The ‘common’ vitamin deficiency that could damage your arteries

Dr Dawn Harper on signs of vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency

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Putting too much pressure on your artery health could increase your risk of cardiovascular problems. While high cholesterol is the number one cause for the hardening of arteries, new research has identified another possible trigger – vitamin B12 deficiency.

“Common” in older people, vitamin B12 deficiency crops up when a lack of the essential vitamin causes your body to produce abnormally large red blood cells that can’t function properly, according to the NHS. From disturbed vision to problems with memory, the lack of B12 can stir up various complications. Now, a new study has added artery damage to this list.

Whether you don’t get enough vitamin B12 from your diet or suffer from a condition that makes you more prone to the culprit, there are various triggers for the deficiency.

The NHS warns it’s crucial to replenish low levels as soon as possible to avoid “irreversible” damage.

A new study, published in the journal Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, has identified another tricky outcome of low levels of B12.

The research team has warned that a lack of vitamins B12, B6 and B9 could promote atherosclerosis.

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Considered “potentially serious”, atherosclerosis details arteries becoming clogged with fatty substances called plaques.

However, this gloomy process doesn’t end with this accumulation as your arteries also harden and narrow over time.

This constricts the artery and leads to a restricted blood flow and oxygen supply to vital organs in your body.

This is a recipe for blood clots that could block the blood flow to your heart or brain, the NHS explains.

While high cholesterol is the main culprit responsible for this artery damage, the researchers noticed that low levels of B vitamins might also play a role.

Vitamins B12, B6 and B9 are necessary to break down amino acid called homocysteine to create other chemicals your body needs.

Although high levels of homocysteine could be an indicator that you have a vitamin deficiency, having too much of this amino acid in your blood can also boost your risk of cardiovascular disease, strokes and blood clots.

This means that low levels of B vitamins, needed for homocysteine degradation, could lead to artery damage.

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The research team has used animal models with arterial wall injury to explore this link.

The findings suggest that vitamin B12 deficiency could compromise your artery health as well as aggravate atherosclerosis development even in the absence of high cholesterol levels.

While the researchers added that they can’t draw a conclusion on whether the lack of B vitamins is definitely to blame, vitamin deficiency did “markedly” increase the risk in the study.

How to spot vitamin B12 deficiency?

Fortunately, the lack of B12 causes a wide range of problems, making the condition easier to spot if you know what to look for.

According to the NHS, the full list of tell-tale signs includes:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Lack of energy
  • Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
  • Sore and red tongue
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Muscle weakness
  • Disturbed vision
  • Psychological problems, which may include depression and confusion
  • Problems with memory, understanding and judgement.

The health service recommends seeing a GP if you think you might have a vitamin B12 deficiency.

It adds: “It’s important for vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

“This is because although many of the symptoms improve with treatment, some problems caused by the condition can be irreversible.”

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