Dr Dawn Harper on signs of vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency
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Vitamin B12 supports many important functions in the body, such as the nervous system and making red blood cells. Stripped of this vitamin, the body therefore starts to malfunction in insidious ways. A case study published in the journal BMC Research Notes charts one woman’s decline from B12 deficiency over five years.
A 28 year-old sub-Saharan female initially complained of “intermittent burning sensations” on the shoulder and chest.
Along with burning, the woman described the sensations as “painful”.
These symptoms progressed to numbness and pins and needles of the upper and lower limbs respectively.
These were associated with mild weakness of the hands and feet, insomnia, irritability and constipation.
Before presenting to the clinic, the woman had consulted in numerous health institutions for which she had been treated for diverse pathologies with no “relief of symptoms”.
Further complicating the picture was her health-conscious lifestyle: she neither smoked cigarettes nor consumed alcohol.
To make matters more confusing, the case report revealed she ate meat regularly – on a weekly basis.
This rules out the possibility that her B12 deficiency was a result of her diet: the vitamin is mainly found in animal-based products.
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Nonetheless, after clinical and laboratory evaluation, a diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency-associated neuropathy was made.
Neuropathy is damage or dysfunction of one or more nerves that typically results in numbness, tingling, muscle weakness and pain in the extremities.
It’s a complication of B12 deficiency because the vitamin plays a key role in supporting the nervous system.
The woman was placed on oral vitamin B12 supplements at 2 mg daily for three months.
Follow up was marked by “good clinical recovery” after one month of therapy, the case report stated.
What could have been the cause?
With diet ruled out, the probable cause of the woman’s decline was pernicious anaemia, the researchers said.
Pernicious anaemia is the most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency in the UK.
It’s an autoimmune condition whereby your immune system attacks the cells in your stomach that produce intrinsic factor – a protein which helps your body to absorb vitamin B12.
How to treat B12 deficiency
The treatment for vitamin B12 deficiency depends on what’s causing the condition.
Most people can be easily treated with injections or tablets to replace the missing vitamins.
There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:
“If your vitamin B12 deficiency is caused by a lack of the vitamin in your diet, you may be prescribed vitamin B12 tablets to take every day between meals,” adds the NHS.
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