Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms: The ‘difficult to pinpoint’ signs – ‘Very common’

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

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“Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to anaemia as your body lacks the necessary amount of healthy red blood cells, which has a large range of symptoms,” said Dr Tariq Mahmood, Medical Director at Concepto Clinic. “Healthy red blood cells are crucial as they carry oxygen to organs and tissues throughout your body. A lack of oxygen means your body can’t perform important tasks.” And this isn’t the only risk posed by the lack of the nutrient.

Although vitamin B12 deficiency can stir up a lot of problems, this doesn’t happen without your body ringing the alarm bells.

While the signs might not be so obvious, knowing what to look for could help.

Dr Mahmood said: “As such, symptoms can include a decreased appetite, a feeling of numbness or tingling in your extremities, diarrhoea, difficulty walking, fatigue, irritability, nausea and weight loss.

“Of course, it’s difficult to pinpoint vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia based on these symptoms alone, as they can be very common across multiple conditions and illnesses.

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“But vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia can be spotted through a routine blood test as part of a regular check-up.

“Advice on how often you should get a check-up varies, but my recommendation is to get a medical check every 12 to 24 months.”

However, the expert warned that you might also experience symptoms if you have a B12 deficiency but you aren’t suffering from anaemia.

“Other symptoms include depression, mouth ulcers, paraesthesia (pins and needles) and problems with judgement, memory and understanding,” the doctor added.

Apart from all of the warning signs the doctor listed, the NHS also adds a few symptoms to watch out for.

The health service explains you might experience:

  • Pale yellow tinge to your skin
  • Sore and red tongue
  • Changes in the way that you walk and move around
  • Disturbed vision
  • Irritability
  • Changes in the way you feel and behave.

It’s important to see a GP once you start experiencing symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency.

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The condition needs to be treated “as soon as possible” as it can cause “irreversible” and “permanent” damage.

Fortunately, the condition can be picked up through a simple blood test.

Dr Mahmood said: “To prevent a vitamin B12 deficiency, make sure that you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet or consider taking vitamin B12 supplements.

“Many animal foods – eggs, fish, meat and poultry – contain vitamin B12. Some fortified breakfast cereals are also a good source.”

According to the NHS, the “good” food sources of vitamin B12 include:

  • Meat
  • Salmon and cod
  • Milk and other dairy products
  • Eggs.

As these foods are all animal-derived, plant-based diet followers might struggle to get enough of the vitamin.

However, many companies fortify products such as milk and meat alternatives with the vitamin.

Plus, some foods, including yeast extract and fortified breakfast cereals, also pack the nutrient.

The NHS recommends checking the nutrition labels when you go shopping to keep track of how much vitamin B12 you’re getting.

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