Vitamin B12: What you need to know

Vitamin B12 and folate is an important nutrient that performs several important functions in the body, including keeping the nervous system healthy.

The deficiency of Vitamin B12 causes anaemia, a general condition that cause wide range of problems.

In this blog article, let’s understand the importance of Vitamin B12, functions, symptoms and its sources.

Role of Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells.

The deficiency of Vitamin B12 causes Anaemia, a condition which causes having either fewer red blood cells than normal or having an abnormally low amount of haemoglobin in each red blood cell. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia that makes people tired and weak.

However, there are several different types of anaemia and each one has a different cause. For example, iron deficiency anaemia happens when the body does not contain enough iron.

Symptoms of vitamin B12 or folate deficiency

Vitamin B12 and folate perform several important functions in the body, including keeping the nervous system healthy.

A deficiency in either of these vitamins can cause a wide range of problems, including:

  • extreme tiredness
  • a lack of energy
  • mouth ulcers
  • muscle weakness
  • disturbed vision
  • psychological problems, which may include depression and confusion 
  • problems with memory, understanding and judgement

Some of these problems can also happen if you have a deficiency in vitamin B12 or folate but do not have anaemia.

Causes of a vitamin B12 or folate deficiency

There are a number of problems that can lead to a vitamin B12 or folate deficiency, including:

  • Pernicious anaemia – In this type of anaemia, your immune system attacks healthy cells in your stomach, preventing your body absorbing vitamin B12 from the food you eat.
  • A lack of these vitamins in your diet –Vitamin B12 is generally found in every food we eat and so this is uncommon unless you have a vegan diet, follow a fad diet or have a generally poor diet for a long time
  • Medicine – certain medicines, including anticonvulsants and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), can affect how much of these vitamins your body absorbs

Both vitamin B12 deficiency and folate deficiency are more common in older people, affecting around 1 in 10 people aged 75 or over and 1 in 20 people aged 65 to 74.

Complications of vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia

Although it’s uncommon, vitamin B12 or folate deficiency (with or without anaemia) can lead to complications, particularly if you have been deficient in vitamin B12 or folate for some time.

Potential complications can include:

  • problems with the nervous system
  • temporary infertility
  • heart conditions
  • pregnancy complications and birth defects

Adults with severe anaemia are also at risk of developing heart failure.

Some complications improve with appropriate treatment, but others, such as problems with the nervous system, can be permanent.

Early detection is important

Most cases of vitamin B12 and folate deficiency can be easily treated with injections or tablets to replace the missing vitamins.

Vitamin B12 supplements are usually given by injection at first.Then, depending on whether your B12 deficiency is related to your diet, you’ll either require B12 tablets between meals or regular injections.These treatments may be needed for the rest of your life.

Sources of Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, yeast extract (such as Marmite) and specially fortified foods. However, the best sources of folate include green vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and peas.

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