Dr Dawn Harper on signs of vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency
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Although maybe not as widely known as the results of vitamin C or D deficiency, for example, a lack of B12 in the body can cause debilitating issues. Found in foods such as beef, cheese and eggs, it helps keep red blood cells healthy. Without enough of it the body will become anaemic and this can result in common symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness.
A lesser known symptom, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a “tingling” or “numbness” in the feet.
If you notice this, and perhaps other symptoms, it is advised to look into how to get more B12 into your diet as soon as possible – or take supplements if dietary changes are not working.
Other foods rich in B12 that are worth including in your diet are:
- liver, chicken and fish
- fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals
- cheese and yoghurt
For people who might struggle to include these foods in their diet, like vegans or those with intolerances, supplements can be bought over the counter in the form of tablets or sprays.
If symptoms are more serious your GP can prescribe B12 injections to boost levels quickly.
B12 deficiency is also known as folate deficiency, or vitamin deficiency anaemia.
The Mayo Clinic explains: “Vitamin deficiency anaemia is a lack of healthy red blood cells caused by lower than usual amounts of vitamin B-2 and folate.
“This can happen if you don’t eat enough foods containing vitamin B12 and folate, or if your body has trouble absorbing or processing these vitamins.
“Without these nutrients, the body produces red blood cells that are too large and don’t work properly.
“This reduces their ability to carry oxygen.”
It is important to tackle the deficiency as soon as possible.
“Vitamin deficiency anaemia usually develops slowly over several months to years,” the Mayo Clinic says.
“Signs and symptoms may be subtle at first but usually increase as the deficiency worsens.”
Other symptoms of B12 deficiency include:
- pale or yellowish skin
- irregular heartbeats
- weight loss
- muscle weakness
- personality changes
- unsteady movements
- mental confusion or forgetfulness
B12 deficiency is not always due to diet – some sufferers have pernicious anaemia, which means the intestines can’t absorb it.
The Mayo Clinic adds: “This condition occurs when the body’s immune system attacks cells in the stomach that produce a substance called intrinsic factor. Without this substance, B12 can’t be absorbed in the intestines.”
It can also be caused by:
- intestinal diseases such as celiac disease
- surgical removal or bypass of a large part of the intestines
- excessive alcohol consumption
- prescription drugs, such as some anti-seizure medications
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