Vitamin B12 deficiency: Expert warns of three ‘red flags’ to look out for

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

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Haemoglobin is an iron-containing protein that transports oxygen around the body. When a person becomes deficient in vitamin B12, the blood may not be as oxygen-rich as it should be. Symptoms “show gradually”, Guerrini said, but not everybody experiences the condition in the same way. The types of symptoms, and the severity of each symptom, will depend on different factors, such as:

  • Age
  • Diet
  • Pre-existing conditions
  • Medications.

A vitamin B12 deficiency may present differently depending on whether you’re a vegan, if you have a gut condition, or if you regularly take antacids (medication for indigestion or heartburn).

However, one “common symptom” that tends to occur is the feeling of “pins and needles”, especially in the fingers and toes.

Guerrini pointed out that this type of pins and needles “doesn’t seem to improve”.

“My patients [who have a vitamin B12 deficiency] report feeling tired,” said Guerrini.

It’s not unusual for people to experience brain fog and memory loss, but “it’s very easy” for these warning signs to be attributed to a lack of sleep.

Three red flags:

  • Pins and needles
  • Tiredness
  • Brain fog/memory loss.

“Other red flags can be mouth ulcers, headaches and – of course – a lack of energy, which can be all signs of early stage macrocytic anaemia,” Guerrini elaborated.

If you recognise any of these “red flags”, Guerrini advises you to book a blood test.

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“It’s worth it,” Guerrini emphasised, adding that a blood test can also pick up on other nutritional deficiencies.

“Taking vitamin B12 supplements normally brings the level up, although some people might need an extra boost if the levels are really low,” she said.

Sharing a “small tip” for those who have intestinal issues, or those who regularly take antacids, B12 supplements might work better as a spray.

“You can spray it under your tongue or inside your cheeks, bypassing the stomach bit to increase the chance of absorption,” Guerrini explained.

When a vitamin B12 deficiency leads to macrocytic anaemia, be aware of the following symptoms:

  • Weakness
  • Paleness
  • Exhaustion
  • Redness or swelling of the tongue (glossitis)
  • Diarrhea
  • Low appetite
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Infertility.

Medical News Today added that people can also experience instability when walking.

Left untreated, some symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency can become permanent.

What can lead to a vitamin B12 deficiency?

“B12 is abundant in animal products, so vegans and vegetarians are more at risk of a B12 deficiency,” said Medical News Today.

In some cases, autoimmune disorders, cancer, alcohol addiction, or inflammatory bowel disease can also lead to a vitamin B12 deficiency.

When the bloodstream doesn’t contain enough oxygen (as seen in macrocytic anaemia), the heart begins to beat faster, inadvertently causing a rise in blood pressure.

Do get a vitamin B12 deficiency addressed as soon as possible, otherwise you’re at risk of circulatory problems and heart failure.

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