Vitamin B12 deficiency: A lack of the vitamin can cause these unsettling complications

Vitamin B12 plays is needed to form red blood cells and DNA. It also plays an essential role in the function and development of brain and nerve cells. Complications can occasionally develop as a result of a vitamin B12 deficiency, particularly if a person has been deficient in either vitamin for some time. A number of complications relate to the nervous system.

A lack of vitamin B12 can cause neurological problems


According to the NHS, a lack of vitamin B12 can cause neurological problems, which affect a person’s nervous system.

These include:

  • Vision problems
  • Memory loss
  • Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
  • Loss of physical co-ordination (ataxia), which can affect a person’s whole body and cause difficulty speaking or walking
  • Damage to parts of the nervous system (peripheral neuropathy), particularly in the legs

“If neurological problems do develop, they may be irreversible,” warned the NHS.

Other complications may include:

  • Infertility
  • Stomach cancer
  • Neural tube defects

It is vital to recognise the warning signs to treat a vitamin B12 deficiency before complications develop.

Symptoms can include:

  • A pale yellow tinge to your skin
  • A sore and red tongue (glossitis)
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
  • Changes in the way that a person walks and moves around
  • Disturbed vision
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Changes in the way a person thinks, feels and behaves
  • A decline in a person’s mental abilities, such as memory, understanding and judgement (dementia)

A certain sleeping pattern may signal a vitamin B12 deficiency too. 

Who is at risk?

People following a vegetarian diet run a greater risk of running a vitamin B12 deficiency.

As Harvard Health explained: “Plants don’t make vitamin B12. The only foods that deliver it are meat, eggs, poultry, dairy products, and other foods from animals.

“Strict vegetarians and vegans are at high risk for developing a B12 deficiency if they don’t eat grains that have been fortified with the vitamin or take a vitamin supplement.”

Conditions that interfere with nutrient absorption, such celiac or Crohn’s disease, can also hike the risk of a B12 deficiency, explains the health site.

Some types of medicine can lead to a reduction in the amount of vitamin B12 in a person’s body, notes the NHS.

“For example, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), a medicine sometimes used to treat indigestion, can make a vitamin B12 deficiency worse,” it added.

How to treat a vitamin B12 deficiency

Injections and supplements are the main forms of treatment.

There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:

  • Hydroxocobalamin
  • Cyanocobalamin

In some cases, a person may be able to top up vitamin B12 by eating certain foods.

Good sources of vitamin B12 include:

  • Meat
  • Salmon and cod
  • Milk and other dairy products
  • Eggs

People following a vegan or vegetarian diet should opt for breads, cereals, or other grains that have been fortified with vitamin B12, according to Harvard Health.

Yeast extract (including Marmite) and soy products are great alternatives to meat and dairy products, noted the NHS.

“Check the nutrition labels while food shopping to see how much vitamin B12 different foods contain,” it added.

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