Health

The unsettling way vitamin B12 deficiency can worsen in a matter of months – signs to spot

Vitamin B12 performs several important functions in the body, such as helping to keep the body's nerve and blood cells healthy and helping to make DNA - the genetic material in all cells. Research detailing the myriad ways B12 deficiency can affect the body underscores the vitamin's importance.

One of the most harrowing case reports charts the neurological effects of B12 deficiency.

A previously healthy 53-year-old male patient presented with delirium and "multiple neurological findings".

The patient, not known to have any medical illness, was brought to the emergency room by his wife and daughter due to decreased oral intake since three days. The decreased oral intake was associated with vomiting.

The patient had a normal state of health until two months prior to his visit, when he started to develop changes in his behaviour.

 

According to his wife, the patient became more aggressive, had reduced sleep, had stopped going to work, and became isolated.

He also had hallucinations and episodes of short-term memory loss.

According to the case report, the above symptoms were accompanied by generalised body weakness, mainly in the lower limbs.

The body weakness was associated with pain; the patient became wheelchair-bound.

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Fortunately, the patient's condition significantly improved following injections of B12.

There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:

HydroxocobalaminCyanocobalamin.

"Hydroxocobalamin is usually the recommended option as it stays in the body for longer," says the NHS.

According to the health body, if your vitamin B12 deficiency is caused by a lack of the vitamin in your diet, you may be prescribed vitamin B12 tablets to take every day between meals.


What is the link between diet and B12?

People strictly following a vegan or vegetarian diet are at a much higher risk of B12 deficiency.

That's because vitamin B12 is found naturally in a wide variety of animal foods and is added to some fortified foods.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), beef liver and clams are the best sources of vitamin B12.

Fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and other dairy products also contain vitamin B12, says the health body.


As it explains, plant foods have no vitamin B12 unless they are fortified.

In fact, people who find it difficult to get enough vitamin B12 in their diets, such as those following a vegan diet, may need vitamin B12 tablets for life, notes the NHS.

If you're a vegetarian or vegan, or are looking for alternatives to meat and dairy products, there are other foods that contain vitamin B12, however.

These include yeast extract (such as Marmite), as well as some fortified breakfast cereals and soy products, adds the NHS.



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