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Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient for the proper functioning of our body. It is part of processes as important as the formation or repair of cells, the absorption and metabolization of nutrients, or the creation and repair of red blood cells, responsible for transporting oxygen throughout our body.
This is why it is so important to get adequate levels of vitamin B12. If our body suffers from a deficiency of this vitamin, the consequences can seriously affect your health. Do you want to know the most frequent symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency and what foods you can eat to make sure you never lack this vitamin? Don't miss the next article!
A very low intake of B12 can cause anemia and deterioration of the nervous system. The only reliable vegan sources of B12 are B12-fortified foods (such as certain plant-based milks, certain soy products, and some breakfast cereals) and B12 supplements. Vitamin B12, whether in supplements, enriched foods or in animal products, comes from microorganisms. (…) reports Lucia Martínez, Dietitian-Nutritionist of the Nutrition Group of the Spanish Vegetarian Union
What benefits does Vitamin B12 bring us?
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is one of the 8 vitamins that make up the vitamin B complex. This vitamin is an essential nutrient for our body for multiple reasons:
- It is involved in the formation, repair and maintenance of red blood cells, responsible for transporting oxygen throughout our body.
- It is involved in the formation of the myelin that covers the nerves, thus influencing the proper functioning of the nervous tissue.
- It is involved in the creation and repair of the cells of the intestinal walls.
- Helps synthesize DNA.
- Helps absorb and metabolize fatty acids, folic acid, and amino acids.
- Helps in the maintenance of the cardiovascular system.
- It collaborates in the formation of cells, which is why it helps to maintain healthy and firm skin.
- Keeps hair and nails healthier and stronger.
Symptoms that may indicate a Vitamin B12 deficiency
Our body is not capable of producing vitamin B12, so it is necessary to obtain it through our diet. It is not strange to have a vitamin B12 deficiency, it is more common than we think. But usually I doWe smell to attribute their symptoms to other types of ailments, or simply the fatigue generated by the stress of day to day or aging.
In fact, a study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that this type of deficiency is common even in wealthy countries,especially among the population over 60. Meeting the needs of vitamin B12 is more important in children than in adults, since adults have reserves of this vitamin in our liver. In addition, if the child is the son of a mother with low levels of vitamin B12, it is likely that the symptoms of B12 deficiency will manifest in him prematurely. (…)
That is why it is very important to be attentive to the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, in order to discover if you suffer from it and to remedy it. Here is a list of the most common symptoms:
To feel down: Vitamin B12 is essential for mental health, both for its role in the formation of red blood cells and for its involvement in the maintenance of the nervous system. A lack of this vitamin could cause a low mood, which added to the feeling of fatigue that this produces could lead to depression. In addition, vitamin B12 also helps reduce the levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that, at too high levels, can also cause depression.
Fatigue: Vitamin B12 is present in several processes that provide energy to our body. It helps absorb folic acid, helps to create red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout our body, and helps metabolize food to extract the energy it provides. Therefore, if we do not have enough vitamin B12, our body will not receive the energy it needs to function properly and this could cause chronic fatigue.
Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet: Vitamin B12 is involved in the maintenance of the nervous system, so its deficiency can cause neurological symptoms such as numbness or tingling in the hands and feet. Other neurological symptoms derived from vitamin B12 deficiency can be skin sensitivity, muscle weakness, balance problems, decreased or hyperactive reflexes, urinary or fecal incontinence, or spasms, among others.
Low blood pressure: As I mentioned, vitamin B12 helps metabolize folic acid. Therefore, a deficiency of the first can cause a lack of the second, and this can affect blood pressure, causing hypotension. Also, if we are deficient in vitamin B12, our body will not be able to produce as many red blood cells and it will not receive as much oxygen as it should; This also implies that our heart will not receive the necessary oxygen, causing a decrease in blood pressure. The most common symptoms of hypotension are dizziness, breathing difficulties, weakness, and fainting.
Anemia: Vitamin B12 is involved in the absorption of various nutrients, so a deficiency of it could cause deficiencies in other essential nutrients, such as iron, thus causing anemia. The most common symptoms of iron deficiency anemia (lack of iron) are weakness, shortness of breath, fast or irregular heartbeat, chest pain, dizziness, and headache.
Memory problems and cognitive impairment: Vitamin B12 plays a very important role in the formation and maintenance of nervous tissue and brain cells, so a deficiency of this vitamin could cause cognitive problems such as loss of concentration, memory problems, and even more serious problems such as dementia.
Gastrointestinal disorders: Vitamin B12 is involved in the formation and maintenance of the cells of the intestinal walls. Therefore, a deficiency in this vitamin could cause various gastrointestinal problems such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
Hypothyroidism: The thyroid requires different nutrients to function properly and to produce the proper amount of hormones that regulate many of our body's functions. One of these essential nutrients for the thyroid is vitamin B12. Therefore, a lack of vitamin B12 could lead to hypothyroidism.
Fertility problems: Vitamin B12 deficiency can also affect both male and female fertility, although more markedly in women for a number of reasons. A lack of vitamin B12 can cause hormonal changes that could affect the development of the egg or its implantation of the zygote in the uterus. In addition, high levels of homocysteine (which, as I told you before, vitamin B12 helps to reduce) can cause spontaneous abortions in the first stage of pregnancy.
Skin problems: Vitamin B12 is involved in the formation, repair and maintenance of cells in our body. Therefore, a deficiency of this vitamin can cause skin problems such as skin lesions, dermatitis or pigmentation problems.
Hair loss: In the same way that vitamin B12 helps maintain healthy skin, it also helps our hair and nails. Therefore, a deficiency in vitamin B12 can cause weakness and hair loss, as well as weak nails (remember that nails are made of keratin, the same substance that hair is made of).
Vitamin B12 levels test
If you want to take a test for vitamin B12 levels, you just have to ask your doctor to check your blood levels of vitamin B12. I may see if you have megaloblastic anemia, which occurs with a B12 deficiency, but this test is not valid in vegetarians, who usually take a lot of vitamin B9 (folic acid) that would prevent megaloblastic anemia despite taking little B12, but not the neuronal damage that occurs in the face of a continuous deficit of B12 (1,2).
So you have to ask your doctor to look directly at your blood B12 levels. It is a test that is usually available in clinical analysis laboratories.
Your blood levels of B12 will begood if the result is equal to or greater than any of the following values (equivalent measures) (3-5):
- 300 picomoles per liter (pmol / l).
- 405 picograms per milliliter (pg / ml)
- 405 nanograms per liter (ng / l)
The B12 test is not valid for people who regularly ingest spirulina or seaweed, which contain B12 analogues that can mask the B12 deficiency. In this case, it is possible to request that the levels of Methyl Malonic Acid (Methyl Malonic Acid MMA) be assessed. Faced with a B12 deficiency, levels of Methyl-Malonic Acid rise (5). Healthy levels should be less than 370 nanomoles of B12 per liter of blood (6).
What foods are rich in Vitamin B12?
If, after looking at this list of symptoms, you think you might be deficient in vitamin B12, don't worry. Below you have a list of the foods richest in vitamin B12, so that you can incorporate them into your usual diet. This does not mean that you need to eat more, it will simply be advisable to incorporate these foods into your daily diet.
In addition, it is highly recommended that you go to your doctor to do the relevant tests and decide if you need to take any type of supplement. Of course, never take supplements without the supervision of a doctor.
Vegetarian foods rich in vitamin B12 are:
- Cheese, especially Swiss cheese, feta cheese, and cottage cheese or cottage cheese
- Nutritional yeast
- Fortified cereals, enriched with vitamin B12
Most of the products that contain a higher amount of vitamin B12 are foods of animal origin. This is because vitamin B12 is made by bacteria, which is why it normally develops in animal products and in some whole grain cereals.
That is why people who follow a vegan diet are at higher risk of suffering from this type of deficiency. If you are vegan, it will be highly recommended that you monitor your levels of this vitamin to make sure you do not suffer from any deficiency. It will be necessary to go to the doctor to do tests and prescribe supplements if he considers it necessary.
With information from: