B12 is a vitamin that is vital for humans. It is also known as cobalamin, and you may hear those names used interchangeably, but they mean the same thing.
B12 is an essential part in the production of healthy red blood cells, and also in keeping our nervous system working at its best.
B12 deficiency is fairly common, and can be caused by some medical conditions.
Let’s have a look at how this happens, and how it is treated.
What Causes B12 Deficiency?
B12 deficiency is commonly seen in people aged over 75, it is thought that around 1 in 10 of the people in this age group will suffer with B12 deficiency, and it is simply due to the fact that as we age, our bodies stop working as well, and in this case, stop absorbing B12 as efficiently through the gastrointestinal system.
You can always be at risk of B12 deficiency if you do not have a very varied diet, or if you follow a vegan diet, as B12 is naturally found in food like meat and fish, dairy products and eggs.
Certain medical conditions will also cause you to become B12 deficient, such as gastrointestinal illnesses like Crohn’s disease, or if you are taking any medications that prevent proper absorption of food.
There are many different symptoms of B12 deficiency, and you may get one, several or none, as B12 deficiency can take many years to start being symptomatic.
Symptoms Of B12 Deficiency
Extreme tiredness and muscle weakness are probably the most common symptoms that a patient notices when they are diagnosed with B12 deficiency. B12 is involved with the production of healthy red blood cells, and if there is not enough B12 the red blood cells can become overlarge.
These large red blood cells are not able to carry oxygen as well around the body as they should be, and when your muscles and tissues do not get enough oxygen, they become tired and weakened.
B12 has another important function and that is to ensure that the nervous system remains healthy, and functioning properly. B12 assists with the production of a protein called myelin. Myelin surrounds every single nerve in your body, and ensures they are protected so that they can work properly.
Without this important protection from the myelin, the nervous system may have some difficulties functioning as it should. When this happens, the B12 deficient individual will begin to feel persistent pins and needles in areas of the body.
A common sign of B12 deficiency is that the tongue becomes swollen and inflammed – known as glossitis. The tongue can also become very smooth, with vertical lesions on it, and is commonly called ‘beefsteak tongue’ as it resembles a piece of raw beef.
Alongside glossitis, B12 deficiency can cause painful mouth ulcers around the gums and on the tongue, which can be very painful
There are several other symptoms to be aware of, including, but not limited to, changes to the vision, becoming anxious or depressed, or mood changes in general, becoming pale or jaundiced, becoming dizzy, becoming breathless.
Luckily, B12 deficiency can be easily treated.
How Is B12 Deficiency Treated?
Luckily, B12 is quite easy to treat, although it can take a long time for the levels of B12 in the body to return to a normal level.
First of all, your doctor will look at why you are deficient in B12, and see how else your lifestyle can be adjusted. If it is diet related, for example, then you will be advised to change your diet to include more B12 rich foods like eggs and dairy.
You will then be prescribed a course of B12 injections, which are usually given weekly for a while, before being followed up with prescribed B12 supplements in the forms of tablets or sprays. Theresa Camden talks about B12 shots at length, and how they can be used.
After a course of B12 supplementation, your doctor will retest your blood, to see if your levels are returning to normal.
Are B12 Injections Safe?
B12 injections are considered very safe. Some people may have an allergic reaction to them, but this is the same with any injection a person has, there will always be a small percentage of people who are sensitive to the ingredients. Your doctor will talk to you about all the risks before starting a course of treatment.
Depending on your B12 levels, your doctor may need to give you more than one injection a week. The injections work very quickly, but it can take some time for your levels to be brought back up to normal.
Injections, by their very nature, can be a little sore at the time they are given, but this generally wears off within a few minutes of the injection being given.
The common side effects from having B12 injections can be feeling sick, having diarrhoea, headaches, dizziness, pain or itching at the site of the injection.
Some people will need to be treated with B12 injections for the rest of their life, whilst some people have some injections and then supplements in the form of an oral medication.
Are B12 Supplements Safe?
B12 supplements are considered very safe. It is a water based vitamin, so your body will use what it needs from the supplement, and the rest is removed from your body through urine.
When taking B12 supplements to correct a deficiency, you will be taking quite a high dose, and you can get similar side effects to the injections, like nausea, vomiting diarrhoea, headaches, dizziness, and sometimes feeling anxious.
Always talk to your doctor before taking B12 supplements, as they can interact with some other medications, and may not be suitable for everyone. Follow your doctor’s advice, as they want to monitor you whilst you take B12 supplements, and check your blood levels of B12 to ensure you are getting the right amount. They may also discuss changing your diet to include more B12 rich foods.