As much attention as we pay to chronic health conditions, it is as important to recognise nutrient deficiencies. Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that is extremely necessary for several bodily functions. Low levels of this vitamin can affect health in various ways. Data published in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism suggests at least 47% of the Indian population suffers from vitamin B12 deficiency, whereas only 26% of the population may have adequate levels of vitamin B12. We spoke to Dr Keni Ravish Rajiv, Consultant Neurologist and Epileptologist, Department of Neurosciences, Aster Hospitals, Bangalore and Aster MIMS, Calicut, to understand the role of vitamin B12 and the warning signs of B12 deficiency.
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Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps support several bodily functions. It not only improves our nerve and brain health but it also helps in the formation of Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA), the genetic material in all the cells. In addition, it helps in the formation of Red Blood Cells (RBCs), which aid in carrying oxygen from our lungs to the rest of the body. Therefore, low levels of vitamin B12 can be problematic and cause various problems.
Dr Rajiv says, “Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause physical, neurological and psychological symptoms. The symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency can develop slowly and can get worse over time. Some people may have no symptoms despite having a low level of vitamin B12 in their bodies.”
Some of the most common signs of vitamin B12 deficiency include:
Neurological symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include:
What’s concerning about vitamin B12 deficiency is that neurological problems that develop during the illness may not be reversible.
In certain cases, people with low B12 levels may experience psychological symptoms. These include:
While symptoms can speak volumes about your ailment, they should not be the basis for your diagnosis. To detect vitamin B12 deficiency, you can get a routine blood test to check for B12 levels in the body. If the levels are less than 150 per mL, you could be suffering from vitamin B12 deficiency.
Depending on your test results, you can seek proper medical treatments. Most people can get their share of vitamin B12 from certain foods, such as animal meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. Vegetarians can eat yoghurt, low-fat milk, cheese and fortified foods to increase their B12 levels. For vegans, the alternatives may be limited, but foods, such as tempeh, fortified soy and almond milk can provide good amounts of B12 vitamins.