Vitamin B12 affects many systems in the body. It is badly needed for the energy balance of all cells in the body and for the proper functioning of the nervous system. A lack of vitamin B12 can therefore have serious consequences for your health. How does a vitamin B12 deficiency arise? And how do you recognize it? You can read it in this article.
Because the body stores vitamin B12 in the liver and therefore has a supply, a deficiency only becomes noticeable after a long time, often after several months or even years. Your body uses up supplies first.
How does vitamin B12 deficiency arise?
There are several causes that can cause a vitamin B12 deficiency. It may be related to a reduced intake of certain foods from which the body can obtain vitamin B12, but a deficiency can also arise because you have a shortage of the substance intrinsic factor (which your body produces itself). Also in gastrointestinal infections and in conditions where the production of stomach acid is reduced, the absorption of vitamin B12 by the intestine may be reduced.
Vitamin B12 in food
A reduced intake mainly occurs in alcoholics and vegetarians or vegans. Simply put, vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, is found in animal foods such as milk, meat, fish and eggs. In reality, it is about the bacteria contained in these foods. These bacteria turn microbes in your stomach to convert nutrients into vitamin B12. These bacteria are also found in water and on plants, but because we live so hygienically nowadays, there is practically no vitamin B12 left in our drinking water and vegetable food. But animal products also do not guarantee enough B12, because livestock is now also fed with clean water and feed, animals are increasingly receiving vitamin B12 supplements.
The recommended daily allowance of the Health Council for adult men and women from the age of 14 is 2.8 micrograms. Pregnant women (3.2) and breastfeeding women (3.8) need a little more. In comparison, an egg (50 grams) provides 0.8 micrograms and a cooked piece of salmon of 100 grams contains 4.0 micrograms of vitamin B12. Even if you eat meat and dairy, it is worth considering taking a vitamin B12 supplement as a supplement because that also has to do with the absorption. Moreover, there are no known adverse effects of an excess of vitamin B12. If you take a vitamin B12 supplement, make sure you take a bioactive form, which is easily absorbed by the body.
One of the causes of reduced uptake is bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine. As a result, vitamin B12 is less well absorbed by the body. There are few people in the Western world who still have an optimally functioning intestinal system. This is due to all the chemicals that we ingest every day from agricultural pesticides, E numbers in our food, coffee, alcohol, sugar, gluten, dairy, etc. This means that we have too little of the right bacteria in our intestinal system and that leads to too little formation of B12. So it is very important that we have enough of the right bacteria in the gut and a properly functioning intestinal system.
For the absorption of B12 from food, we also need a substance in the stomach called the “intrinsic factor”. This substance is secreted by cells in the stomach wall. Unfortunately, this substance is no longer sufficiently excreted in most people due to past or recent use of antibiotics, alcohol, sugar, medicines, coffee, and old age also plays a role. This leads to an insufficient absorption of B12. Other causes that cause the intrinsic factor to be produced less or hardly are: operations in which part of the small intestine or stomach has been removed; reduced stomach acid production due to old age; a thin layer of mucosa due to an inflammation of the stomach or an autoimmune disease of the gastric mucosa. If you are deficient in intrinsic factor, it makes little sense to take vitamin B12, because you will not absorb it. A short-term solution is B12 injections, but eventually the production of the intrinsic factor must be restored.
Symptoms of a B12 deficiency
Because vitamin B12 affects so many systems, a deficiency manifests itself differently in everyone. There are a number of complaints that occur more often, such as fatigue, dizziness, palpitations or ringing in the ears. Vitamin B12 deficiency can also have neurological consequences, such as tingling in the fingers, memory loss, coordination disorders or muscle weakness in the legs. Below is a summary of the neurological, psychological and physical symptoms.
- Tingling, numbness, burning sensation in arms, legs, hands and / or feet, nerve pain, walking on “cotton wool”, loss of symptoms
- Concentration disorders, memory problems
- Aphasia: not being able to come up with the right words, use the wrong words, slip up
- Ataxia: falling inexplicably or bumping into something, loss of position, turning things over, stumbling, difficulty walking
- Reduced pain perception, fine motor skills, smell and taste
- Depression, nervousness, irritability, irritability, mood swings, behavioral changes, apathy
- Dementia, confusion
- Psychosis, paranoia, hallucinations
- Muscle pain, loss of strength, twitching and muscle cramps
- Glossitis (inflamed tongue), burning, sore or stinging tongue, mouth sensitive
- Fatigue, drowsiness, weakness Nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss
- Menstrual complaints, such as no menstruation, heavy menstruation, periods that are too long, increased menstrual pain
- Joint complaints
- Shortness of breath, breathlessness, palpitations
- Pale skin
- Feeling cold
- Impotence, infertility
- Hair loss
- Changes in visual field, blurred vision
- Intestinal complaints
- Incontinence and / or frequent urination
- Headache, ringing in the ears, dizziness
Fight vitamin B12 deficiency
The treatment of vitamin B12 deficiency depends on the cause and severity of the complaints. A deficiency of vitamin B12 can hardly be supplemented through the diet. You often need injections or high-dose supplements. Always consult your doctor, who will determine whether there is a shortage and how it is addressed.