Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Despite its paramount importance, certain groups are prone to vitamin B12 deficiency, the effects of which can be permanent. Lacking B12 can cause an onslaught of symptoms, ranging from neurological to gastrointestinal.
Some of the most recognisable warning signs can show up on your tongue.
According to National, Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLB), a smooth, thick, red tongue is a sign of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency involve the digestive tract.
As the NHLB explains, these symptoms include nausea (feeling sick to your stomach) and vomiting, heartburn, abdominal bloating and gas, constipation or diarrhoea, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
Vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to nerve damage – this can cause tingling and numbness in your hands and feet, muscle weakness, and loss of reflexes, adds the health body.
“You also may feel unsteady, lose your balance, and have trouble walking. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause weakened bones and may lead to hip fractures,” it says.
What should I do if I recognise these symptoms?
According to the NHS, you should see a GP if you’re experiencing symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.
“These conditions can often be diagnosed based on your symptoms and the results of a blood test,” explains the health body.
It’s important for vitamin B12 deficiency to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
“Although many of the symptoms improve with treatment, some problems caused by the condition can be irreversible if left untreated,” warns the NHS.
It adds: “The longer the condition goes untreated, the higher the chance of permanent damage.”
What causes B12 deficiency?
There are two leading causes of B12 deficiency – poor dietary intake and pernicious anaemia.
Pernicious anaemia is the most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency in the UK.
Pernicious anaemia is an autoimmune disease that prevents the body from making intrinsic factor – a protein made by the stomach and needed to absorb vitamin B12 in the intestine.
The other cause of B12 deficiency is strictly following a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Vitamin B12 is found naturally in a wide variety of animal foods and plant foods have no vitamin B12 unless they are fortified.
How to treat B12 deficiency
The treatment for vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia depends on what’s causing the condition.
“Most people can be easily treated with injections or tablets to replace the missing vitamins,” explains the NHS.
Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia is usually treated with injections of vitamin B12.
There are two types of vitamin B12 injections: