Vitamin B12 has a long list of important functions in the body but chief among them is keeping the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helping to make DNA. To avoid complications, it is therefore vitally important to get enough of this vitamin in your diet. For some people, however, dietary intake of B12 is not a viable option.
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This is because some people live with pernicious anaemia, an autoimmune disease that prevents the body from making intrinsic factor (a protein made by the stomach and needed to absorb vitamin B12 in the intestine).
This underlying condition will often result in B12 deficiency.
In fact, the most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency in the UK is pernicious anaemia, which is not related to your diet.
Unlike a regular B12 deficiency, low vitamin levels caused by pernicious anaemia produces quite distinct symptoms.
One warning sign to watch out for is vertigo.
According to the Pernicious Anaemia Society (PAS), vertigo – the inability to cope with heights and wide open spaces, may signal you have pernicious anaemia.
“Patients will need a visual reference to compensate with what is probably damage to the brain’s balance mechanism,” explains PAS.
As the health body explains, often this will mean the patient will have to look at the floor while walking.
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Other neurological signs of pernicious anaemia include:
- Balance Problems
- Dizziness/Feeling Faint
- Numbness/Tingling/Pins and Needles
- Burning Legs and/or Feet
- Neuropathic Pain/Fibromyalgia
- Sensory Impairment
According to the NHS, if neurological problems do appear, they may be irreversible.
How to treat B12 deficiency anaemia
The treatment for vitamin B12 deficiency depends on what’s causing the condition.
If the B12 deficiency is caused by pernicious anaemia, a course of injections is usually recommended.
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There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:
“If your vitamin B12 deficiency is caused by a lack of the vitamin in your diet, you may be prescribed vitamin B12 tablets to take every day between meals,” explains the NHS.
People who find it difficult to get enough vitamin B12 in their diets, such as those following a vegan diet, may need vitamin B12 tablets for life, warns the health site.
What foods contain B12?
Good sources of vitamin B12 include:
- Salmon and cod
- Milk and other dairy products
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, or are looking for alternatives to meat and dairy products, there are other foods that contain vitamin B12, however.
According to the NHS, alternative sources include yeast extract (including Marmite), as well as some fortified breakfast cereals and soy products.
“Check the nutrition labels while food shopping to see how much vitamin B12 different foods contain,” advises the health body.
It is important to note that if you have had neurological symptoms that affect your nervous system, such as numbness or tingling in your hands and feet, caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency, you’ll be referred to a haematologist and may need to have injections every two months, it adds.
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