Vitamin B12 has two main functions: it helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Despite its essential role, many people struggle to get enough of the vitamin. This is because certain underlying conditions can impede your ability to absorb the vitamin.
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The leading cause of B12 deficiency in the UK is pernicious anaemia.
Pernicious anaemia is 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.
There are a number of telltale signs of B12 deficiency caused by pernicious anaemia.
According to the Pernicious Anaemia Society (PAS), an early warning sign is brittle, flaky nails.
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Other early warning signs of pernicious anaemia include:
- Shortness of Breath
- Extreme Fatigue
- Brain Fogs
- Clumsiness/Lack of coordination
As PAS explains, these symptoms may progress over many years so are easy to miss or attribute to another condition, such as ageing.
Further complicating the effort to identify pernicious anaemia is that many of the symptoms are associated with a wide range of other illnesses.
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This often means patients receive a late diagnosis, says PAS.
The symptoms also vary in severity and some patients may experience a cluster of symptoms or none at all, it adds.
How to treat B12 deficiency caused by pernicious anaemia
Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia is usually treated with injections of vitamin B12.
There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:
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“At first, you’ll have these injections every other day for two weeks or until your symptoms have started improving,” explains the NHS.
The health site adds: “After this initial period, your treatment will depend on whether the cause of your vitamin B12 deficiency is related to your diet or whether the deficiency is causing any neurological problems, such as problems with thinking, memory and behaviour.”
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.
Reasons for not getting enough of it in your diet
People following a vegetarian or vegan diet are at a far greater risk of developing B12 deficiency because the vitamin is mainly found in meat, fish, milk and other dairy products.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, or are looking for alternatives to meat and dairy products, there are other foods that contain vitamin B12, however.
According to the NHS, B12 sources include:
- Yeast extract (including Marmite)
- Some fortified breakfast cereals and soy products.
“Check the nutrition labels while food shopping to see how much vitamin B12 different foods contain,” it advises.
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