Have you been feeling excessively tired for no reason recently? You may have low vitamin B12 levels.
We sometimes ignore it, but vitamins are essential to keep us healthy.
I remember seeing a gentleman in my clinic around a year ago who complained of pins and needles in hands and feet along with excessive tiredness.
A simple blood test detected low vitamin B12 levels. After this was corrected, he felt a lot more energetic.
This phenomenon is not new. There are clinical reports of this in popular journals as well.
Vitamins are essential for a number of different processes in the body. Without vitamins, we could end up with seriously ill health. Many of our vital organs would fail to function normally without vitamins.
There are many vitamins that our body needs. One such vitamin is B12.
Let’s discuss this vitamin in a little more detail here. I will try and explain why it is important you get it checked and corrected.
A Bit About B12….
Vitamin B12 is a water soluble ‘B’ vitamin. It is primarily stored in our liver.
It is essential to maintain the health of the nerves in the body. In addition to this, it has a role in the formation of healthy blood cells and can protect your heart as well.Veggie diets are low in vitamin B12 which can make you tired. Take a supplement to lower fatigue. Click To Tweet
One primary function of vitamin B12 is that it can helps produce healthy genetic material. If you recall your biology lessons from school, you will know that our genetic material consists of DNA and RNA.
You are welcome to read an article here on this if you wish to satisfy the science geek in you :-).
Given how important it is, it is obvious that if you have low vitamin B12 levels, you are going to face some health problems.
Sources of Vitamin B12
Your daily requirement of vitamin B12 is around 2 micrograms. Unfortunately, almost all the sources of vitamin B12 are non-vegetarian.
So if you are vegetarian and your vitamin B12 levels are lower than normal, you will likely require a supplement to correct it.
In fact, clinical studies have found that nearly 92% of people who are strict vegetarians develop vitamin B12 deficiency. This is in comparison to just 5% of those who are non-vegetarian.
The best non-vegetarian sources of vitamin B12 include whole eggs and all kinds of meat. Vegetarians will need to rely on a supplement or on certain fortified foods.
This is because plants do not make this vitamin.
It is not just the choice of diet that can lower your levels of vitamin B12 over time. Some people are not able to absorb it from their diet, despite them eating the right foods sources.
People who have undergone weight loss surgery may also develop low levels of vitamin B12.
Prolonged use of antacid medications are an associated risk.
Here is a table that lists why you might have reduced vitamin B12 levels.
Why Worry About Low Vitamin B12 Levels?
We need vitamin B12 for our general health. But it has a role that is a lot more deeper than just that.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to elevation in the levels of a compound called homocysteine. This is an amino acid (basic building block of proteins).
High levels of homocysteine has been found by scientists to increase your risk of developing a heart attack and stroke. This is because it could damage the inner surface of the blood vessels and lead to narrowing of the vessel.
Vitamin B12 is needed to produce healthy blood cells from the bone marrow.
If your levels are too low, the blood cells remain immature and large. These make them inefficient at carrying oxygen and nutrients around the body.
As time passes, the hemoglobin levels reduce, leading to anemia.
Anemia can make you tired. You may begin to notice that even simple mundane tasks are harder than usual.
Your Hands And Feet
Since B12 is needed to keep the nerves healthy, low levels can start to affect their function.
Typically, individuals who have very low levels of vitamin B12 levels notice tingling in their hands and feet. Some even complain of numbness.
This is called ‘glove and stocking’ anaesthesia. This is because the areas where gloves and stockings normally fit are affected.
Correcting the vitamin B12 levels can improve these symptoms.
Your Spinal Cord
The spinal cord is a thick bunch of nerves that runs inside the vertebral bones. Vitamin B12 is needed to keep these nerves healthy.
If your B12 levels are very low, you could develop a condition called subacute combined degeneration of the spinal cord.
Symptoms of the problem include visual difficulties, weakness of the body and numbness in the peripheries. Mental problems may also develop. You may become unsteady on your feet.
Patients who develop this condition require correction of their vitamin B12 levels. I have discussed this below.
Correcting Vitamin B12 Levels
As I have discussed previously, those who are vegetarian cannot correct this through diet alone.
Those who eat non-vegetarian food can increase their intake of chicken, fish and lean meat.
However, sometimes supplements or fortified foods are needed.
There are 2 types of supplements available that may be prescribed by your doctor.
Injections of vitamin B12 are given into the shoulder muscle or buttocks on a weekly basis. This will correct the low levels quickly. Monthly injections may be required.
Oral tablets may also be given on a daily basis. Newer inhaled B12 supplements are also now available.
Most of these supplements contain around 1.5 micrograms per tablet or injection.
Low vitamin B12 levels are very common, especially if you are vegetarian. If uncorrected, it could lead to symptoms. Correcting the low level is very simple through the use of supplements.
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