Dr Dawn Harper on signs of vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency
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Vitamin B12 contributes to the body in numerous ways but one of the most important is maintaining the nervous system. The nervous system has two main parts: the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system, which is made up of nerves that branch off from the spinal cord and extend to all parts of the body. Consistently low levels of B12 can cause “damage” to parts of the nervous system, warns the NHS.
This is known as peripheral neuropathy, which develops when nerves in the body’s extremities, such as the hands, feet and arms, are damaged.
According to the NHS, the main symptoms of peripheral neuropathy in your feet include:
- Muscle weakness.
“These symptoms are usually constant, but may come and go,” explains the health body.
It’s important to see your GP if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms because they can be “irreversible”, it warns.
What causes B12 deficiency?
Pernicious anaemia is the most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency in the UK.
Pernicious anaemia is an autoimmune condition whereby your immune system attacks the cells in your stomach that produce the intrinsic factor, which means your body is unable to absorb vitamin B12.
Some people can develop a vitamin B12 deficiency as a result of not getting enough vitamin B12 from their diet.
The richest sources of B12 are animal-based so vegetarians and vegans are at a greater risk of B12 deficiency.
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B12 is naturally found in:
- Meat and liver
- Milk and dairy products
Plant-based sources of vitamin B12 include yeast extract, fortified plant milks and fortified breakfast cereals.
“If you’re following a plant-based diet, taking a vitamin B12 supplement can help prevent a deficiency,” says Holland and Barrett.
The health body continues: “Breast-feeding mothers could also consider a supplement, as they need an extra 0.5mcg a day.”
As it explains, older people, or those taking medication to reduce production of stomach acid, may need a B12 supplement to boost absorption.
There may be additional benefits to supplementing with B12.
Homocysteine – a type of amino acid – has been linked to heart disease due to its negative effects on arteries.
But a 2010 study published in the Nutrition Journal found that people taking vitamin B12 supplements had lower homocysteine levels.
It may also help protect against osteoporosis.
US researchers reported that people with low vitamin B12 levels also had lower than normal levels of bone mineral density.
Most people can also be treated with injections to replace the missing vitamins.
There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:
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