Vitamin B12 deficiency is one of the most common forms of malnutrition in developed countries. As you get older, your risk for developing vitamin B12 deficiency increases, as your stores of this crucial vitamin slowly become depleted. In order to catch vitamin B12 deficiency early on, it’s important to recognize the symptoms.
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency
As vitamin B12 is instrumental for numerous vital biochemical functions, a depletion of vitamin B12 will manifest itself in many different ways.
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Numbness and tingling in hands and feet
- Muscle weakness
- Sore mouth and tongue
- Confusion, or brain fog
- Slow thinking
- Memory loss
- Difficulty performing calculations
- Aggressive behavior
- Altered taste perception
- Gait impairments (difficulty walking)
- Trouble grasping things with hands
- Difficulty swallowing food
- Eye twitching
- Vision problems
In addition to causing detrimental symptoms, vitamin B12 deficiency also raises your risk for heart disease and stroke, and in rare cases can be fatal.
Osteoporosis (bone loss) is also linked to vitamin B12 deficiency in several studies.
Many studies focusing on vitamin B12 deficiency in the elderly have concluded that vitamin B12 supplementation increases memory retention in people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia caused by old age.
Testing for vitamin B12 deficiency
Vitamin B12 deficiency is diagnosed through a series of blood tests, including the vitamin B12 serum test, homocysteine level testing, and screening for intrinsic factor autoimmune antibodies.
Unfortunately, many doctors do not regularly screen for vitamin B12 deficiency, so if you think you might be at risk, you should specifically request a blood test.
Unfortunately, many blood tests fail to measure vitamin B12 levels accurately. Instead of determining how many “active” vitamin B12 units are present, they measure total vitamin B12, which includes a substantial amount of unusable vitamin B12 that resides in your liver for years, and is not a factor in determining vitamin B12 deficiency.
Another controversial aspect of vitamin B12 diagnosis stems from the fact that experts disagree on the amount needed to avoid vitamin B12 deficiency. The standard USRDA for vitamin B12 is only a few mcg per day, which is not enough to replenish stores of depleted vitamin B12, and not sufficient to prevent vitamin B12 deficiency in people who are at risk.
Treating vitamin B12 deficiency
Overall, the most reliable way to treat vitamin B12 deficiency is by recognizing the symptoms, getting your prescription for vitamin B12, and beginning supplementation immediately. Most people start noting a reduction in vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms after only days of treatment, but for others, the process of recovery may take longer.
Popular methods for treating vitamin B12 deficiency include vitamin B12 shots, sublingual vitamin B12, and a number of popular over-the-counter (OTC) vitamin B12 supplements that do not require prescription.