Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms arise if a person lacks B12 in their diet. Vegans and vegetarians may be at risk of this because the best sources of B12 are from foods of an animal origin. Certain medical conditions can also affect a person’s absorption of B12 from foods, such as pernicious anaemia. Vitamin B12 plays an important role in the production of red blood cells and keeping nerves healthy.
Gas, constipation and diarrhoea can all signal vitamin B12 deficiency
If a person lacks B12 then red blood cells may be in short supply and nerves risk becoming damaged.
The body’s tissues and organs become deprived of oxygen and this can trigger the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.
If the condition is left untreated complications can occur including cardiovascular disease, so spotting symptoms early is very important.
Three signs of vitamin B12 deficiency to be aware may occur when a person goes to the toilet.
According to the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, gas, constipation and diarrhoea can all signal the condition.
These symptoms are linked to the digestive tract, which can be impacted if vitamin B12 deficiency occurs.
Your digestive health relies on the healthy function of your stomach, small and large intestines, the colon and the rectum, and these tissues rely on B vitamins.
Low intake of vitamin B12 affects the digestive tract, and a severe deficiency paralyses the muscle tissue in the lining of the digestive tract, hindering intestinal function.
But it’s important to note these signs don’t always point to vitamin B12 deficiency.
Having gas or flatulence is considered normal, and on average, people pass wind five to 15 times a day.
Constipation can be caused by not eating enough fibre or drinking enough fluids, and diarrhoea can be caused by a stomach bug.
Other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency
Other symptoms are listed by Bupa as:
- Feeling very tired
- Breathlessness even after little exercise
- Heart palpitations
- A reduced appetite
- A sore mouth and tongue
The health organisation adds: “If you have vitamin B12-deficiency anaemia, you may also look pale or jaundiced (have a yellowy tinge to your skin and the whites of your eyes).
“As well as the symptoms of anaemia, vitamin B12-deficiency may cause symptoms related to your nerves. This is called vitamin B12 neuropathy. It may affect your movement and sensation, especially in your legs, cause numbness or pins and needles and decrease your sensitivity to touch, vibration or pain. It can also cause confusion, depression, poor concentration and forgetfulness.
“These symptoms aren’t always due to vitamin B12-deficiency anaemia, but if you have them see your GP.”
Treatment of vitamin B12 deficiency
If a person isn’t getting enough vitamin B12 from their diet they may be advised by a GP to eat more foods fortified with vitamin B12 or to take regular supplements.
Vitamin B12 injections may also be recommended, and for those with pernicious anaemia, injections may be required for the rest of their lives.
Experts say adults aged 19 to 64 require around 1.5 micrograms (mg) a day of vitamin B12, and unless you have pernicious anaemia, you should be able to get this through your diet.
If vitamin B12 deficiency is triggered by not including enough B12 foods in the diet, Harvard Health Publishing, part of Harvard Medical School, offers the “A list of B12 foods” on its website.
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