It is estimated that as much as 40% of the general population suffers from vitamin B12 deficiency. That number may be even higher, as the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are often mistaken for other illnesses. Vitamin B12 is essential to maintaining a healthy body. It helps to regulate metabolism, and is vital to the production of red blood cells which carry oxygen through the bloodstream to the body’s tissues and organs. Vitamin B12 is also required for the proper functioning of the brain and central nervous system. B12 deficiency often goes undiagnosed, and many people suffer chronic symptoms without ever realizing the true cause. Fortunately, these symptoms can be alleviated with a few changes in diet, and the use of vitamin supplements.
What Causes B12 Deficiency?
Decreased levels of vitamin B12 can have a number of different causes, chief among them poor nutrition. But there are also a variety of health conditions which inhibit the body’s absorption of B12. Autoimmune disorders such as Grave’s disease and Lupus can restrict the body’s ability to absorb B12, as can certain intestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease and celiac disease. People who consume large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis are also highly prone to developing a B12 deficiency.
Common Symptoms of B12 Deficiency
One of the reasons that vitamin B12 deficiency is so often misdiagnosed, is that the symptoms are common to a wide range of other disorders. A mild deficiency may not manifest any symptoms, but as the problem worsens the following symptoms may begin to appear:
- fatigue and muscle weakness
- light headedness
- rapid or irregular heartbeat
- bleeding gums, slow healing wounds and an over susceptibility to bruising
- irregular bowel movements and unexpected weight loss
In extreme cases, where the B12 deficiency has gone unchecked, nerve cells within the body can be damaged resulting in more severe symptoms including:
- tingling or numbness in the extremities
- depression and sudden mood swings
- memory loss and mental disorientation
As you can see, all of these symptoms are easily attributable to other common illnesses. It is not unusual for a patient to be under treatment for one disease, when in fact they have been suffering from a simple deficiency of B12.
Treating Vitamin B12 deficiency
Fortunately, correcting a vitamin B12 deficiency isn’t difficult. Depending on the underlying cause of the deficiency, it can generally be treated through diet and supplements. For those who don’t get the recommended daily allowance of B12 from their diet, B12 can be taken in the form of tablets, slow release patches, or sub-lingual drops.
In extreme cases, where the deficiency is caused by disease, regular intramuscular B12 injections may be necessary. These are available by prescription only, and like insulin can be administered at home by the patient.
The Health Benefits of B12
We have seen that the symptoms of B12 deficiency can be far reaching, and in some cases particularly intense. Left unchecked, a B12 deficiency can lead to a host of more serious conditions. Maintaining healthy levels of B12 can reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering the homocysteine in the blood. Homocysteine is an amino acid that has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease in otherwise healthy individuals. A healthy B12 level also reduces the risk for certain cancers. B12 deficiency has been linked to abnormal cell growth in women diagnosed with cervical cancer and cancer of the uterus. More recent studies have also drawn a direct correlation between extended vitamin B12 deficiency and the early onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Vitamin B12 is essential for maintaining the total health of the body, and a prolonged deficiency can lead to a wide range of disorders. Fortunately, as common as this deficiency has become, it can be easily treated. If you think you may be suffering from a B12 deficiency, speak to your holistic healthcare provider for help devising a treatment plan to put your health back on track.