The subtle symptoms of fatigue, weakness, lightheadedness, and digestive issues are so common and can be attributed to many factors, such as lack of sleep, unhealthy eating or lack of exercise, that sometimes we don’t bother investigating the root cause.
But there’s another less obvious culprit for such detrimental side effects that’s relatively common, especially among those over age 50: vitamin B12 deficiency.
What is Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 helps your body produce red blood cells, which move oxygen throughout your bodily systems and to all your vital organs. When your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells, you’re considered to be anemic. As you can imagine, as your red blood cell count drops, you’ll start to have health problems. (Vitamin B12 also helps your body with other essential functions, such as creating nerves and DNA.)
Like most vitamins, Vitamin B12 can only come from your diet (it’s not produced by your body), so it’s something that we can easily come up short on if we’re not careful.
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
A mild deficiency might only cause mild or unnoticeable symptoms. However, Patrick J. Skerrett, Former Executive Editor of Harvard Health mentions that while symptoms may develop slowly and intensify over time, they may also come on relatively quickly.
Generally, symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency can include:
- Weakness, tiredness, or lightheadedness
- Shortness of breath
- Digestive problems such as constipation, diarrhea, or gas
- Loss of appetite
- Nerve problems such numbness or tingling (especially in the hands, legs and feet), muscle weakness, and problems walking (staggering, balance problems)
- Vision loss
- Mental problems such as difficulty thinking and reasoning, depression, memory loss, or behavioral changes. This happens with increasing frequency with age. Many older adults are diagnosed with various forms of dementia, when the cause is B12 defieciency.
- Jaundice (yellow skin)
Skerrett also adds that “a severe vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to deep depression, paranoia and delusions, memory loss, incontinence, loss of taste and smell, and more” – all pretty disturbing symptoms.
Causes & Risk Factors for Vitamin B12 Deficiency
If you are Vitamin B12 deficient, it’s either because you aren’t getting enough of the vitamin in your diet, or because you’re getting it but your body isn’t absorbing it properly.
Most people fall into the first category, but absorption problems may be more common for those who have had problems or conditions with their small intestines or stomachs.
The risk of Vitamin B12 deficiency also increases as we get older.
As noted in the Harvard Health Publications: “The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey estimated that 3.2% of adults over age 50 have a seriously low B12 level, and up to 20% may have a borderline deficiency.”
The generally accepted range is 200-900 pg/ml. In my opinion, this range is too broad. Many will have symptoms at 500 pg/ml. or below. I recommend keeping B12 levels at the higher range of 700-900 pg/ml. Please ask your doctor to check your B12 level as part of your blood testing. It is a simple, and very important, add-on test.
How to Avoid Vitamin B12 Deficiency
If your deficiency is caused by your body’s inability to absorb Vitamin B12, you may benefit from B12 injections.
However, those who have deficient diets simply must eat more foods that contain the vitamin, or take a quality supplement.
Foods that are rich in B12 are animal-based including meat, fish and other seafood, eggs, poultry, and dairy products such as milk and cheese.
If you find that you can’t get the vitamin from regular food sources, you can opt for oral vitamins or injections that can provide the vitamin. You’ll want to ensure that the supplement you take is easily absorbed by your body. I recommend Diamond Nutritionals’ Foundation Vitamin Formula. Not only does it have a full daily dose of vitamin B12, but it also provides a full spectrum of all B vitamins, which help to boost energy levels and support stressful lifestyles. This professional, ultra-grade supplement also contains a full range of easily absorbable vitamins and minerals in proper amounts and ratios.