What Are the Symptoms of Vitamin B-12 Deficiency?

A quiche rich in vitamin B-12 ingredients including salmon, eggs, milk and cheese.
A quiche rich in vitamin B-12 ingredients including salmon, eggs, milk and cheese. (Image: minadezhda/iStock/Getty Images)

Have you ever wondered why you might feel sluggish, have tingling in your hands and feet or have stomach problems like constipation or diarrhea? The answer could be found in your diet. Vitamin B-12 is a member of the B vitamin family and is a important component in your daily diet. It has many functions in your body including roles in nerve function and red blood cell formation. If you suspect that you may have a vitamin B-12 deficiency, contact your doctor for a consultation.

Anemia and Related Symptoms

Since vitamin B-12 is required for your body to make red blood cells, a lack of B-12 can lead to a condition called megaloblastic anemia. The term "megaloblastic" means that your red blood cells are immature, abnormally large and irregularly structured. Anemia mean there are low levels of red blood cells circulating in your blood. Red blood cells are charged with the job of delivering oxygen throughout your body. If you have megaloblastic anemia, you may experience symptoms such as tiredness and weakness due to low levels of oxygen delivered throughout your body. You may also have pale skin from the decreased number of red blood cells circulating in your body.

Nervous System and Digestive Tract Symptoms

B-12 plays an important role in the function of your nerves. B-12 helps make myelin, which is the protective coating that surrounds your nerves. A lack of B-12 can result in many nervous systems symptoms, including numbness, difficulty maintaining balance, confusion, depression and poor memory. Tingling of the hands or feet is the most common complaint in people with a B-12 deficiency. These symptoms can occur without the overt symptoms of anemia. Early detection of a B-12 deficiency is important to avoid permanent nerve damage.

A vitamin B-12 deficiency can also include digestive tract symptoms such as poor appetite, constipation, diarrhea and gas. These symptoms can appear without obvious signs of anemia or neurological symptoms.

Sources of B-12

Natural food sources of B-12 include liver, meat, milk, eggs, fish and cheese. Vitamin B-12 is not commonly found in plants foods, but some fortified cereals contain it. The best way to prevent a B-12 deficiency is to eat a balanced diet. B-12 supplements are also available. The recommended daily intake of B-12 is 2.4 micrograms per day for people over the age of 14.

Groups Commonly at Risk of B-12 Deficiency

Vitamin B-12 deficiency is most common among two groups of people: vegetarians and people over the age of 51.

Stomach acid is required for the absorption of B-12. As you age, your body produces less stomach acid. A decrease in stomach acid means a decrease in the absorption of vitamin B-12. This puts older adults at a higher risk for B-12 deficiency.

In the case of vegetarians, natural food sources of B-12 are animal proteins. Since vegetarians eat little to no animal protein, they are at risk of B-12 deficiency. Strict vegetarians and vegans are at higher risk compared to vegetarians who still eat milk products and eggs.

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