Vitamin B12 deficiency: Three visual clues on your nails of low B12 levels

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

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Vitamin B12 performs numerous roles in the body, including helping to keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helping to make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Falling short of the required amount can therefore cause eerie changes to different parts of the body. Some of the most perceptible clues can show up on your nails.

According to a case report published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), nail changes associated with vitamin B12 deficiency can include a bluish discolouration, blue-black pigmentation with dark streaks and darkened streaks.

“The nail pigmentation associated with B12 deficiency is more frequent in patients with dark skin,” the report states.

It describes the emergence of the symptom in a 12-year-old boy.

The boy experienced progressive darkening of nails of both hands and feet over the course of three months.

He noticed the blue-black pigmentation of all the fingernails and toenails.

According to the case report, pigmentation was more marked in fingernails, particularly over thumbnails.

There was no history of any exposure to dyes or work in a factory, trauma or exposure to any other agents.

The severe vitamin B12 deficiency was considered as the attributing factor for his nail hyperpigmentation. 

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Hyperpigmentation is a medical term used to describe darker patches of skin.

Other telltale signs of B12 deficiency include:

  • A pale yellow tinge to your skin
  • A sore and red tongue (glossitis)
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
  • Changes in the way that you walk and move around
  • Disturbed vision
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Changes in the way you think, feel and behave
  • A decline in your mental abilities, such as memory, understanding and judgement (dementia).

How to respond

You should See a GP if you’re experiencing symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, says the NHS.

“These conditions can often be diagnosed based on your symptoms and the results of a blood test,” explains the health body.

It’s also important for vitamin B12 deficiency to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

“Although many of the symptoms improve with treatment, some problems caused by the condition can be irreversible if left untreated,” warns the NHS.

What foods contain B12?

Vitamin B12 is found naturally in a wide variety of animal foods and is added to some fortified foods.

“Plant foods have no vitamin B12 unless they are fortified,” explains the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

According to the NIH, you can get recommended amounts of vitamin B12 by eating a variety of foods including the following:

  • Beef liver and clams, which are the best sources of vitamin B12
  • Fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and other dairy products, which also contain vitamin B12
  • Some breakfast cereals, nutritional yeasts and other food products that are fortified with vitamin B12. To find out if vitamin B12 has been added to a food product, check the product labels.

How is B12 deficiency treated?

The treatment for vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia depends on what’s causing the condition.

Most people can be easily treated with injections or tablets to replace the missing vitamins.

There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:

  • Hydroxocobalamin
  • Cyanocobalamin.

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