There are eight different forms of vitamin B, and vitamin B12 is one of them. It is a water-soluble vitamin. Its unique features are its complex structure and the presence of the biochemically rare component cobalt in it. This vitamin is essential for proper functioning of the brain and the nervous system. It is also required for formation of red blood cells, repair works of the body cells and synthesis of essential DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) molecule. It stimulates the mechanisms involved in detoxification of our body. In other words, it has a major role in the removal of poisonous chemical substances like lead, arsenic and antimony from the body.
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency
Both men and women are equally prone to deficiency of vitamin B12. In adults, there is an extensive reserve of this cobalamin form of vitamin, which can be used for three to five years. Hence, the symptoms of its deficiency become apparent after several months. However, in infants and children, the symptoms can be observed quite early.
Those who have low vitamin B12 in their body tend to develop a specific type of anaemia called pernicious anaemia that inhibits the secretion of glycoprotein from the gastric cells of stomach. The condition can be identified with symptoms like:
The central nervous system that consists of the brain and spinal cord
, suffers maximum damage due to this deficiency. Methylcobalamin, formed as a result of methylation reaction of vitamin B12, is an essential nutrient for the brain. It prevents the ill-effects of glutamate and nitric oxide, which are responsible for Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. It has been found that people who are suffering from vitamin B12 deficiency for a long time often tend to develop various types of mental disorder
. Lack of vitamin B12
affects the secretion of a number of vital hormones, like melatonin that induces sleep and serotonin
that controls mood. Some common problems that people often face in this condition are:
- Concentration problems
- Sleeping problems
- Emotional disturbances
- Mental fatigue
The myelin layer present in the central nervous system provides insulation to the nerve cells. Methylcobalamin obtained from vitamin B12 protects myelin from any kind of degeneration. Deficiency of vitamin B12 leads to decadence of myelin and neurological damage
occur. As a result, the following symptoms are observed:
Causes of vitamin B12 deficiency
- Loss of memory
- Lack of balance
- Tingling sensation in hands, feet or tongue
- Absence of muscle-tendon reflexes
Other than aging and absence of foods rich in vitamin B12 (like meat, animal products, fish, eggs, and dairy products) in the diet, there are some possible medical causes for its deficiency, which are as follows:
- Blind Loop Syndrome: It is a rare intestinal defect that mainly occurs due to bacterial overgrowth and malabsorption of essential nutrients. It develops as a small loop in the intestines that allows the digesting material to enter but not exit.
Treatment of vitamin B12 deficiency
- Crohn's Disease: It is an inflammatory disease of the digestive system that affects any region of the gastrointestinal tract from the anus to the mouth, leading to abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, weight loss, etc.
- Diphyllobothrium Latum: It is a human intestinal infection that occurs due to frequent consumption of raw or pickled fish. The symptoms observed are diarrhoea, abdominal pain, vomiting, weight loss, fatigue, constipation, etc.
- Pernicious Anaemia: It is a chronic progressive anaemia which occurs due to poor intestinal absorption of cobalamin, due to the defective production of intrinsic factor (a glycoprotein, essential for the absorption of this vitamin) by the gastric mucosa.
- Vegetarianism: It is a dietary practice of totally avoiding meat products in a regular diet and consuming only vegetables, grains, and nuts. Plants are not a good source of vitamin B12 hence, strictly following this diet can cause a deficiency of this vitamin in the body.
- Atrophic Gastritis: It is a chronic inflammation of the stomach mucosa that causes loss of gastric glandular cells, which are ultimately replaced by intestinal and fibrous tissues. Due to this, the stomach's secretion of essential substances like hydrochloric acid, pepsin, and intrinsic factor is diminished. It causes digestive problems, vitamin B12 deficiency, and megaloblastic anaemia.
When a patient visits a doctor with symptoms, he conducts a blood test to check the levels of the vitamin. The treatment is then based upon the severity of the condition. Those who have developed pernicious anaemia, B12 is administered through injections. Patients with a mild to moderate deficiency of the vitamin are given oral supplements. The main source of vitamin B12 in our body is animal proteins. Foods like shellfish, meat, eggs and dairy products have rich contents of vitamin B12. Therefore, doctors advise these patients to increase their intake of all such food that contain a high amount of B12
. Normal functioning of the body can be restored only when vitamin B12 works with other essential vitamins. Therefore, a balanced diet is must to control the symptoms. The problem can be successfully treated with proper diet and supplements. However, if any damage has already occurred in the nerves due to the vitamin deficiency, then unfortunately, it cannot be cured with any treatment.
Usually, vitamin B12 is not found in vegetables. Even if it is found in some of them, it is almost in negligible amount. For this reason, vegans are more prone to its deficiency. Those infants who are breastfeeding from vegan mothers also tend to develop this problem. Therefore, these people should regularly take it as dietary supplements to prevent its deficiency.