Vitamin B12 deficiency: Two signs in your toes of having low levels for a ‘long time’

Dr Dawn Harper on signs of vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency

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Vitamin B12 performs a multitude of roles in the body, such as helping the formation of DNA and supporting the nervous system. In regards to the latter, untreated low B12 levels can give rise to nerve damage. “If the level of vitamin B12 stays low for a long time, it can damage your nerve cells,” explains the University of Michigan Health.

If this happens, you may have numbness or tingling in your fingers and toes, warns the health body.

Other signs of nerve damage include:

  • A poor sense of balance
  • Depression
  • A decrease in mental abilities.

Although many of the symptoms improve with treatment, some problems caused by the condition can be irreversible if left untreated.

You should see a GP if you’re experiencing symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, advises the NHS.

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

As it explains, different types of blood tests can be carried out to help identify people with a possible vitamin B12 or folate deficiency.

These tests check:

  • Whether you have a lower level of haemoglobin (a substance that transports oxygen) than normal
  • Whether your red blood cells are larger than normal
  • The level of vitamin B12 in your blood
  • The level of folate in your blood.

Causes of B12 deficiency

There are two leading causes of B12 deficiency – pernicious anaemia and diet.

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Pernicious anaemia is the most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency in the UK.

It is an autoimmune condition, which causes your immune system to attack the cells in your stomach that produce a protein that helps the body to absorb vitamin B12.

Some people can develop a vitamin B12 deficiency as a result of not getting enough vitamin B12 from their diet.

A diet that includes meat, fish and dairy products usually provides enough vitamin B12, but people who do not regularly eat these foods can become deficient.

“People who eat a vegan diet and do not take vitamin B12 supplements or eat foods fortified with vitamin B12, are also at risk,” warns the NHS.

How to treat B12 deficiency

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

Most people can be easily treated with injections or tablets to replace the missing vitamins.

“Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia is usually treated with injections of vitamin B12,” explains the NHS.

Anaemia is a deficiency in the number or quality of red blood cells in your body.

There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:

  • Hydroxocobalamin
  • Cyanocobalamin.

The most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency in the UK is pernicious anaemia, which is not related to your diet.

According to the NHS, 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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