A vitamin B12 deficiency: causes, consequences and prevention
What is Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is part of the vitamin B complex and is a water-soluble vitamin. Vitamin B12 is necessary for the production of red blood cells. These are necessary to transport oxygen in the blood. In addition, this vitamin also ensures an optimal functioning of the nervous system and brain and increases the resistance. Humans can produce vitamin B12 in the intestines. However, this process occurs in a part of the intestines where this vitamin can no longer be absorbed. We therefore depend getting a sufficient amount of vitamin B12 through our diet or with the help of supplements.
Vitamin B12 is present in the following animal products:
The cause of a vitamin B12 deficiency
A deficiency of vitamin B12 can occur by not eating a sufficient amount of food that contains vitamin B12 or by a decreased absorption in the gastrointestinal tract. As our bodies can store a high amount of vitamin B12, a deficiency is rare if you are a healthy person. Certain groups of the population are at a greater risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency. This group includes vegetarians and vegans, the elderly, people with an addiction to alcohol, patients who have had a stomach reduction and pregnant women.
A vitamin B12 deficiency can occur due to:
• Eating too little food that contains vitamin B12
- Vegans: because they do not consume meat, fish, dairy products or eggs.
- Vegetarians: who consume too little dairy products or eggs.
- People with an alcohol addiction: people who drink alcohol excessively on a daily basis and also eat little food, often have a vitamin B12 deficiency. Their stomach and intestines absorb vitamin B12 less well.
• A stomach or intestinal disease that prevents vitamin B12 from being absorbed from food by the intestine. For example:
- An autoimmune disease with an inflammation of the gastric mucosa (atrophic gastritis).
- Crohn's disease which involves is a chronic inflammation of the bowel.
• Long-term use of certain medicines, for example:
- Certain tablets for the stomach (proton pump inhibitors or PPIs such as Pantomed).
- An anti-diabetes medicine such as metformin.
Consequences of a vitamin B12 deficiency
Do any of the above descriptions sound familiar? We advise you to contact your doctor in this case. With a blood, your doctor is able to determine whether you actually have a vitamin B12 deficiency. Our body can store vitamin B12, especially in the liver, and stock it for several months to even years. Complaints only arise when your supply runs out and vitamin B12 deficiencies results in anaemia. This is characterised by symptoms such as:
• Ringing in the ears
• Heart palpitations
• Chest pain
• Lack of appetite
In addition, a vitamin B12 deficiency can have neurological consequences, such as tingling in the fingers, memory loss, coordination difficulties or muscle weakness in the legs.
A deficiency can also affect the nervous system. Vitamin B12 is important for the memory and thinking functions. For example, the elderly may experience problems with their memory due to a shortage of vitamin B12.
Prevention and treatment of a vitamin B12 deficiency
Preventing a vitamin B12 deficiency can be done by eating a sufficient amount of animal products, such as meat, eggs and dairy products. If you are vegetarian or vegan, or if you have stomach or intestinal problems, you may consider using a dietary supplement. Ask your doctor to verify your vitamin B12 level. Do you have a shortage? The treatment depends on the cause in this case. In case of an insufficient production of intrinsic factor, your doctor will usually give vitamin B12 injections. If the gastric mucosa produces enough intrinsic factor, a vitamin B12 supplement is often sufficient. The recommended daily amount of vitamin B12 is 2.8 micrograms for men and women from the age of 14.
With a dietary supplement you can quickly supplement a deficiency of vitamin B12. In the range of Optiphar you can find vitamin B12 dietary supplements from well-known brands such as Metagenics, Deba and Solgar.