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Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms: How to tell if you are lacking the vitamin

Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient the body needs to make red blood cells and keep the nervous system healthy. Vitamin B12 deficiency is mainly caused by an insufficient intake of the vitamin in the diet, although it can be caused by other conditions. Poor dietary decisions can lead to pernicious anaemia – an autoimmune condition that affects your stomach. This is the most common cause of cause of vitamin B12 deficiency in the UK.

Since vitamin B12 can send important signals to your brain, these symptoms may appear when you are experiencing a deficiency

The symptoms can be wide-ranging but one harmful effect easily overlooked is depression.

According to Harvard Health, a severe deficiency can cause “deep depression”. It can also induce other psychological problems such as paranoia, delusions and memory loss, added the health body.

TV health expert Dr Oz said: “Since vitamin B12 can send important signals to your brain, these symptoms may appear when you are experiencing a deficiency.”

There is currently no evidence that, at least in the short term, upping your intake of B12 will help to redress the mood imbalance.

However, said Dr Mark A. Frye, director Mayo Clinic Depression Center and chair Mayo’s department of psychiatry and psychology, “a couple of long-term studies have found that regular dosing of vitamin B12 may reduce relapse rates of depression”.

According to Dr Jonathan Woodcock, an associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, research suggests it could be taken as a supplementary measure: “Although there is a limited amount of evidence in the medical literature, there are strong reasons to believe that treating (and raising) a low B12 level will make antidepressant treatment more effective.”

Dr Oz said: “Your doctor might recommend a supplement or increasing the number of natural B12 sources in your diet, but ultimately, you may have to seek further treatment to reverse these conditions.”

According to the NHS, other symptoms of vitamin b12 deficiency include:

  • A sore and red tongue
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Muscle weakness
  • Disturbed vision
  • Problems with memory, understanding and judgement

In most cases, eating food that is is rich in vitamin B12 will correct the deficiency.

Vitamin B12 is found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, yeast extract (such as Marmite) and specially fortified foods.

The best sources of folate include green vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and peas.

“If your vitamin B12 deficiency is not caused by a lack of vitamin B12 in your diet, you’ll usually need to have an injection of hydroxocobalamin every 2 to 3 months for the rest of your life,” said the NHS.

To ensure your treatment is working, you may need to have further blood tests. 

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