What is Vitamin B12 and what does it do?

Vitamin B12 helps to keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy. Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin which is important for the human body to make red blood cells, nerves, DNA and other functions. It is not synthesised by the body and thus Vitamin B12 rich foods should be included in the diet.

What causes Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

Vitamin B12 Deficiency can begin in cases if vitamin B12 is not occupy from the food properly, pernicious anemia, improper absorption due to post surgical treatment and insufficient intake of Vitamin B12 in the diet.

The abnormal or poor absorption of Vitamin B12 can be seen in conditions like pernicious anemia (decrease in red blood cells due to deficiency of Vitamin B12), celiac disease (immune reaction to gluten), inflammatory bowel diseases (inflammation of digestive tract), overgrowth of bacteria or presence of parasites such as tapeworms in the intestines, reduction in stomach acid production (due to long term use of antacids), gastric bypass (surgery that removes part of the stomach), insufficiency of pancreas (inability to digest food properly).

Factors such as smoking, drinking heavy alcohol or chronic (from a long time) alcoholism, pregnancy can cause a deficiency of Vitamin B12.

What are the symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

Following are the signs and symptoms which could be seen in person with Vitamin B12 Deficiency:

  • Pale skin
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Feeling of pins and needles
  • Change in walking pattern
  • Ulcers in mouth
  • Redness of tongue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Blurring of vision
  • Mood swings

Read Also: 13 Common Diseases Caused by Vitamin D Deficiency


The deficiency of Vitamin B12 results in macrocytic anemia (size of red blood cells larger than normal).

Megaloblastic anemia is a type of macrocytic anemia, in which large size red blood cells called as macrocytes are produced. These red blood cells are fewer in number. There is a decrease in white blood cell count and platelet count. Megaloblastic anemia occurs due to acquired deficiency of Vitamin B12. The reason can be an inadequate dietary intake of Vitamin B12 or any problem in the absorption of Vitamin B12 from the intestines.

How to detect Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

You can get your Vitamin B12 levels checked by a simple blood test. The normal range of Vitamin B12 is 211 – 911 pg/mL irrespective of sex and age.

Increased levels of Vitamin B12 may be seen in kidney failure, diabetes, liver disease etc.

Decreased levels of Vitamin B12 may be seen in anemia, hyperthyroidism (high levels of thyroid), worm infection etc.

How to treat Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

Vitamin B12 rich foods can be included in the diet such as fish, red meat, eggs, milk and milk products, legumes, nuts, seeds and soy products to treat the deficiency. Vitamin B12 deficiency is common in vegetarians as plant foods don’t have Vitamin B12. Oral supplements of Vitamin B12 are recommended for treatment. Vitamin B12 injections are also available in the form of cyanocobalamin.

In case, Vitamin B12 Deficiency is due to pernicious anemia, parenteral administration of Vitamin B12 is preferred. Vitamin B12 supplements are also available in the form of a gel that can be applied intranasally as an alternative to Vitamin B12 injections.

Severe deficiency of Vitamin B12 can lead to blood diseases and neurologic problems. Therefore, it should not be ignored.

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