Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause pernicious anemia – what is that?

Vitamin B12 is needed to help make healthy blood cells. When the body doesn’t get enough of the vitamin, pernicious anemia can result. What is this condition?

The National Organisation for Rare Disorders characterises pernicious anemia as “the inability of the body to utilise vitamin B12”.

Vitamin B12 is essential for the development of red blood cells.

The majority of cases of pernicious anemia is due to an absence of a protein called intrinsic factor. Without this protein, vitamin B12 can’t be absorbed.


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Intrinsic factor is produced in the cells of the stomach.

The absence of intrinsic factor is considered to be an autoimmune disorder.

This is because the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that create an intrinsic factor in the stomach.

A healthy individual, who has an intrinsic factor, ingests vitamin B12 – from foods, such as chicken and eggs – which then combines with the intrinsic factor.

Conjoined, the protein and vitamin travel to the last part of the small intestine where it is then absorbed.

Without enough vitamin B12, the body will produce abnormally large red blood cells.

These are called marocytes. Due to their size, they may not be able to leave the bone marrow – where red blood cells are created.

As a result, less red blood cells travel throughout the bloodstream delivering oxygen to other organs.

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Understandably, this leads to muscle weakness and fatigue.

Other symptoms of pernicious anemia can include an upset stomach and a rapid heart beat (achycardia).

Although a rare disease, it’s easily treatable with B12 injections or adding B12 supplements into the diet.

Certain individuals are more prone to developing the autoimmune disease.


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For instance, people of Northern Europe to Scandinavian descent are more prone to the condition.

Other risk factors include being a strict vegan and not taking any B12 supplements.

This is because vitamin B12 is found in meat, poultry and dairy – or foods fortified with vitamin B12.

The condition is also more common in those who have had part of their stomach or intestines removed.

Already having an autoimmune disorder, such as Crohn’s disease, also makes it more likely you would develop pernicious anemia. So does having a family member who has the disease.

Additionally, the condition is more prevalent in people over the age of 60.

There is a blood test that can determine whether or not you have intrinsic factors.

This can be arranged with a healthcare practitioner from your GP surgery.

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