Vitamin B12 is no one trick pony – it helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA; the genetic material in all cells. B12’s importance becomes all too apparent if you become deficient in it. Some of the most acute effects are neurological.
A review exploring the range of effects B12 deficiency has on the nervous system alighted on a rare symptom.
“Involuntary movements comprise a relatively rare manifestation of this readily treatable disorder,” stated the review.
Other neurological problems include:
- Vision problems
- Memory loss
- Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
- Loss of physical coordination (ataxia), which can affect your whole body and cause difficulty speaking or walking
- Damage to parts of the nervous system (peripheral neuropathy), particularly in the legs.
According to the NHS, if you recognise these symptoms, you should see a GP.
“These conditions can often be diagnosed based on your symptoms and the results of a blood test,” says the health body.
It’s important for vitamin B12 to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
The longer the condition goes untreated, the higher the chance of permanent damage.
“If neurological problems do develop, they may be irreversible,” warns the health body.
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Why do some people become deficient in B12?
There are primary reasons why some people struggle to get enough B12 in their body.
The leading cause in the UK is pernicious anaemia – an autoimmune disease that prevents the body from making intrinsic factor (a protein made by the stomach and needed to absorb vitamin B12 in the intestine).
“As a result, they [people] have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 from all foods and dietary supplements,” explains the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The second reason a person may struggle to get enough B12 is following certain diets.
Vitamin B12 is found naturally in a wide variety of animal foods and is added to some fortified foods.
As the NIH points out, plant foods have no vitamin B12 unless they are fortified.
As a result, people strictly adhering to a vegan or vegetarian diet are at a higher risk of B12 deficiency.
However, you can find alternative sources of B12, such as yeast extract (including Marmite), as well as some fortified breakfast cereals and soy products.
How is B12 deficiency treated?
The treatment for vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia depends on what’s causing the condition.
Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia is usually treated with injections of vitamin B12.
There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:
“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,” adds the NHS.
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