Understanding Vitamin B12 deficiency
Vitamin B12 is one of the eight B vitamins required by our body for healthy living. It is responsible for proper functioning of red blood cells, nerve tissues and brain tissues. Its deficiency can result in anaemia as well as neurological problems, impaired immunity, and heart disease. Seemingly small lifestyle decisions such as being vegetarian, turning vegan, undergoing weight loss surgery and taking medicines greatly impact the level of Vitamin B12 in body. As presently around 21% of Indians suffer from Vitamin B12 deficiency, Vitamin B12 test is one of the most commonly precribed tests. Thus, we feel that it is important to be aware of the causes, symptoms, detection and prevention of Vitamin B12 deficiency.
Causes of Vitamin B12 deficiency
Vegetarian Diet: Indians are at a higher risk of Vitamin B12 deficiency due to their dietary preferences. As Vitamin B12 is not present in plant based diet, for 31% Indians who are vegetarian, the only source of Vitamin B12 remains to be cheese and milk. And with the habit of reducing milk intake with age, even this source of Vitamin B12 remains eluded from most Indians diet. While many fortified vegetarian products (such as Forfeited Soy and Cornflakes) have come up with added Vitamin B12, their penetration in Indian households remains low.
Weight Loss Surgeries: Many obese people undergo weight loss surgery in order to shed extra kilos and become healthier. However, it should be noted that stomach stapling and other forms of weight loss surgeries interfere with the body’s ability to extract Vitamin B12 from food. As a result of this, these people often suffer from Vitamin B12 deficiency in future years.
Medicines: Along with ensuring adequate intake of Vitamin B12 rich foods, one also need to make sure that the body is able to absorb Vitamin B12 efficiently. Medications used to treat acid reflux, peptic ulcer disease, infection and Type 2 Diabetes may make it harder for the body to absorb Vitamin B12.
The symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency include sensations or numbness in body, balancing problems, swelling in tongue, pale skin, memory loss, weakness and fatigue. With most of these symptoms being mild in the beginning and overlapping with various other diseases, Vitamin B12 deficiency often remains undetected for long.
In case you are suffering from any of above symptoms, it is highly recommended that you visit a physician or undergo blood tests to check Vitamin B12 level. While an experienced physician may be able to detect deficiency with a good interview and physical exam, a blood test is needed to confirm the condition. In majority of cases, improper diet is the underlying cause of deficiency. So, in case any of your family member has been diagnosed with Vitamin B12 deficiency, it is recommended to get all family members tested as the family would have similar food habits. Apart from this, periodic blood test is recommended for vegetarians, vegans (strict vegetarians who do not eat any animal products) and the elderly as they are at higher risk for not getting enough vitamin B-12.
For non vegetarians, Vitamin B12 deficiency can be easily prevented by including meat, fish, eggs and poultry products in diet. For vegetarians, it is recommended to include milk, yoghurt and cheese products in daily diet. Further, many fortified foods (such as fortified soy and cornflakes) and Vitamin B12 supplements also aid in ensuring daily required intake. With these simple dietary changes, you can easily ensure your body’s healthy functioning and prevent severe neurologic problems and blood diseases caused by Vitamin B12 deficiency.