Feeling a little under the weather lately? Or maybe you’ve noticed an unusual pallor to your skin? It could be a sign of vitamin B12 deficiency – and a surprisingly large number of us aren’t getting enough of this essential nutrient.
From dietary pitfalls to malabsorption or medical conditions, there are a number of reasons why someone might be lacking in vitamin B12, but one of the most common paths to missing out of this non-negotiable nutrient is down to our food intake – or lack thereof. Some studies suggest 20% of those over 60 could be deficient, while the number for insufficiency is slated to be far higher. We need this vitamin for a number of processes:
- Central nervous system regulation
- DNA synthesis
- Red blood cell production
Let’s take a look at some of the glaring signs you’re dealing with a B12 deficiency.
If you’ve been having a harder time getting out of bed in the mornings – and staying out! – you could be low in vitamin B12. Fatigue is one of the first signs you’re lacking adequate stores of this nutrient, and this is because this vitamin is responsible for red blood cell production. Without proper functioning cells, our body struggles to get oxygen around the body, leading to increased tiredness and weakness – and you don’t need to be deficient to start feeling fatigued, even the lower end of the healthy range can cause these symptoms to crop up. So, don’t skimp out on your B12!
Skin colour changes
One of the most common changes you’ll notice when you’re deficient in vitamin B12 is in the colour of your skin – it may take on a pale or yellow hue. This is believed to be caused by an insufficient count of healthy red blood cells, thereby draining the colour from your skin. In some cases, you could end up with jaundice – which, of course, causes yellow skin – and this comes down to excessive levels of bilirubin, a waste substance. This stuff should be cleared out with functioning red blood cells, but when your lack of B12 turns things pear-shaped, your bilirubin levels can get out of control.
A vitamin B12 deficiency won’t just stop at headaches and fatigue – it also targets your central nervous system. This means many people will struggle with the dreaded brain fog, characterised by confusion, a lack of clarity and focus, forgetfulness and a difficulty remembering things. It’s especially dangerous for older people, with low or deficient B12 levels associated with mental decline in this group. But fear not – research shows that getting your B12 stores back up provides relief from these cognitive symptoms.
Headaches and migraines
Many of us brush of headaches as a harmless ailment, but when you’re suffering on the regular, it’s not something you should ignore. There are a multitude of causes for this common condition, including a vitamin B12 deficiency. This is because insufficient levels of this vitamin can affect our whole body – including the neurological side of things. Research has found that those with chronic headaches are more likely to have insufficient B12 levels, with this ailment one of the most highly reported symptoms of a deficiency. Another study found that migraine sufferers had drastically lower levels of B12 than their migraine-free counterparts, with a whopping 80% lower incidence of migraines in participants with the greatest vitamin B12 count.
Pins and needles
Pins and needles, also known as paresthesia, is a common sign of a vitamin B12 deficiency – especially in the hands and feet. It’s also a known symptom of diabetes, so it’s important to get a health professional’s assessment to get a sense of what you’re dealing with. It’s also worth noting that diabetics on certain medications, like metformin, are a drastically increased risk of B12 deficiency – so if this sounds like you, be sure to check out your levels with a blood test.
You’re also far more likely to develop anaemia with a deficiency due to the fact that we need this vitamin to produce healthy red and white blood cells – the lack of which results in anaemia, a condition characterised by fatigue and weakness. This can lead to a host of dangerous conditions like tachycardia – an abnormally fast heartbeat – along with lung issues and heart failure. To put it simply – keep an eye on your B12 levels and be sure to dose up on it with multiple dietary sources. Here are a few of the best places to source this vitamin:
- Dairy products like cheese and yoghurt
- Fortified cereals, plant milks and nutritional yeast
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