Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia

What is vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia?

Having vitamin B12 deficiency means that your body does not have enough of this vitamin. Not having enough B12 can lead to anaemia, which means your body does not have enough red blood cells to do the job. This can make you feel weak and tired. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause damage to your nerves and can affect memory and thinking.

What causes vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia?

Most people get more than enough B12 from eating meat, eggs, milk, and cheese. Normally, the vitamin is absorbed by your digestive system, your stomach and intestines. Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia usually happens when the digestive system is not able to absorb the vitamin. This can happen if:

  • You have pernicious anaemia. In this anaemia, your body destroys the cells in your stomach that help you absorb vitamin B12.
  • You have had surgery to remove part of the stomach or the last part of your small intestine, called the ileum. This includes some types of surgery used to help very overweight people lose weight.
  • You have problems with the way your body digests food, such as sprue (also called celiac disease), Crohn’s disease bacteria growth in the small intestine, or a parasite.

 

This anaemia can also happen if you don’t eat enough foods with B12, but this is rare. People who eat a vegetarian diet and older adults who don’t eat a variety of foods may need to take a daily vitamin pill to get enough B12. Other causes include drinking alcohol and taking some prescription and non-prescription medicines.

What is the recommended daily amount of vitamin B12?

The amount of vitamin B12 you need depends on your age.

Daily recommended B12:
Age (years) Daily amount of B12 (micrograms)
1-3 0.9 mcg
4-8 1.2 mcg
9-13 1.8 mcg
14 and older 2.4 mcg
Pregnant women 2.6 mcg
Breast – feeding women 2.8 mcg

What foods contain B12?

Vitamin B12 is found in foods from animals, such as meat, seafood, milk products, poultry, and eggs. It is not in foods from plants unless it has been added to the food (fortified). Some foods, like cereals, are fortified with vitamin B12.

Supplements containing only B12, or B12 along with other B vitamins and/or folate, are readily available. Also, B12 is usually in multivitamins. Check the label to find out how much B12 is in a supplement.

What are the symptoms?

If your vitamin B12 deficiency is mild, you may not have symptoms or you may not notice them. Some people may think they are just the result of growing older. As the anaemia gets worse, you may:

  • Feel weak, tired, and lightheaded.
  • Have pale skin.
  • Have a sore, red tongue or bleeding gums.
  • Feel sick to your stomach and lose weight.
  • Have diarrhoea or constipation.

If the level of vitamin B12 stays low for a long time, it can damage your nerve cells. If this happens, you may have:

  • Numbness or tingling in your fingers and toes.
  • A poor sense of balance.
  • Depression.
  • Dementia, a loss of mental abilities.

How is vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia diagnosed?

Your doctor will examine you and ask questions about your past health and how you are feeling now. You will also have blood tests to check the number of red blood cells and to see if your body has enough vitamin B12.

The level of folic acid, another B vitamin, will be checked too. Some people whose vitamin B12 levels are too low also have low levels of folic acid. The two problems can cause similar symptoms. But they are treated differently.

How is it treated?

Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia is treated with supplements of vitamin B12. Taking supplements brings your level of vitamin B12 back to normal, so you do not have symptoms. To keep your level of vitamin B12 normal, you will probably need to take supplements for the rest of your life. If you stop taking them, you’ll get anaemia again.

You can take steps at home to improve your health by eating a varied diet that includes meat, milk, cheese, and eggs, which are good sources of vitamin B12. Also, eat plenty of foods that contain folic acid, another type of B vitamin. These include leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and fortified breads and cereals. Can vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia be prevented?

Most people can prevent this anaemia by including animal products like milk, cheese, and eggs in their diets. People who follow a vegan diet can prevent it by taking a daily vitamin pill or by eating foods that have been fortified with B12.

About Neena Luthra

Neena Luthra M.Sc Food and Nutrition P.G Diploma in Nutrition and Dietetics Dietician, Ex GMCH 32, Chandigarh A well-presented, self-motivated and best dietitian in Chandigarh with experience of assessing patients’ nutritional needs, then developing and implementing nutrition programs for them.