Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent a type of anaemia called megaloblastic anaemia that makes people tired and weak, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). While there are a number of commonly reported symptoms associated with a vitamin B12 deficiency, there are a number of borderline symptoms that can be attributed to lacking the vitamin.
According to the Thyroid Patient Advocacy (TPA) website, a B12 deficiency sometimes goes undiagnosed until the symptoms become moderate to severe, although this is not necessarily the fault of the medical profession, so recognising even borderline symptoms can help you to seek treatment before the deficiency causes more serious complications.
One borderline symptom of a vitamin B12 deficiency is facial pain, usually on only one side of the face at a time, says the TPA.
The medical site explains: “This pain varies so much that it would be difficult to describe all the possibilities. It can be a dull pain in the cheek bone right underneath an eye.
“It can also be a sharp shooting pain across the forehead, sometimes coming downward from the scalp to the edge of the nose by the eye. This pain can be excruciating but is usually fleeting.”
How to treat a vitamin B12 deficiency
A vitamin B12 deficiency is usually treated with injections of vitamin B12, and there are two types of injections:
The most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency in the UK is pernicious anaemia, which is not related to your diet, however, if your deficiency is diet-related, you may be prescribed vitamin B12 tablets to take every day between meals, explains the NHS.
Certain foods also provide vitamin B12, including:
- Salmon and cod
- 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, such as yeast extract (including Marmite), as well as some fortified breakfast cereals and soy products,” notes the NHS.
Although, as the health body points out, those following a vegan diet may need vitamin B12 tablets for life.
Am I at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency?
In addition to following a vegan diet, if you are over the age of 50, you may also be at risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Harvard Health explained: “With age, your stomach cells become less efficient and secrete less hydrochloric acid, which means you absorb less B12.”
Another at-risk group is people who have gastrointestinal disorders such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease or who have undergone weight-loss surgery may secrete too little hydrochloric acid or -intrinsic factor, notes the health body.
According to the NHS, some types of medicine may also lead to a reduction in the amount of vitamin B12 in your body.
For example, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), a medicine sometimes used to treat indigestion, can make a vitamin B12 deficiency worse.
The NHS explains: “PPIs inhibit the production of stomach acid, which is needed to release vitamin B12 from the food you eat.”
Although, as the health site points out, your GP will be aware of medicines that can affect your vitamin B12 levels and will monitor you if necessary.