Vitamin B12 Deficiency

There are so many vitamins and minerals that a healthy body needs to function properly and one of the less heralded vitamins in recent times is vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 forms part of the broader vitamin B spectrum and is a water soluble vitamin that you can find in a variety of foods such as fish, eggs and other high protein food stuffs. Vitamin B12 is stored in the liver in quantities that can keep the body sustained with the vitamin for several years so deficiency in vitamin B12 is quite rare compared to other vitamin deficiencies and is only usually found in vegetarians, the elderly and people infected with the HIV virus.

What Is Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

Vitamin B12 deficiency is the result of depleted stores of vitamin B12 stored within the body. Vitamin B12 is an important vitamin in a healthy body and is involved in the production of red blood cells amongst other vital bodily functions. Red blood cell production in turn is crucial in delivering oxygen around the body. Healthy red blood cells are responsible for delivering nutrients and oxygen to bodily tissues and cells.

Vitamin B12 deficiency isn’t widespread in the general community, but it is most common in people that have a condition or disease that inhibits the body’s ability to absorb B12 from food and drink. Older people are also relatively more likely to experience this deficiency, 1 in every 31 adults over the age of 50 has depleted levels of vitamin B12 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Recommended Daily Intake of Vitamin B12

There are a few variables that can affect the level of vitamin B12 which your system requires. These variables include age, gender and whether you are a pregnant or breastfeeding mother. Below is a guide to how much vitamin B12 may be needed per day in micrograms.



Newborns, under 6 months

0.4 mcg

Babies, 6 to 12 months

0.5 mcg

Toddlers, 1 to 3 years

0.9 mcg

Children, 4 to 8 years

1.2 mcg

Preteens, 9 to 13 years

1.8 mcg

Teenagers, 14 to 18 years

2.4 mcg

Adults, over 18 years

2.4 mcg

Vitamin B12 Perinatal Levels


Pregnant women and teens

2.6 mcg

Breastfeeding women and teens

2.8 mcg

People over 50 years old should eat foods reinforced with B12 or take a vitamin B12 supplement for meeting recommended RDA. Supplementation of 25-100 mcg daily has been used to maintain vitamin B12 levels in older people.

What Are the Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Common Symptoms

The symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency develop and manifest themselves slowly and may not be recognized until the condition becomes much worse. Common symptoms of escalating Vitamin B12 deficiency are:

  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Heart palpitation or a racing heartbeat
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Red sore tongue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Reduced appetite
  • Nausea
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin and eyes may have a yellow tinge

Severe Symptoms

If a vitamin B12 deficiency goes untreated then the symptoms can change or intensify over time. Long term B12 deficiency can cause irreparable damage to nerve cells and can cause the following severe symptoms:

  • Pins and needles, tingling and numbness in the hands and feet
  • Impaired movement including walking
  • Weak muscles
  • Memory difficulties
  • Irritability
  • Low moods and depression
  • Psychosis and delusion
  • Dementia

When to See a Doctor

It is important to contact your doctor if you experience any heart palpitations, shortness of breath, have a tender sore tongue or any of the other symptoms associated with vitamin B12 deficiency, particularly if you are in one of these high risk groups:

  • Vegans
  • People over the age of 50 of African-American descent
  • People over the age of 50 of Northern-European descent
  • People with diabetes
  • People affected by an autoimmune disorder
  • People who have had their stomach removed

What Are the Causes of Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

1.    Diet

Vegans, vegetarians and people who avoid foods rich in vitamin B12 such as fish, meat, dairy and eggs may simply not ingest enough B12 to keep their system supplies up.

2.    Digestive System Conditions

There are many digestive conditions that can affect your ability to absorb vitamin B12. Those who have a gastrectomy or other stomach related surgical procedure, as well as those who have intestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease are notably at risk.

3.    Pernicious Anemia

This is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack the cells that produce “intrinsic factor”, a substance that is crucial to vitamin B12 absorption.

4.    Medication

Some medications such as PPIs (Protein pump inhibitors) which are used for the treatment of indigestion can inhibit the absorption of vitamin B12.

5.    Functional Problems

This is a condition were a person may display normal levels of B12 in their bloodstream but are unable to utilize the vitamin due to a problem with the proteins responsible for transporting it to cells.

What Are the Treatments for Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

Treatments can vary from person to person, but there are a series of standard treatments for vitamin B12 deficiency that can be recommended by doctors and healthcare professionals. The treatment is very much dependent on the cause. A dietary deficiency can be compensated for by taking supplements or adapting your diet. Conditions, such as pernicious anemia, involve other methods of treatment such as injections.

Vitamin B12 from Food

There are quite a few ways that you can supplement or increase your B12 intake. There is the option of taking prescribed B12 tablets between meals, but getting B12 through your food is usually the most desirable option for dietary deficiencies. If you do not eat or cannot adapt your diet to eat B12 rich foods such as eggs, dairy, fish and other meats you can sometimes find foods that have levels of vitamin B12 to supplement your diet. Such foods include yeast spreads such as marmite and vegemite, other yeast extracts and fortified soy and cereals.


It may be necessary to have injections in order to resolve your vitamin B12 deficiency. These vitamin B12 injections, generally composed of hydroxocobalamin are administered by a doctor or specialist, known as a hematologist, twice a year.

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