Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Causes, Treatment

WHO report indicates Vitamin B 12 deficiency is more prevalent in regions of world with higher percentage of vegetarians, vegans and aging population.

Read on… If you are suffering from extreme ‘indefinable’ tiredness & lethargy, mood swings, depression, ringing feeling in ears (tinnitus), pigmentation, light headed and if you sweat excessively (Hyperhidrosis) OR if you are a vegetarian or a vegan… YOU may have Vitamin B 12 Deficiency.


Why is B 12 so important?

Vitamin B-12 or Cobalamin is a very important micronutrient required for proper functioning of nervous system, formation of erythrocytes, formation of myelin sheath and DNA and crucial for regulating our metabolism, weight management and immune system.

Vitamin B12 also facilitates absorption of folic acid, facilitating healthy nervous system and release of energy. The normal requirement of vitamin B12 for adults is 2.4micrograms/day. Vitamin B12 deficiency is very common, especially in elderly.

According to the National Health and Nutritional examination Survey, 3.2% of adults above age 50 have significant vitamin B12 deficiency, while 20% have borderline deficiency.


Vitamin B 12 Deficiency symptoms

It may take a few years for Vitamin B 12 Deficiency symptoms to manifest. With mild deficiency you may not posses any discernible clinical features BUT If the deficiency persists for a prolonged period of time, neurological symptoms may come into picture. If not checked in time, Vitamin B12 Deficiency may lead to complications like…

  • Pernicious anemia, by affecting production of RBCs.
  • Unexplainable constant feeling of Fatigue.
  • Constipation/diarrhea.
  • Nausea, vomiting.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Pale skin.
  • Palpitations and Dyspnea.
  • Abnormal bloating and gas.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Mouth sores.
  • Swollen tongue.

Prolonged deficiency of Vitamin B 12 can lead to Neuropsychiatric disorders ranging from Neuropathy to Dementia, with the patient may develop following signs and symptoms…

  • Myelopathy.
  • Sensory disturbances including paraesthesias, tingling and numbness.
  • Gait abnormalities.
  • Abnormal reflexes.
  • Motor weakness.
  • Sub acute combined degeneration.
  • Memory decline.
  • Erectile dysfunction.
  • Brain shrinkage and Neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Multiple Sclerosis (International Journal of Preventive Medicine 2012).
  • Dementia (Neuropsychiatric Diseases and treatment 2010).

The above mentioned Neurological problems are described by various mechanisms

  • Vitamin B 12 regulates synthesis and maintenance of Myelin Sheath (covering of nerve cells), responsible for protection of neuron and transmission of nerve impulses. So reduced level of vitaminB12 may lead to demyelination of nerve cells leading to axonal damage.
  • Reduced levels of Vitamin B12 is associated with altered production of neurotransmitters and elevated levels of homocysteine and methylmalonic acid (MMA).
  • Elevated levels of homocysteine leads to brain atrophy and other vascular complications, neurobiology of aging 2014.


What can cause Vitamin B 12 deficiency?

1 :: Decreased absorption of vitamin B12 from stomach and intestine, due to

  • Atrophic gastritis, can cause low gastric PH which increases bacterial growth in upper intestine leading to mal absorption of protein-bound vitamin B12.
  • Pernicious anemia, damages cells that produces intrinsic factor, responsible for absorption of vitamin B12 in intestines.
  • Surgical removal of a part of stomach or intestines or patients with short bowel syndrome, affects vitamin B12 absorption.
  • Ailments of pancreas and small intestines like inflammation of pancreas, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, bacterial and parasitic infections.
  • Chronic alcoholism, by impairing liver functions and depleting vitamin B12 stores.
  • An autoimmune disease like lupus, grave’s disease etc.
  • Long term use of gastric acid suppressing medications; gastric acid help absorb Vitamin B 12.
  • Prolonged use of oral contraceptives, affects vitamin B 12 absorption.
  • Certain medications like Metformin, used by Diabetics.
  • Nitrous oxide abuse.
  • Elderly individuals, because to gradual loss of gastric acid.

2 :: Decreased Vitamin B 12 intake

  • Vegetarians or Vegans in particular are at risk of developing deficiency of vitamin B12, as vitamin B12 occurs naturally in animal products only.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Babies born to vegetarian mothers who didn’t take adequate amount of vitaminB12 during pregnancy.

3 :: Increased Vitamin B 12 requirements

  • AIDS/HIV positive individuals.
  • People with rapid red blood cell breakdown, British Medical Journal, 2014.


Diagnosis of Vitamin B 12 deficiency

Given the array of symptoms it can cause, differential diagnosis to establish Vitamin B12 deficiency is extremely important. Some of the tests used in diagnosis are

  • Serum B12 levels (generally low), further examination is warranted, if symptoms of B12 deficiency persists with normal B12 levels.
  • RBC count.
  • Intrinsic factor antibody levels.
  • Serum homocysteine and Methylmalonic acid levels (elevated).

Other procedures

  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) to examine the stomach.
  • Enteroscopy to examine the small intestine.
  • Bone marrow biopsy to rule out erythrocytes abnormalities or anemia.


Treatment of Vitamin B 12 Deficiency

1 :: Vitamin B12 supplementation Severe deficiency can be treated by giving Vitamin B12 supplementation, which can be given as:

  • Weekly shot.
  • Daily high dose.

Supplementation by pill or injection appears to be very effective in treating deficiency, irrespective of the cause. Large doses given by mouth don’t rely on the presence of intrinsic factor or intact intestine for absorption. Dosage as high as 1-2mg/day can even treat pernicious anemia.

2 :: Vitamin B12 rich food According to National Institute of Health, beef liver and clams are top sources of B12. Other sources are:

–           Turkey.
–           Oysters.
–           Chicken.
–           Trout.
–           Salmon.
–           Dairy products.
–           Nutritional yeasts.
–           Spirulina.
–           Fortified cereals.
–           Soya Milk (fortified).
–           Cereals and pulses.
–           Corn Flakes.

According to Institute of Medicine people above 50 should take B12 supplement, as they may not be able to absorb enough vitamins from food sources.

Most of the people respond well with the above-mentioned treatment except those who develop permanent nerve damage or patients with neurodegenerative disorder like Alzheimer’s disease, have not shown any improvement in cognitive functioning even at high doses.


So, it’s best to get enough Vitamin B12 to prevent its deficiency but if occurs; a timely supplementation of this ‘Nervous Vitamin’ is required to prevent permanent damage to nervous system.

Aashish Nanda

I am not a Spiritual Guru. I am not a Healer. I am not a Coach. I am not a Transformer. After trying to define myself, with various labels, I realized that I am simply a Mirror - A CLP Guide.

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