person with vitamin B12 deficiency may have insomnia due to brain fog and lethargy. Research shows that vitamin B12 plays an essential role in neurotransmitter metabolism and that people with low levels experience various sleep disturbances, including insomnia.
A lack of vitamin B-12 can lead to an underproduction of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps transmit signals between nerve cells. While an imbalance in serotonin levels causes migraines, others may result from a dopamine deficiency. If you’re suffering from severe migraines, talk to your doctor about testing for vitamin B-12 deficiency.
A 2019 study found that people who experienced migraines had lower vitamin B12 than those who didn’t experience migraines.
A different study also found that people with high levels of B12 had an 80 percent lower chance of developing migraines than those with lower levels.
8. Inability to concentrate well
When your body doesn’t have enough vitamin B12, it can lead to problems with focus and concentration. You may find yourself feeling foggy-headed and unable to focus on the tasks at hand. This can be dangerous in situations where you need to be sharp, such as when driving or operating machinery. Low levels of this nutrient can also interfere with the functioning of nerve cells. Nerve damage is one potential consequence if you don’t get enough B12 in your diet.
One of the most common dangers of low vitamin B12 is anemia. Anemia is a condition in which your blood doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells. This can lead to fatigue, pale skin, and shortness of breath. If you have anemia, you may also feel dizzy or lightheaded. In severe cases, anemia can be life-threatening. As your body becomes more and more deficient in vitamin B12, the chances that you’ll develop anemia will increase as well. It’s important to maintain a proper level of vitamin B12 so that this complication doesn’t develop.
10. Poor dental health
If you don’t have enough vitamin B12, you may start to experience poor dental health. Your gums may become inflamed and bleed easily, and you may develop mouth sores. You may also notice that your teeth are becoming weaker and more brittle. If you don’t get enough vitamin B12, you may eventually experience tooth loss.
How Much Vitamin B12 Do You Need?
Studies show that adults should consume 2.4 micrograms daily, but many experts suggest requiring even more—up to 10 micrograms a day. In fact, deficiencies in vitamin B12 are on the rise worldwide, and it’s estimated that nearly one-third of adults over age 50 don’t get enough of it.
Best Food Sources of Vitamin B12
As stated earlier, if you’re on a plant-based diet, for instance, a vegan diet, your options for getting enough vitamin B12 are more limited. Some foods that contain it include nutritional yeast, sauerkraut, seaweed, and certain mushrooms. However, the most efficient way to get adequate B12 if on a plant-based diet is through a supplement.
While you may associate vitamin B12 deficiency with anemia, many other symptoms can occur if you don’t have enough in your system.
These may include fatigue, digestive problems, mood swings, depression, migraines, inflamed mouth and tongue, and a lack of sleep.
Understanding these symptoms can help you take note of a deficiency, especially if you know your diet is not balanced.
The best part is that you can easily boost your vitamin B12 intake through high B12 rich foods and by the use of a supplement.
Also, anyone over the age of 60, pregnant or breastfeeding women, those on medications that deplete B12 levels or those with any gastrointestinal condition that may interfere with your absorption should aim for a higher dose within the recommended range.
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