Exhaustion, low mood, and shortness of breath are symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.

Exhaustion, low mood, and shortness of breath are symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.

Motivated by the health benefits of a plant-based diet, Carly Minsky, then in her 20s, saw cutting out meat and fish as a natural and desirable step.

At first, “it felt great,” he says, as he enthusiastically committed to his new regimen. After a year, however, it was a completely different story.

“I started to feel really fatigued,” recalls Carly. “It wasn’t just tiredness, it was extreme fatigue.” She also gained weight.

“I went on like this for six years, not knowing what was wrong, and in 2020 I could barely walk because I was so exhausted,” says the 33-year-old journalist from London.

Finally worried that it might be a problem with her thyroid gland (which produces hormones to regulate metabolism), in 2021 she saw her GP, who sent her for blood tests.

Motivated by the health benefits of a plant-based diet, Carly Minsky, then in her 20s, saw cutting out meat and fish as a natural and desirable step.  At first,

Motivated by the health benefits of a plant-based diet, Carly Minsky, then in her 20s, saw cutting out meat and fish as a natural and desirable step. At first, she “felt great,” she says, as she enthusiastically committed to her new regimen. However, after a year, it was a completely different story.

Within days, Carly was called back into surgery and told that her vitamin B12 levels had dropped so low that she would need emergency vitamin injections every other day for the next six weeks, and then high-potency vitamin B12 tablets. every day for life. The cause? Her diet.

Vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal and dairy products (meat, fish, eggs, milk, and cheese, for example) and is vital for many key bodily functions, including brain health and red blood cell production.

A deficiency can lead to health problems, such as anemia (low iron levels in the blood), tiredness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, nerve problems, and mental health problems.

People over 60, who are more likely to have dietary deficiencies, and people with pernicious anemia, an autoimmune disease that causes the body to be unable to absorb vitamin B12 properly, are at risk. So are vegans.

Earlier this year, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) reported that 6 percent of the population under the age of 60 is B12 deficient, rising to 11 percent among vegans.

Although Carly still ate cheese and eggs and drank milk, her intake during those vegetarian years was not enough and her vitamin B12 levels had decreased.

“My GP said I was on the dangerously low end of the scale and needed vitamin B12 injections right away,” she says. ‘It was a big shock. I had no idea I had gotten so sick.

“It took two months of injections before I started to feel better, and obviously I’m still taking B12 tablets every day.”

Most people get enough vitamin B12 from their diets: the recommended intake is 1.5 micrograms a day (an average diet containing chicken, fish, beef, and eggs will give you enough).

“But some people, including those on restrictive diets that don’t eat animal products, or who eat a poor diet high in processed foods, don’t get enough vitamin B12,” says Sue Pavord, consultant haematologist at Oxford University Hospitals. and vice president. of the British Society of Hematology.

Vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal and dairy products—meat, fish, eggs, milk, and cheese, for example—and is vital for many key bodily functions, including brain health and red blood cell production

Vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal and dairy products (meat, fish, eggs, milk, and cheese, for example) and is vital for many key bodily functions, including brain health and red blood cell production

She says that vitamin B12 deficiency is a seriously neglected area of ​​public health, affecting 10 percent of people over the age of 60.

“The human body cannot produce B12 and therefore needs it from food,” he explains. The first symptoms of a deficiency can be vague, such as fatigue or symptoms of anemia: palpitations, shortness of breath and exhaustion.

“But as the deficiency progresses, neurological symptoms can develop, such as tingling in the fingers and toes, or loss of balance.”

This is because B12 is vital for the maintenance and formation of protective sheaths that cover the nerves, which ensures fast and efficient transmission of messages, explains Dr. Moez Dungarwalla, a consultant hematologist at Milton University Hospital. Keynes.

‘A fatty substance called myelin is essential for the formation of these sheaths, and vitamin B12 plays an important role in the synthesis and maintenance of myelin,’ he explains. “Neurological problems caused by vitamin B12 deficiency are due in part to damage done to the myelin sheath.”

In extreme cases, a vitamin B12 deficiency has been linked to macular degeneration (which can lead to decreased vision), heart disease, cognitive decline, dementia, stroke, and psychosis.

However, vague early symptoms, or lack of them, can mean that some people are unaware they have a potentially serious deficiency, as former counselor Stephen Wright found.

The 70-year-old, from Dorset, only found out he had a B12 deficiency at a GP check-up two years ago. Routine blood tests revealed that he was severely deficient in the vitamin and would need injections every six weeks for life to prevent the development of neurological disorders.

Doctors believe his deficiency was due to his age and unhealthy diet.

Some existing conditions can also lead to a deficiency; the most common is pernicious anemia, says David Smith, emeritus professor of pharmacology at the University of Oxford.

“Pernicious anemia affects one in 1,000, and up to one in 500 in those over 60 years of age,” he says. ‘It’s an autoimmune disease with family links. It is not known what triggers it, but it prevents the absorption of vitamin B12 in the intestine.’

Other diseases that affect B12 absorption include reduced stomach acid secretion (again, common with age) and celiac and Crohn’s disease.

Some medications interfere with the absorption of vitamin B12, including metformin (used to treat diabetes) and proton pump inhibitors such as omeprazole (for acid reflux).

The good news is that symptoms can be reversed for most patients.

As Professor Smith explains: ‘Most people will be able to correct their low vitamin B12 level by taking tablets, and a good starting dose is 1 microgram a day. Many patients with pernicious anemia need injections.

But people often don’t discover they’re deficient until the damage is done.

“If someone doesn’t get treatment, there can be irreversible changes in the neurological system,” says Dr. Pavord. ‘That includes difficulty walking, due to weakness; loss of balance and sensation; and disturbed vision.

In addition to receiving B12 injections, Stephen has gone low-carb, lost three stones, and feels much more energetic. “I had no idea how important vitamin B12 was until I tried it,” he says.

Carly’s symptoms resolved within two months of starting vitamin B12 treatment. “It was as if my energy had turned back on,” she says.

doctor ink

Tattoos are used for medical purposes. This week: To monitor intestinal polyps

Tattooing is a technique that doctors use inside a person’s colon to help control and remove lesions, based on commercially available dark inks.

However, these diffuse rapidly, making identification of a lesion difficult, and leakage can lead to abscesses. Using ‘biomedical’ ink offers a safer alternative, according to research presented at the American Chemical Society conference.

The ink uses tiny particles derived from metals that provide the dark color needed to be seen under the light of a colonoscopy. It also spreads much less than commercial inks.

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