Vitamin B12 deficiency has become a common health issue in India and around the globe. Reports suggest at least 47% of the Indian population suffers from low B12 levels in the body and only 26% of the population may be vitamin B12 sufficient.

The staggering data not only indicates the prevalence of vitamin B12 deficiency in the Indian population, but also urges people to be more aware about this deficiency that can cause ‘irreversible’ damage in the long run. Besides being responsible for creating red blood cells and DNA in the body, it also helps strengthen the brain and nerve cells.

That said, it is necessary to diagnose B12 deficiency early and to treat it effectively.

What is vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 helps your body keep your nerve cells and blood cells healthy. It also helps your body make DNA. Your body does not make vitamin B12 on its own, so you have to consume it through food and drinks. Vitamin B12 is found in animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs. It can also be found in fortified foods such as certain cereals, bread and nutritional yeast.

Warning signs to note

Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause several health issues ranging from skin problems, poor eye health and neurological issues. Therefore, it is important to keep a tab of all the symptoms that can indicate the illness. The UK’s National Health Services (NHS) lists down certain symptoms associated with this nutrient deficiency.

– A pale yellow tinge to your skin.

– A sore and red tongue (glossitis)

– A mouth ulcers

– Changes in the way that you walk and move around.

– Disturbed vision

– Irritability and depression

While anyone can develop vitamin B12 deficiency at any age, people who are 60 years old or older are more likely to have vitamin B12 deficiency compared to other age groups, as per the Cleveland Clinic.

In addition, people who are vegan or strict vegetarian may also find it difficult to get enough of vitamin B12 since most of the food sources include animal products.

Body parts that can signal low levels of vitamin B12

The NHS has warned against symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency that may arise in four parts of the body, which are hands, arms, legs, or feet. According to the health body, people deficient in this vitamin may experience a “strange” sensation in these four areas of the body. The term used to define it is called ‘paraesthesia’ or pins and needles.

However, experiencing pins and needles does not necessarily mean you are deficient of vitamin B12. It could be due to several other conditions including pressure on the nerves, pinched nerves, nerve disease, reduced blood supply, hyperventilation, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, hyperthyroidism and more. It is therefore important that you get yourself tested to confirm your diagnosis

Pins and needles can be a telling sign

Paresthesia or pins and needles feels like a burning or prickling sensation that usually occurs in the hands, arms, legs, or feet, but can also occur in other parts of the body. These are usually painless and arise suddenly, without a warning. “It happens when the blood supply to the nerves is cut off,” the NHS explains. This is usually when you sit or sleep on part of your body,” the health body adds.

This sensation usually lasts for a few minutes and stops when you lift the weight off of the affected body part. It is because it allows the blood flow to resume. Apart from vitamin deficiencies, many other health conditions can cause pins and needles in the body.

Diabetes is one of the primary reasons behind it. It is commonly associated with peripheral neuropathy, which gives light to tingling and other symptoms that often develop in both feet and go up the legs and can spread to both hands and go up the arms. Systemic diseases like kidney disorders, liver disease, vascular damage and blood diseases can also cause tingling in the body.

If you’re an alcoholic, or follow a poort dietary habit, pins and needles is one of the common symptoms that indicate nerve damage.

Your tongue may also be affected

Vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause oral problems, leading to mouth ulcers, sores, tongue swelling and redness. Glossitis or red and sore tongue is one of the tell-tale signs of B12 deficiency. According to WebMD, a glossitis is characterised by tiny bumps on your tongue (papillae) that can start to wear away.

Why this happens? Because vitamin B12 deficiency can produce abnormally large amounts of red blood cells that don’t function correctly, resulting in anaemia. Hence, these invite a host of symptoms, including mouth ulcers.

It is important to note that glossitis can occur due to other conditions too. These include: allergic reactions, dry mouth due to Sjögren syndrome, infection from bacteria, yeast or viruses, certain sexually transmitted diseases, injury, skin conditions that affect mouth and more.

Vitamin B12 deficiency and the brain

Studies have linked vitamin B12 deficiency is linked to impaired cognition and memory along with a sensation of tingling and numbness. This is said to be a consequence of poor myelination, the process important for the healthy functioning of the central nervous system.

Therefore, low levels of vitamin B12 can lead to irritability, changes in personality, depression, and memory loss.

What to know about vitamin B12 deficiency anemia?

According to the NHS, vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia occurs when a lack of either of these vitamins affects the body’s ability to produce fully functioning red blood cells (RBC).

RBCs help carry oxygen all across the body. That said, those who have vitamin B12 or flate deficiency anaemia have underfunctioning red blood cells, which are larger than normal. This is also called megaloblastic anaemia.

Best way to treat this deficiency is through proper diet and if necessary, under the guidance of a doctor, with supplements.

Get your tests

In case you develop symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, you must visit your healthcare provider and get yourself tested for the same. Mostly people who are older adults, children, vegans, strict vegetarians, those with diabetes are at a greater risk of developing B12 deficiency, which is why these groups of people should prioritize regular screening.

Your doctor will take a sample of your blood and check whether you have a lower level of haemoglobin than normal and if your red blood cells are larger than normal.

Foods to eat

Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that is not naturally made in the body. It is essential to have foods that are rich in this vitamin and some can even resort to supplementation, as guided by the physician.

Some of the best sources of vitamin B12 include beef, pork, ham, poultry, lamb, shellfish, crab, dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt and eggs. Fortified cereals can also provide you with sufficient levels of this vital nutrient.

Given that the most rich sources of vitamin B12 are animal produces, vegetarians and vegans may not get enough from foods along. However, foods such as spinach, beetroot, chickpeas are great vegetarian sources of the nutrients. Else you can also resort to supplementation, as guided by your doctor or nutritionist.

What you need to know about supplements

Supplementation helps in filling or meeting the nutriet gaps. Sometimes, the foods we eat aren’t enough or do not possess the right amount of nutritional value to maintain our overall health. That’s when supplements can help.

As far as vitamin B12 is concerned, it is mainly found in animal products, which is why vegans and strict vegetarians may find it difficult to acquire the right amount of this essential nutrient through diet alone.

You can consult with your doctor and discuss whether you need supplements or not. Next you can talk about the dosage and side effects of having too much of it.

While on one hand it is essential to fulfill the nutritional requirements, on the other hand it is essential to keep an eye on the presence of important vitamins and minerals in the body.

Timely medical tests can help you know the level of essential elements in the body and help you compensate for it. Regular checkups will not only help you by identifying the missing elements it can also reveal the emergence of other health complications.

It is prudent to be always well informed about the disease. The symptoms, the medical treatments available and the cause of the diseases, when known should never be ignored. Vitamin deficiencies start with subtle signs but gradually progresses to cause more harm to the body.

Therefore it is essential to get the typical symptoms of vitamin B12 like pale yellow tinge in skin, sore tongue, mouth ulcers and disturbed vision corrected by the doctor immediately after it is seen.