Speech problems may signal you have low vitamin B12 levels – what to look for

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Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that plays a pivotal role in the body, from keeping the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy to helping to make DNA – the genetic material in all cells. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), vitamin B12 also helps prevent a type of anaemia called megaloblastic anaemia that makes people tired and weak. Given B12’s contribution, the diverse range of symptoms that accompany B12 deficiency is hardly surprising.

Some of the more sinister effects of B12 deficiency are neuropsychiatric; meaning they cover both neurologic and psychiatric disorders.

According to an article published in The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, psychosis can be the presenting symptom in vitamin B12 deficiency.

Psychosis (also called a ‘psychotic experience’ or ‘psychotic episode’) is when you perceive or interpret reality in a very different way from people around you.

Psychosis can lead to tangential or incoherent speech, notes the article.

Other psychosis symptoms include:

  • Suspiciousness
  • Persecutory or religious delusions
  • Auditory and visual hallucinations.

General symptoms include:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • A lack of energy
  • Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
  • A sore and red tongue
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Muscle weakness
  • Disturbed vision.

When to seek help

According to the NHS, you should see a GP if you think you may have a vitamin B12 deficiency.

“These conditions can often be diagnosed based on your symptoms and the results of a blood test,” explains the health body.

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It’s important for vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

As the NHS warns, although many of the symptoms improve with treatment, some problems caused by the condition can be irreversible.

What are the main causes of B12 deficiency?

Pernicious anaemia – an autoimmune disease that prevents the body from making a protein needed to absorb vitamin B12 – is the leading cause of B12 deficiency in the UK.

Dietary patterns can also determine your risk of developing B12 deficiency, with those adhering to a vegan or vegetarian diet at a higher risk.

Why? B12 is found naturally in a wide variety of animal foods and is added to some fortified foods.

As the NIH points out, plant foods have no vitamin B12 unless they are fortified.

How to treat B12 deficiency

The treatment for vitamin B12 deficiency depends on what’s causing the condition.

Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia is usually treated with injections of vitamin B12.

There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:

  • Hydroxocobalamin
  • Cyanocobalamin.

“If your vitamin B12 deficiency is caused by a lack of the vitamin in your diet, you may be prescribed vitamin B12 tablets to take every day between meals,” explains the NHS.

It adds: “People who find it difficult to get enough vitamin B12 in their diets, such as those following a vegan diet, may need vitamin B12 tablets for life.”

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