life & style What causes vitamin B12 deficiency and how can it be treated?.
DR CATHY STEPHENSON Last updated 05:00, January 5 2017 Vegans and vegetarians are at risk of developing a B12 deficiency as the vitamin is only found in non-plant foods such as fish, meat and dairy products. Over the last 12 months, I have seen an increasing number of patients with vitamin B12 deficiency. I'm not certain whether this is due to current dietary trends or whether I am just more aware of it than I have been previously, and hence perhaps testing for it more often. Although not as common as iron deficiency, a lack of B12 can lead to anaemia, as well as more serious problems such as nerve damage, so it is definitely worth picking up and rectifying as early as possible. B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that is stored in the liver. If stores are adequate, they can sustain normal function of B12 in the body for many months, maybe even years – but once stores are depleted, building them up again by diet alone is a long and very gradual process. READ MORE:
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* B12 linked to Alzheimer's B12 is essential for DNA synthesis, red blood cell metabolism and maintenance of the central nervous system. Without enough B12, anaemia will eventually develop – this is when the body doesn't have either enough red blood cells in number to carry oxygen effectively around the body, or enough haemoglobin within each red blood cell to transport the oxygen. In severe cases, deficiency of B12 will also start to impact on the nervous system, leading to nerve problems and psychological issues. Symptoms associated with B12 deficiency include: * Fatigue. * Shortness of breath. * Faintness. * Palpitations. * Headache. * Smooth or sore tongue. * Unusual neurological symptoms, including numbness, visual disturbance, sensory changes (especially in the hands and feet, a condition known as peripheral neuropathy). * Psychiatric symptoms including depression, paranoia, confusion and delirium – these usually only occur in severe, untreated cases. * In the past, B12 deficiency was fatal within 3-5 years, so detecting and treating it early is important. In terms of dietary intake, vitamin B12 is only found in "non-plant" foods – so eggs, fish, shellfish, meat and all dairy products. This means that if you have a balanced diet, with either fish or meat as your protein source, you should have adequate intake of B12 – but vegans, vegetarians who don't eat a lot of dairy, or people with sparse diets (for example, very elderly or frail people) are definitely at risk. The other group who can suffer from low dietary intake of B12 are babies who are solely breast-feeding from vegan mothers. Some foods are now supplemented with B12, so if you are concerned your diet may be a little lacking, you can look to fortified bread or cereal to top up your levels.
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