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Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Signs and Symptoms, Risks and Treatment

Updated on December 29, 2011

Vitamin B12 Pills


Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is also known as cobalamin.

Vitamin B12 aka cobalamin is a very important water soluble vitamin. It's main purpose is to maintain normal functioning of the brain, nervous system, aids in proper digestionand absorption of calcium, and promotes growth in children. Vitamin B12 also plays a role in forming red blood cells which carry both oxygen and carbon dioxide. Vitamin B12 contains cobalt and can only be man made through a process called bacterial fermentation-synthesis. Commonly called cyanocobalamin, which is the form of B12 used in supplements you would purchase at your local pharmacy. However, it is naturally found in animal products such as chicken, eggs, beef (specifically beef liver), fish, shellfish, and milk products. And is not available in plant foods.

The average daily recommended intake of vitamin B12 in healthy individuals;

micromilligrams (mcg)

  • Ages 0-6 months - 0.4 mcg
  • Ages 7-12 months - 0.5 mcg
  • Ages 1-3 - 0.9 mcg
  • Ages 4-8 - 1.2 mcg
  • Ages 9-13 - 1.8 mcg
  • Ages 14-19 - 2.4 mcg
  • Men and Women over the age of 19 - 2.4 mcg
  • Pregnant Women - 2.6 mcg
  • Lactating Women- 2.8 mcg

The recommended daily intake will change if a deficiency or other conditions are present.

What Causes a Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Vitamin B12 deficiency means exactly that. Your body does not have enough of the B12 vitamin to complete necessary bodily functions. This may be due to an insufficient amount of Vitamin B12 in one's diet. It is rare to not consume enough Vitamin B12 on a daily basis. However, vegetarians and vegans are at a greater risk of vitamin B12 deficiency due to the lack of the consumption of the B12 sources such as meat and dairy products. A Vitamin B12 deficiency may also be due to the body's inability to absorb or properly use Vitamin B12. Certain diseases such as Crohn's, digestive tract surgeries, certain medications and alcohol consumption may affect the bodies ability to absorb Vitamin B12.

Pernicious anemia is another cause of a Vitamin B12 deficiency. This is due to the deficiency of intrinsic factor. Intrinsic factor is produced in the stomach and is used in the small intestine to absorb Vitamin B12.

Most Common Signs and Symptoms of a B12 Deficiency

Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms will vary from person to person. Depending on the cause, severity, ect. A vitamin B12 deficiency may go undetected for years as these symptoms may be subtle. If you are experiencing these common vitamin b12 deficiency symptoms a simple doctor's visit and a blood test can tell you whether or not a vitamin B12 deficiency is the culprit.

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness (especially in the arms and legs)
  • Chest pain
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Depression
  • Constipation
  • Confusion
  • Poor memory
  • Developmental delays
  • Numbness and/or coldness in hands and/or feet
  • Bruising
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Pale lips, tongue and gums
  • Pale skin or jaundice (yellowing of the skin, most noticeable in the whites of the eyes)
  • Irreversible nerve damage
  • Irritability

A Vitamin B12 deficiency cannot be diagnosed primarily on these symptoms alone. As they can have numerous other causes. However, a vitamin B12 deficiency can have some serious consequences and it is very important to seek medical attention if you suspect you may have a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Risks of a Vitamin B12 Deficiency

As mentioned before Vitamin B12 plays a big role in many of your bodies symptoms. Therefore, a Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to serious problems such as personality changes, memory impairment, dementia, depression, psychosis and eventually a risk of stroke and heart attack.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency Treatment

With early diagnosis, a Vitamin B12 deficiency can be successfully treated with minimal damage to the body. Treatment includes restoring your bodies Vitamin B12 supply. This can be done by;

  1. Oral B12 vitamins. This will be a higher dose than what would be found in a regular multivitamin.
  2. Vitamin B12 intramuscular injections. These may be started with one injection a week. And then one injection per month.
  3. Vitamin B12 nasal spray.

Other treatments of a Vitamin B12 deficiency include;

  • Treatment of the underlying cause of the deficiency
  • Changing your diet. Including more foods high in Vitamin B12, such as meats and milk products.

Usually treatments are lifelong depending on the cause. Most people have relief from the symptoms soon after treatment has begun. However, in severe cases treatment will not correct any/all brain and/or nerve damage already done. Your doctor will again check your levels of Vitamin B12, through a blood test, a few months after beginning the treatment.

Vitamin B12 in pill form is not always successful in treating a vitamin B12 deficiency and you may need to consider receiving injections. Injection treatments are more successful in treating a vitamin B12 deficiency because an intramuscular injection is better absorbed by the body than the oral route.


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    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great informative hub on why you need to get B12 into your body. My mom had B12 shots before she died for a year. I need to eat more fish and some red meats, every now and then.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      Well presented, interesting and important information on B12 deficiency. Thank you for this information. I do not eat red meat and struggle with low levels of both vitamin B12.

    • blairtracy profile image

      blairtracy 5 years ago from Canada

      Thnak-you YogaKat!

    • YogaKat profile image

      YogaKat 5 years ago from Oahu Hawaii

      Very thorough and informative hub.