There are many health-related symptoms from a vitamin B12 shortage that can come on fairly quickly and ruin your day and perhaps even your week, such as unexplained tiredness, weakness, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, constipation, loss of appetite, and a host of other conditions that can range from annoying to borderline debilitating. Part of the agony of living through such circumstances is not knowing what is wrong with you and what's causing the problem. There might be good news that comes out of this, however, and that often is in finding out that all you have is a vitamin B12 deficiency that can be fairly easily remedied.
Vitamin B12 SourcesPer National Institutes of Health (NIH), vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps regulate the health of your body's nerves and blood cells. We get B12 mostly from the foods that we eat, with this important nutrient found naturally in a variety of animal foods, such as beef and chicken, although it won't be found in plant-based foods unless they have been fortified manually with B12. Vegetarians and vegans often run a high risk of not getting enough B12 from their diet. Other foods that are rich sources of vitamin B12 include beef liver and clams, as well as fish, poultry, eggs, milk and some other dairy products, as well as breakfast cereals, nutritional yeasts, and other food fortified with B12.
Vitamin B12's ImportanceVitamin B12 plays such an important, vastly multifaceted role in our health such that when we don't have enough of it in our bodies, a whole lot of things can go wrong, as described above. Consider this: your body needs vitamin B12 to manufacture red blood cells, nerves, DNA, and perform other equally important tasks, per health.harvard.edu. The Harvard website mentions the case study of a man, age 62, who over two months started experiencing a pins and needles feeling in his hands, started having trouble walking, experienced significant joint pain, began turning yellow, and grew short of breath. Tests eventually showed a shortage of vitamin B12 in his bloodstream. Thankfully, health professionals caught the problem before he developed worse conditions that in cases of extreme B12 shortage can include severe depression, paranoia and delusions, memory loss, incontinence, and other conditions, per health.harvard.edu.
Diagnosing and Treating a B12 DeficiencyIf you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms – and other signs can include anemia and a swollen and inflamed tongue – it's time to see your doctor. A blood test is what it usually takes to identify a vitamin B12 deficiency, following a consultation with and examination by your doctor. Two common ways of correcting a vitamin B12 deficiency is by boosting its levels within your body; this can be done either via weekly B12 shots or daily high-dose B12 pills. If it's a mild deficiency, starting use of a typical daily multivitamin can help.
Vitamin B12's Other BenefitsBefore you target vitamin B12 as part of a new program or dietary plan for yourself, however, be sure to first discuss this with your physician or a licensed nutritionist or dietitian. With that in mind, here are some other purported benefits of vitamin B12:
- Bolster energy. As a water-soluble vitamin, per besthealthmag.ca, vitamin B12's role in forming red blood cells helps in fending off a form of anemia characterized by weakness and fatigue.
- Heart health. More research needs to be done in this area, but B12 as well as other B vitamins have shown an ability to collaborate in helping to reduce homocysteine, a protein that can build up in your blood and damage arterial walls, per besthealthmag.ca.
- Nervous system. Vitamin B12 has been shown to play a part in manufacturing myelin, which is the fatty sheath that encompasses and protects your nerves.
- Gut health. It takes more than just sufficient fiber and water to produce healthy bowel movements – a lack of vitamin B12 can be associated with constipation, diarrhea, appetite loss, and weight loss, per besthealthmag.ca. Crohn's disease can be related to a B12 deficiency.