Doctor warns B12 deficiency takes up to decade to appear – first signs

This Morning: Guest reveals symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency

Vitamin B12 – proper name cobalamin – is an essential vitamin. Our bodies cannot make it and it has to be obtained from the diet. Dr Deborah Lee, from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy, explained how this “vital” nutrient is needed to make DNA and plays a key role in the brain, spinal cord, and the production of red blood cells.

The elderly, those with alcohol issues, and people following a vegetarian or vegan diet are at higher risk of a deficiency.

So too are those with the autoimmune disease pernicious anaemia or Sjogren’s syndrome.

Even those who have malabsorption issues are prone to a vitamin B12 deficiency.

“The symptoms of low levels of vitamin B12 come on slowly often over a number of years,” said Dr Lee.


“And some people have no symptoms at all, at least until the effects are severe.”

For some people, however, there can be symptoms of the deficiency in the “early stages”.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Weakness, tiredness and fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Sore mouth and tongue
  • Yellow skin (jaundice)
  • Depression
  • Irritability.

“As B12 is vital to make haemoglobin which transports oxygen around the body, a lack of B12 results in anaemia, due to low levels of haemoglobin,” added Dr Lee.

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In the longer term, a vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to other health issues.

Examples include numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, loss of vision (optic atrophy), and impaired cognition and memory loss.

A long-term deficiency may also lead to confusion, ataxic gait (difficulty walking), and speech difficulties.

“If you have anaemia (a specific type of anaemia called macrocytic anaemia), or any symptoms suggestive of B12 deficiency, your GP can organise a blood test to check your B12 levels,” recommended Dr Lee.

“B12 is found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs and fortified dairy products,” said Dr Lee.

“Only 50-60 percent of what is ingested is absorbed in the gut, via a special protein called Intrinsic Factor (IF).”

Dr Lee added: “There are no plant sources of B12, so vegans and vegetarians need to eat fortified foods such as cereals, two to three times a day.

“It is difficult to meet the B12 requirements and they are strongly advised to take B12 supplements if not ingesting enough B12 on a regular basis.”

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