You can get vitamin B12 deficiency, even if you eat plenty of meat. Vitamin B12 malabsorption is a common cause of pernicious anemia, and it occurs in a growing number of people, due to an increase in certain health issues and lifestyle choices. To find out if you’re suffering from vitamin B12 malabsorption, pay attention to the following risk factors and symptoms.
Vitamin B12 benefits
Vitamin B12 is a necessary nutrient that aids in neurological functioning, red blood cell production, DNA synthesis, cognitive integrity, and proper immune system health.
Most people need not worry about missing out on this crucial vitamin, as your body is able to store vast amounts of vitamin B12 for years, and you eat plenty of vitamin B12 in foods such as meat, fish, shellfish, milk, and eggs.
Unless you follow a strict vegan diet, you probably consume enough vitamin B12 to prevent vitamin B12 deficiency.
Vitamin B12 malabsorption
However, a growing percentage of individuals are discovering that they are not, in fact, maintaining healthy amounts of vitamin B12, and for those people, the risk of developing severe vitamin B12 deficiency from pernicious anemia is high.
Vitamin B12 malabsorption occurs when you are unable to produce the necessary digestive enzymes (intrinsic factor) that are required in order to access vitamin B12 from much of the foods you eat.
Over time, untreated vitamin B12 malabsorption leads to severe depletion of vitamin B12 in the blood, causing debilitating symptoms indicating nerve damage (neuropathy), reduced oxygen (hypoxemia), or a variety of other ailments.
Symptoms of vitamin B12 malabsorption
Vitamin B12 malabsorption symptoms don’t manifest until vitamin B12 levels are at a dangerous low. For that reason, it’s vital to stop vitamin B12 deficiency immediately.
Even the earliest symptoms of pernicious anemia indicate a process of nervous system deterioration that began a long time- sometimes years- earlier.
Symptoms of pernicious anemia from vitamin B12 malabsorption include:
- Constant daily fatigue
- Short-term memory loss
- Confusion, or “brain fog”
- Painful numbness in the arms and legs
- Prickling sensations, or “pins and needles” in the arms and legs
- Burning sensations in arms and legs, or tongue
- Muscle spasms, or eye twitches
- Tinnitus (ear ringing)
- Vision problems
- Difficulty controlling arms and legs
- Digestive problems
- Difficulty swallowing
- Heart palpitations, or shortness of breath
- Poor bladder control
(Related: What are the Symptoms of Pernicious Anemia- B12 deficiency?)
Vitamin B12 malabsorption risk factors
Often, vitamin B12 malabsorption occurs because of the following risk factors:
- Diabetic medication (metformin)
- GERD medication (protein pump inhibitors)
- Autoimmune disorders (celiac, lupus, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome)
- Gastrointestinal disorders (Crohn’s)
- Bariatric surgery
- Stomach ulcers
Vitamin B12 malabsorption treatments
There is currently no “cure” for vitamin B12 malabsorption, meaning that as long as your risk factor is still relevant (bariatric surgery, gastritis), then you will never be able to digest sufficient quantities of vitamin B12 from food.
Once your doctor has diagnosed vitamin B12 deficiency due to vitamin B12 malabsorption, then you will be required to take long-term vitamin B12 supplements, in order to restore vitamin B12 levels and prevent recurrence of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Popular vitamin B12 treatments include over-the-counter (OTC) vitamin B12, sublingual vitamin B12, and prescribed vitamin B12 injections.
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