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Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Symptoms and Treatment

Wednesday, 14 Dec 2011 06:53 PM


Vitamin B12 benefits are many. It is used to treat anemia, an iron deficiency that can cause fatigue, dizziness and irritability. Vitamin B12 is used to boost mood, memory, energy levels, and the immune system. It is also used for heart disease, diabetes, age-related macular degeneration, skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, and much more.

Almost everyone has heard of this hardworking vitamin. It is important in so many ways because it helps create red blood cells, which carry oxygen to organs throughout the body. Without it, we could not function.

You may be most familiar with B12’s supplement form – but did you know the vitamin can also be applied to the skin in gel form, or taken as a prescribed vitamin B12 shot or nasal spray? Some evidence suggests that vitamin B12 shots, given twice a week, improve symptoms of fatigue in some patients. How well a person absorbs vitamin B12 will determine its most beneficial form.

Looking for vitamin B12 benefits in your food? The vitamin is naturally found in a variety of animal products. Most people get adequate amounts by consuming fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. The nutrient is bound to the protein in foods, and becomes separated from it during digestion so that it can be absorbed into the body. The liver can store unused B12 for years.

Usually, though, vitamin B12 deficiency results from the body’s inability to absorb the nutrient.

SIGNS & SYMPTOMS

Vitamin B12 deficiency is common: it affects up to 15 percent of the U.S. population, according to the National Institutes of Health.

A simple blood test at the doctor’s office can identify whether a person has a vitamin B12 deficiency: just look for test results with values below 170 to 250 pg/mL for adults.

The most common symptom of people with vitamin B12 deficiency is fatigue. Additional signs and symptoms include low blood pressure, muscle weakness, an unsteady gait, vision problems, constipation, incontinence, loss of weight and appetite, and numbness or tingling in the hands and feet.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause neurological or psychiatric symptoms such as dementia or mood disturbances.

WHO’S AT RISK?

The risk factors for a vitamin B12 deficiency are varied and include:

• Age. It is estimated that 10 to 30 percent of adults over the age of 50 do not adequately absorb vitamin B12. Older adults typically produce less stomach acid to aid digestion, thus resulting in less available B12 and a likely vitamin B12 deficiency.
• Anemia. People with chronic anemia cannot properly absorb the nutrient. In order to get vitamin B12 benefits, people with anemia are usually treated with vitamin B12 shots.
• Medicine interactions. Certain medications can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12. These include diabetes treatments (e.g., Metformin), antibiotics, and seizure medications. Prolonged use of antacids – such as proton pump inhibitors (e.g., Prilosec, Prevacid) and H2 receptor antagonists (e.g., Tagamet, Pepcid, Zantac) – reduce levels of stomach acid, interfering with the body’s ability to break down and absorb the nutrient.
• Vegans or vegetarians. People who do not consume animal products are likely not consuming adequate amounts of vitamin B12.
• Breastfed infants. If mothers who are breastfeeding do not get enough vitamin B12, insufficient levels of the nutrient will be passed along in breast milk to their infants, possibly leading to a vitamin B12 deficiency.

However, in many cases of vitamin B12 deficiency, the exact cause is unknown.

The federal government’s recommended dietary allowance of vitamin B12 is 2.4 micrograms (mcg) for men and women over the age of 14 years. Here is how much vitamin B12 benefits are contained in some common foods:

1 slice beef liver, braised 48.0 mcg
3 ounces salmon 4.8 mcg
Double cheeseburger 2.1 mcg
1 cup yogurt 1.4 mcg
3 ounces top sirloin, broiled 1.4 mcg
3 ounces tuna 1.0 mcg
1 cup milk 0.9 mcg
1 egg 0.6 mcg
½ breast of roasted chicken 0.3 mcg

In addition, many breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin B12.

While vitamin B12 benefits are apparent for almost every task we do, the vitamin does come with its own side effects. Possible side effects include diarrhea, blood clots, and itching. In addition, people who are allergic to cobalt, cobalamin or other vitamin B12 supplement ingredients should consult their doctor before taking vitamin B12 supplements.

Anyone considering taking vitamin B12 supplements or getting vitamin B12 shots, gel, or nasal spray should have their doctor first run a blood test to check their nutrient blood levels. Those results, and other health considerations will help determine the best delivery method to help correct a vitamin B12 deficiency.


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