Vitamin B12 is needed to produce an adequate amount of healthy red blood cells in the bone marrow. Vitamin B12 is available only in animal foods (meat and dairy products) or yeast extracts (such as brewer’s yeast). Vitamin B12 deficiency is defined by low levels of stored B12 in the body that can result in anemia, a lower-than-normal number of red blood cells.
The importance of B12 in the human body is hard to overestimate.
And while you hear things like how it’s important for your nerves, DNA and red blood cells among many other things, what does a lack of it actually do in more “every day” language?
To answer that, let’s take a look at a case study of what can happen when your levels get too low.
Warning Signs of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Symptoms tend to develop slowly and may not be recognized immediately. As the condition worsens, common symptoms include:
- Weakness and fatigue
- Light-headedness and dizziness
- Palpitations and rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- A sore tongue that has a red, beefy appearance
- Nausea or poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Yellowish tinge to the skin and eyes
If low levels of B12 remain for a long time, the condition also can lead to irreversible damage to nerve cells, which can cause the following symptoms:
- Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
- Difficulty walking
- Muscle weakness
- Memory loss
Treatment for Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 deficiency treatment depends on the cause.
If pernicious anemia or a problem with absorption is the cause, you’ll need to replace vitamin B12, usually by injection, or by prescription.
If the issue is that you don’t eat animal products, you can change your diet or take supplements.
For most people, treatment resolves the problem. But any nerve damage that happened due to the deficiency could be permanent.