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 body absorbs B12 by eating food but certain underlying conditions can inhibit your dietary intake of B12. The most common culprit in the UK is pernicious anaemia.
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Pernicious anaemia is an autoimmune disease that prevents the body from making intrinsic factor (a protein made by the stomach and needed to absorb vitamin B12 in the intestine).
Thwarting this vital process, pernicious anaemia often leads to B12 deficiency.
B12 deficiency can have wide-ranging effects on your body and some of the most distinct are neurological symptoms.
One way to spot B12 deficiency caused by anaemia is in the shower.
According to the Pernicious Anaemia Society, B12 deficiency caused by pernicious anaemia can cause a general unsteadiness.
This can make daily activities precarious.
You may find yourself holding on to something whilst showering, for example.
Another sign you have B12-induced balance problems is an inability to stand up straight with closed eyes or when it is dark, says PAS.
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Other neurological symptoms include:
- Balance Problems
- Dizziness/Feeling Faint
- Numbness/Tingling/Pins and Needles
- Burning Legs and/or Feet
- Neuropathic Pain/Fibromyalgia
- Sensory Impairment
When to see a doctor
You should see a GP if you’re experiencing symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Although many of the symptoms improve with treatment, some neurological problems caused by the condition can be irreversible if left untreated, the health body warns.
“The longer the condition goes untreated, the higher the chance of permanent damage,” it adds.
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How to treat B12 deficiency caused by pernicious anaemia
Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia is usually treated with injections of vitamin B12.
There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:
According to the NHS, if your vitamin B12 deficiency is caused by a lack of the vitamin in your diet, you may be prescribed vitamin B12 tablets to take every day between meals.
“People who find it difficult to get enough vitamin B12 in their diets, such as those following a vegan diet, may need vitamin B12 tablets for life,” notes the health site.
Why do vegans struggle to get enough B12 in their diet?
B12 is mainly found in animal and dairy products, such as meat and milk.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, or are looking for alternatives to meat and dairy products, there are other foods that contain vitamin B12, however.
B12 can also be found in yeast extract (including Marmite), as well as some fortified breakfast cereals and soy products, explains the NHS.
“Check the nutrition labels while food shopping to see how much vitamin B12 different foods contain,” it advises.
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