(BPT) - It’s common knowledge that vitamins are important to a person’s overall health, but few realize that a deficiency in some vitamins can cause serious medical problems.
For example, B12 deficiency is often overlooked or misunderstood because its symptoms – including fatigue, dizziness and numbness in hands or feet – can be easily mistaken for other conditions. However, the long-term effects of B12 deficiency can be much more wide-reaching and profound than most people think.
In fact, an estimated 48 million adults may have insufficient B12 levels, and two in five of those over the age of 60 may be low in B12. Early detection and management of a B12 deficiency is crucial because if left untreated, it can progress and lead to permanent, irreversible nerve damage, serious neurological problems and even dementia.
“Most people – even those who are at highest risk, like the elderly and folks with gastrointestinal problems – aren’t aware of the detrimental effects that a deficiency in vitamin B12 can have on their overall health,” says Ralph Green, M.D., Ph.D., FRCPath, a noted authority on vitamin B12. “I equate what is reported about the number of people with problems caused by B12 deficiency to the tip of an iceberg. The bigger unknown is what’s hidden under the water, and the damage of what developing B12 deficiency can do.”
Following are five key things everyone should know about B12 deficiency:
1. B12 deficiency can lead to serious health issues.
Many people associate vitamin B12 with energy production and alertness, but it’s also critical to keeping the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy. Without the proper absorption of B12, deficiency of this vitamin can occur and a person’s central nervous system’s function can suffer, and that can have serious mental and physical health ramifications, including irreversible damage to nerve cells, memory loss, depression or even dementia.
2. People over 60 are at the highest risk.
As many 25 million people age 60 and older may have a B12 deficiency. As people age, the lining of the stomach can become thinner and less efficient at processing nutrients in food. As a result, B12 absorption can be significantly impaired. So it’s important that people over the age of 60 have their B12 levels checked. Ensuring the proper level may help to keep the mind sharp.
3. Common GI conditions can increase risk.
People with gastrointestinal illnesses, such as celiac and Crohn’s disease, are at greater risk for developing a B12 deficit because the vitamin cannot be properly absorbed from food and typical dietary supplements. In fact, two in five of people with celiac disease, and one in five with Crohn’s Disease may not be getting enough B12.
4. Certain medications can impact B12 absorption.
Researchers have found that patients who took acid reducers, called proton pump inhibitors, for more than two years were 65 percent more likely to have a vitamin B12 deficiency. In addition, people with diabetes who take the commonly prescribed treatment metformin are more than twice as likely to develop a deficiency.
5. A simple blood test can measure your vitamin B12 levels.
People should proactively ask to have their B12 levels checked as part of their regular healthcare check-up, particularly if they are over the age of 60 or have a GI-related disorder. The symptoms of a B12 deficiency may be non-specific and can include:
*Weakness and fatigue, light-headedness and dizziness
*Palpitations, rapid heartbeat, and shortness of breath
*A sore tongue that has a red, beefy appearance or may be completely smooth
*Nausea or poor appetite, weight loss
*Yellowish tinge to the skin and eyes
*Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
In cases where the absorption of B12 through diet or oral supplements is an issue, there are several treatment options, including monthly injections. A new oral treatment recently became available that utilizes special technology to ensure the body gets the B12 it needs by taking a pill once a day—without the need for injections.
As always, people should speak with their doctor about which treatment options may be right for them. For more information on B12 deficiency and management options, go to www.KnowYourB12.com and http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-Consumer/.