Vitamin B12 keeps the body’s engine running smoothly by supporting nerve and blood cells and helping to make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. When you lack the vitamin, vital processes therefore go haywire. The type of symptoms you will experience as a result depends on what is causing the deficiency.
For instance, the body absorbs B12 by eating certain foods, but some people cannot take in sufficient B12 due to an underlying condition called pernicious anaemia.
Pernicious anaemia is an autoimmune disease that prevents the body from making intrinsic factor (a protein made by the stomach and needed to absorb vitamin B12 in the intestine).
Your nervous symptoms can be one of the first casualties of B12 deficiency caused by pernicious anaemia.
One neurological symptom to watch out for is numbness, tingling/pins and needles sensation, according to the Pernicious Anaemia Society (PAS).
How to treat B12 deficiency
The treatment for vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia depends on what’s causing the condition.
Vitamin B12 deficiency caused by pernicious anaemia is usually treated with injections of vitamin B12.
There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:
“Hydroxocobalamin is usually the recommended option as it stays in the body for longer,” explains the NHS.
If your vitamin B12 deficiency is caused by a lack of the vitamin in your diet, you may be prescribed vitamin B12 tablets to take every day between meals.
People who find it difficult to get enough vitamin B12 in their diets, such as those following a vegan diet, may need vitamin B12 tablets for life, notes the NHS.
Why do vegans struggle to get enough B12?
B12 is naturally found in meat and dairy products so not suitable for those following vegan diets.
Good sources of vitamin B12 include:
- Salmon and cod
- Milk and other dairy products
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, or are looking for alternatives to meat and dairy products, there are other foods that contain vitamin B12, however.
Yeast extract (including Marmite), as well as some fortified breakfast cereals and soy products all contain B12, says the NHS.
“Check the nutrition labels while food shopping to see how much vitamin B12 different foods contain,” it advises.