Recent research has examined the link between vitamin B12 deficiency and cognitive decline in older adults.
Although more research is needed on vitamin B12 and nervous behavior, the nutrient is essential for energy production.
Vitamin D deficiency can cause anemia, fatigue, sensory problems, and nerve damage.
Vitamin B12 is easily obtainable, whether through foods or supplements – which is a good thing because a deficiency can cause long-term damage to your nerves and cognition.
Eduardo Villamor, professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, said recent research has found higher rates of cognitive decline in older adults with vitamin B12 deficiency and excess folate or vitamin B9.
Some research has suggested that vitamin B12 can help with depression and prevent dementia, but Villamor said more research is needed on the effect of vitamin B12 on neurobehaviour.
“There is a lot of interest in the role of vitamin B12 in neurocognitive functioning, especially in the elderly,” Villamore said. “The role of vitamin B12 in the neurodevelopment of the fetus, infant, and child is also an important area of research.”
Here’s how to tell if you’re deficient in vitamin B12 and why you need the important nutrients:
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency range from mild fatigue to severe neurological complications
Villamore said that people who lack vitamin B12 develop a range of symptoms depending on how long they have been deficient in the nutrient.
He said that people who are mildly deficient in vitamin B12 can develop fatigue. Vitamin B12 interacts with compounds in the body to produce DNA and energy, which is why a vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to fatigue.
Mild to moderate vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to anemia, or when the body lacks enough healthy red blood cells to help distribute oxygen. Dr. Aaron Goodman, a hematologist and professor at UCSD Health, previously told Insider that anemia caused by vitamin B12 deficiency produces cracks or sores around the mouth.
A mild vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to a form of anemia called spherocytosis, or when red blood cells become enlarged, Villamore said. According to the Mayo Clinic, the condition usually doesn’t cause symptoms, but it can show up on routine blood tests.
Mild deficiency may also lead to peripheral neuropathy, or damage to the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include sensory problems such as tingling or numbness in the hands and feet and glossitis or glossitis that may lead to an allergy to spicy or acidic foods.
Severe deficiency can lead to “serious neuropsychiatric manifestations,” Villamore said. Neurological symptoms include:
Some neurological symptoms may become permanent if vitamin B12 deficiency is not treated, dietitian Elizabeth Bell previously told Insider.
Severe vitamin B12 deficiency may cause more serious anemia and problems with other blood cells, inflammation and a weak heart, and even infertility, per Villamor.
Vitamin B12 deficiency treatment
The people most at risk of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency are those who eat low amounts of animal foods such as eggs and meat, which are the only natural source of the vitamin, Villamore said. These people may not be eating enough animal foods, Villamore said, “either by choice, for example strict vegetarians, or due to social and economic restrictions, as in many low- and middle-income countries where animal foods can be expensive.” .
Villamore said vitamin B12 deficiency can be prevented through eating animal foods “if choice and purchasing power allow,” or through oral supplements and fortified foods. Other treatments include intramuscular or intravenous injections.
Older adults or people who have had gastric bypass surgery such as bypass may have a type of malabsorption that can cause vitamin B12 deficiency. Villamor said that people who take medications to reduce stomach acid and drink alcohol may also be at risk.
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