You can eat a platter of veggies and yet not have enough of Vitamin B12 . The silent masquerader, vitamin B12 is extremely important for a number of reasons. Here are its uses, risk factors that may lead to Vitamin B12 deficiency, symptoms and ways to treat it.
- The DNA Vitamin
Vitamin B12 helps in making DNA and RNA, the genetic material of your body. It helps to replicate DNA keeping your cells younger. It is necessary to produce blood and nerve cells. It protects brain health protecting the myelin nerve sheaths that are important in Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related illnesses. It keeps your immune system healthy. Vitamin B12 and Folic acid together help in better iron absorption in the body.
- Protects the heart and bones
The heart needs good amounts of Vit B12 to help clear a substance called homocysteine that damages the arteries of the heart leading to coronary artery disease. Homocysteine may lead to osteoporosis in the future.
- Vegetarians, vegans at risk of developing deficiency
Vitamin B12 is found naturally in animal sources. If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you have a risk of developing a deficiency in the future. You may need to add breakfast cereal, grains to your diet. If you are a vegetarian who eats eggs and dairy products, try to eat one from each food group once a week. Learn about the 15 top sources of Vitamin B12 from this .
- Older people at risk
As we grow older, our stomach produces lesser digestive acids which aid in B12 absorption. Moreover, older people usually take medicines for heartburn that further reduce the acid secretions. Some older people may lose the ability to absorb Vit B12 from foods entirely. If the deficiency is severe, supplements or injections might be needed.
- Lack of energy
The biggest role of Vitamin B12 is to supply energy to red blood cells. A deficiency would decrease the production of the cells leading to easy fatigue and weakness. If symptoms like dizziness, confusion, impaired thinking last for weeks, then it is best to consult a physician and look out for a vitamin B12 deficiency.
- It resembles dementia
Vitamin B12 deficiency often leads to neurological symptoms. If symptoms like forgetfulness, disorientation, memory loss with difficulty in reasoning and thinking are seen in older people, it is often mistaken for dementia. The link between B12 and dementia is not completely understood, but when patients complain of decrease in cognition, a deficiency of B12 should be strongly suspected.
- Are you on ‘The Pill’?
Oral contraceptive pills that contain high amounts of estrogen may lead to deficiencies in B12 and folic acid, some studies suggest. If you are taking pills to prevent a pregnancy, you should talk to your OBGYN for Vit B12 supplements.
- Heavy booze may increase the odds
Downing a few pegs everyday destroys the stomach lining that secretes acid, decreasing the absorption of Vitamin B12. Alcohol plays another role as well. Vitamin B12 is stored in the liver and alcohol synthesis can impair that function.
- It may lead to pernicious anaemia
Pernicious (means dangerous) anaemia, a life threatening illness is caused by a B12 deficiency. It occurs when the intestines do not produce enough of a substance called “Intrinsic factor” which aids Vitamin B12 absorption. Usually, it is treated with Vitamin B12 injections.
- Babies may get it too
If the breastfeeding mother is vegan or if the baby is not fed foods from animal sources, the baby has a chance of developing Vit B12 deficiency. In infants, the symptoms can be pretty serious ― difficulty in achieving milestones, anaemia, failure to thrive which could be fatal. A study published in the journal Paediatrics showed taking vitamins fortified with B12 can help during pregnancy.
- Smooth tongue, mouth ulcers and pale skin
A smooth tongue, frequent ulcers and pale skin are striking signs of a Vitamin B12 deficiency. These take years to develop and sometimes hard to notice in the initial stages.
- It can cause irreversible damage
If the symptoms of vitamin B 12 deficiency persist for a long time, the effects may be permanent. Memory loss, disorientation, insomnia, loss of bladder control, nerve damage can be some of the more permanent side effects seen.
- Take supplements before it gets too late
It may be difficult to undo the damage caused in the later stages, but if detected early, Vit B12 supplements can prevent further damage. Make sure to visit your doctor for B12 injections for the recommended dose needed.