Patients of chronic pancreatitis should remember to check their vitamin B12 levels often, as vitamin B12 deficiency (pernicious anemia) is often a comorbid condition of chronic pancreatitis that can cause severe fatigue, neurological damage and increased risk for heart attack and stroke.
With chronic pancreatitis, digestive enzymes become activated within the pancreas, causing inflammation that, untreated, can be life-threatening. Pancreatic cancer, kidney failure, and diabetes are examples of complications that may occur with chronic pancreatitis.
One side effect of chronic pancreatitis is severe malnutrition, as your pancreas produces fewer digestive enzymes that are needed to break down vitamins. Intrinsic factor is one such enzyme that your body needs to digest vitamin B12 and a lack in this essential protein results in vitamin B12 deficiency.
Vitamin B12 promotes the production of healthy red blood cells. With vitamin B12 deficiency, red blood cells come out misshapen and overlarge, resulting in oxygen depletion, or hypoxia. Patients of chronic pancreatitis may notice fatigue, dizziness and loss of breath.
Vitamin B12 helps your body maintain myelin, a fatty substance which coats your nerve cells, protecting them from harm and enhancing communication within the nervous systems. Vitamin B12 deficiency causes a gradual deterioration of the myelin sheath, exposing your nerve cells to damage and destruction. Patients of chronic pancreatitis with vitamin B12 deficiency may notice painful tingling and numbness in the hands and feet.
Vitamin B12 enhances cognitive health, as seen in countless studies regarding memory loss and dementia in elderly citizens with vitamin B12 deficiency. Patients of chronic pancreatitis and vitamin B12 deficiency may notice short-term memory loss, “brain fog,” and poor attention skills.
Vitamin B12 regulates homocysteine, a hormone linked with increased risk for heart attack and stroke. Chronic pancreatitis patients with vitamin B12 deficiency may be at a higher risk for suffering from heart disease and stroke than patients with normal B12 levels.
To test for pernicious anemia, ask your doctor for a blood screening for vitamin B12 serum levels. If diagnosed, you will need to take non-dietary supplements in the form of vitamin B12 injections or sublingual vitamin B12 tablets. For extra protection and quicker recovery, experts also recommend taking over-the-counter (OTC) vitamin B12, in addition to prescribed doses.