Also known as cobalamin, Vitamin B12 plays an essential role in the production of your red blood cells and DNA. It also helps in the proper functioning of the nervous system. Many people might now know this, but Vitamin B12 deficiency is common among humans. It is an essential nutrient that is required for life processes like DNA synthesis and energy production inside the body.
Vitamin B12 is often found in food items. Still, its insufficiency or deficiency is very common. This happens due to limited dietary intake, malabsorption, certain medical conditions, or the use of B12-depleting medications.
People at risk of Vitamin B12 deficiency include the elderly, those taking antacid drugs for heartburn, people on the drug metformin for diabetes, and people following a strict vegan diet. Symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency can take years to show up and can be really difficult to diagnose. Following are some signs of Vitamin B12 deficiency:
1. Pale or jaundice skin
People who have Vitamin B12 deficiency develop a condition similar to iron deficiency anemia. This makes the skin pale due to a lack of fully-matured, healthy red blood cells in the body. Lack of Vitamin B12 in the body can also cause jaundice, which makes the person’s skin and the whites of the eyes take on a yellowish color. Why a yellow color? The yellowish shade is caused by high levels of bilirubin, a waste product created when your body breaks down red blood cells.
2. Frequent fatigue
This is another symptom of Vitamin B12 deficiency. People with low Vitamin B12 in their bodies are more likely to feel fatigued. Vitamin B12 is the need of the cells of the body. They require this Vitamin to function properly. The deficiency of Vitamin B12 may cause a decrease in normal red blood cell production in the body. This can also impair oxygen delivery to the lungs and the cells. The deficiency can also lead to megaloblastic anemia. In such a condition, large, abnormal, and immature red blood cells are formed that are not good for the blood. Another result of this problem is impaired DNA synthesis. All these factors combine to cause fatigue as the body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to tissues.
3. Depressive symptoms
As mentioned above, Vitamin B12 is essential for the proper functioning of the central nervous system of the body. Hence, its deficiency can impact your mental health. Vitamin B12 insufficiency is associated with a greater risk of developing depression. Now you know, depression can also be caused by a lack of certain nutrients, not only due to some psychological issues. But how does this happen? If the body lacks Vitamin B12, it starts accumulating sulfur-containing amino acids called homocysteine. This amino acid may contribute to the development of depression by increasing oxidative stress, DNA damage in cells, and cell death in the body. Deficient Vitamin B12 can also cause other mental conditions, including psychosis and mood disorders, apart from depression.
4. Paraesthesia in hands and feet
Before getting into the details, it is important to understand what paraesthesia is. It is a medical term that refers to a pain-and-needles or burning sensation in certain areas of the body, like the hands and feet. A number of adults and kids exhibit this symptom due to the deficiency of Vitamin B12. Why are people taking metformin at a greater risk of developing Vitamin B12 deficiency? This is because the medication can reduce Vitamin B12 absorption in the body. The paraesthesia symptom of Vitamin B12 overlaps with symptoms related to diabetic neuropathy. It is nerve damage that is caused by high blood sugar that can lead to pain and numbness in the extremities. This raises the risk of misdiagnosis of the problem.
Other symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency include headache, gastrointestinal issues, difficulty in concentrating and mental impairment, pain and inflammation in the mouth and tongue, and vision disturbances. The problem of Vitamin B12 deficiency can be solved with supplements, injections, or by diagnosing any underlying disease that’s causing the deficiency.