Humans need 13 different vitamins to sustain life and health. If we do not take in enough of a particular vitamin our bodily supplies decrease and a deficiency ensues. Of the 13 vitamins our bodies need, one is B12. It is unique because it is the only vitamin that cannot be obtained from plants or sunlight (as plants dont need B12, so do not produce or store it), it is produced by bacteria in the gut of animals and absorbed in the small intestine. Therefore to obtain B12 from the diet you need to eat animal products- meat, fish or dairy products. However even a diet high in these foods may not supply enough B12. In fact it is remarkably easy to become deficient in B12 as many people can neither absorb nor use B12. Vegans and vegetarians are particularly prone to deficiency. The route that B12 takes from the mouth to the blood is complex and there can be problems at any point.It contributes to normal functioning of the immune system
There is no one particular symptom that suggests a B12 deficiency. Symptoms may depend on the age and genetic disposition of the individual, and also the length and severity of deficiency. Because Vitamin B12 has so many functions, including the health of nerves, brain, blood and immune system, as well as the formation of DNA, B12 deficiency can impair functioning in almost any part of the body. The following signs and symptoms are common symptoms of B12 deficiency but can also arise from other causes.
Mental changes include irritability, apathy, sleepiness, paranoia, personality changes, depression, memory loss, dementia, hallucinations, violent behaviour and in children developmental delay and/or autistic behaviour.
Neurological signs and symptoms include pain, tingling or numbness, decreased sense of touch, pain or temperature, weakness, loss of awareness of body position, clumsiness, tremor, symptoms mimicking Parkinsos disease or multiple sclerosis, spastic muscles, incontinence, paralysis, visual changes and damage to the optic nerve.
Vascular changes include, transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs or mini strokes), CVA or stroke, coronary artery disease, heart attack, congestive heart failure, palpitations, low blood pressure when standing causing fainting, deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in the arm or leg) and pulmonary embolism.
Other signs and symptoms may include shortness of breath, generalized weakness, chronic fatigue or tiredness, loss of appetite and weight loss, epigastric pain (poor digestion, full or bloated feeling after eating normal or small meals), diarrhoea or constipation, increased susceptibility to infection, poor wound healing, failure of new born to thrive, tinnitus, vitiligo (white patches of skin), or hyperpigmentation, premature grey hair and impotence.
People at greatest risk of B12 deficiency
Anybody at any age can become deficient but people may be at an increased risk if they are: