Vitamin B12 plays an important role in the body, particularly in the production of red blood cells. A lack of the vitamin can affect the number of red blood cells made, and those that are produced can be abnormally large with a short lifespan. If the body doesn’t get enough red blood cells, tissues and organs will be deprived of oxygen, and this can trigger the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.
One symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency to note is a tingling or pins and needles in the hands
One symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency to note is a tingling or pins and needles in the hands.
Experts say this can occur because the vitamin also has a big impact on the body’s nervous system.
Vitamin B12 helps produce a substance called myelin, which is vital for the nervous system.
Myelin is a protective coating that shields the nerves and helps them transmit sensations.
So if a person lacks vitamin B12, their body may not produce enough myelin to coat their nerves.
When this happens, nerves can become damaged.
Problems are more common in nerves in the hands and feet, which are clare peripheral nerves.
When damage to the peripheral nerves happens, tingling can occur.
But pins and needles doesn’t necessarily mean you have a vitamin B12 deficiency.
The NHS explains it usually happens “when the blood supply to the nerves is cut off. This is usually when you sit or sleep on part of your body.”
If this is the case it should only last a few minutes.
But if you frequently experience pins and needles or it lasts a long time, you should see your GP.
Other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency Bupa notes are:
- Feeling very tired
- Breathlessness even after a little exercise
- A reduced appetite
- A sore mouth and tongue
The health organisation adds: “If you have vitamin B12-deficiency anaemia, you may also look pale or jaundiced (have a yellowy tinge to your skin and the whites of your eyes).
“As well as the symptoms of anaemia, vitamin B12-deficiency may cause symptoms related to your nerves. This is called vitamin B12 neuropathy. It may affect your movement and sensation, especially in your legs, cause numbness or pins and needles and decrease your sensitivity to touch, vibration or pain. It can also cause confusion, depression, poor concentration and forgetfulness.
“These symptoms aren’t always due to vitamin B12-deficiency anaemia, but if you have them see your GP.”
How to avoid vitamin B12 deficiency
Adults aged 19 to 64 require around 1.5 micrograms (mg) a day of vitamin B12, and you should be able to get this through your diet.
Certain foods contain vitamin B12, and Harvard Health Publishing, part of Harvard Medical School, lists the best dietary sources of the vitamin.
Here are five:
- Clams – three ounces contains 84mcg of B12
- Liver – three ounces contains 70.7mcg of B12
- Fortified cereal – one cup contains 6mcg of B12
- Beef – three ounces contains 1.5mcg of B12
- Egg – one large egg contains 0.6mcg of B12
- Nonfat plain greek yoghurt – six ounces contains 1.3mcg of B12
Who is most at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency?
The NHS Trusts explains who’s most at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency.
It says: “Vegans and vegetarians consuming limited dairy produce have a higher risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency due to limited dietary intakes.
“The elderly population and people taking metformin for a long time can also be at increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency due to vitamin B12 not being absorbed properly in the body.”
If you consume very little vitamin B12 foods you may be advised to take a vitamin B12 supplement or to have vitamin B12 injections.
This may be the case for pregnant or breast feeding women and vegan or vegetarians.
If you take vitamin B12 supplements, the Department of Health advises you don’t take too much as this could be harmful.
Taking 2mg or less a day of vitamin B12 in supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.
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