Vitamin B12 is necessary for the formation of the healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen to your body tissues. This vitamin, also known as cobalamin, is also important in making DNA. Additionally, vitamin B12 is critical in forming nerves and maintaining a healthy nervous system. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin B12 is 2.4 micrograms a day for the average adult. Vitamin B12 is found mainly in animal products such as meat and dairy items, so vegans are particularly at risk of a lack of B12 in their diet. Symptoms of B12 deficiency can be difficult to distinguish from other ailments, but here are some signs to watch for if you think you may be at risk.
12. Numbness or Tingling in Hands or Feet
Numbness or the feeling of “pins and needles” in your hands or feet can be a sign of vitamin B12 deficiency. A lack of vitamin B12 means the body is not able to produce the red blood cells your body needs. As the oxygen supply to your extremities decreases, you may begin to notice numbness or tingling. Since the myelin sheath that surrounds your nerve cells also relies on vitamin B12, loss of myelin could also contribute to that tingling sensation.
A lack of vitamin B12 can lead to low blood pressure. If you notice frequent dizziness or loss of balance, this may be a sign of low blood pressure. Foods that are rich in vitamin B12 include beef liver, clams, fortified cereals, and nutritional yeast. If you have been experiencing dizziness, and your diet has been lacking in foods like these, visit your doctor for a blood test. If you suffer from a B12 deficiency, your doctor may recommend vitamin B12 injections.
If you discover that muscle weakness is keeping you from being able to perform ordinary tasks, you may have a vitamin B12 deficiency. When the body is unable to keep up with normal red blood cell production, muscles aren’t able to receive the oxygen they need. This leads to weakness and difficulty performing normal daily activities.
9. Gastrointestinal Issues
Your gastrointestinal tract can be another victim of vitamin B12 deficiency. Problems with digestion such as nausea, diarrhea, decreased appetite, and bloating can all arise from a lack of vitamin B12. This in turn can lead to weight loss. Visit your doctor if you suspect vitamin B12 deficiency may be the cause of your digestive woes.
8. Blurry Vision
Vitamin B12 is an important factor in the formation of nerves. If you are experiencing unexplained blurred vision or double vision, you may be suffering damage to your optic nerve. This nerve transmits signals to your brain from your retina. If this nerve becomes weakened, you can suffer vision problems. Vitamin B12 injections can improve vision in these cases.
7. Swollen, Tender Tongue
If you’ve noticed your tongue has become swollen, red and tender, you may have an early warning sign of vitamin B12 deficiency. Glossitis is the term for an inflamed tongue. Your tongue may appear smooth as it swells, and your papillae (the bumps that contain your taste buds) may become stretched. Difficulty eating and the loss of taste can lead to inadequate nutrition. In addition, you may suffer from mouth ulcers, numbness, tingling, or a burning sensation in the mouth.
If you notice constant fatigue even when you have not been exerting yourself, vitamin B12 deficiency could be the culprit. Since vitamin B12 is instrumental in oxygenating the body, a lack of B12 means your organs are not receiving the oxygen they need. This can be a sign of pernicious anemia. Pernicious anemia occurs when the body is unable to absorb the vitamin B12 your body needs in order to form red blood cells. This could be due to a lack of intrinsic factor, a protein that aids in the absorption of vitamin B12.
5. Trouble Walking
Unexplained changes in balance and coordination can be a sign of vitamin B12 deficiency. It’s always a good idea to seek medical advice if you suddenly have a loss of balance or motor control. This may be due to vitamin B12 deficiency if you have a strictly vegan diet. Likewise, if you have had weight loss surgery, your body’s ability to absorb nutrients can be altered.
4. Memory Loss
We all have moments when we forget where we parked our car in a crowded parking lot. Likewise, we may walk into a room and forget what we came for. But if you find yourself battling these memory lapses on a more frequent basis, B12 deficiency may be responsible. Short-term memory loss due to vitamin B12 deficiency can be reversed with treatment. It is good to get your B12 levels checked, as B12 deficiency can be linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Normal lab values for vitamin B12 are 160-950 pg/ml.
Vitamin B12 is one of several nutrients important for good mental health. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, nuts, and seeds, as well as the phospholipids found in egg yolks and dairy products, are linked to good mental health. Vitamin B12 joins niacin, folate, and vitamin B6 on the list of nutrients good for a healthy mind and body. If your diet is low in vitamin B12-containing foods and you find yourself feeling inexplicably blue, vitamin deficiency may be the cause.
2. Pale or Yellow Skin
Pale or yellow skin can also be a signal your body is low in vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, which means your body can store it up for future use. These reserves are used if your diet is lacking in vitamin B12, and eventually your stores can run out. Without vitamin B12, new red blood cells cannot form. When your body’s red blood cells become weak, they break down into bilirubin. Increased levels of bilirubin can turn your skin and even the whites of your eyes a yellowish hue.
1. Shortness of Breath
A lack of vitamin B12 results in the body’s inability to transport oxygen to the organs that need it. This can leave you short of breath, even with relatively little exertion. If you are plagued by breathlessness and find yourself huffing and puffing during everyday activities, visit your physician to see if vitamin B12 deficiency could be the cause.