If you have experienced trouble with your balance, you might have told yourself you’re getting older. (Always true, but not always an explanation.) Or perhaps you have attributed a parent’s forgetfulness to oncoming dementia. Perhaps no one has pointed out that a vitamin B12 lack could cause these and numerous other symptoms.
What Are the Results of Vitamin B12 Deficiency?
Q. I had five falls in 14 months and injured myself each time. Concerned about this, I went to a neurologist. In addition, my memory was shot, and I could not focus on anything.
He put me through several tests, including one for vitamin B12. I was very deficient, but I did not have pernicious anemia. To address the problem, he started me on weekly injections of B12. That was more than two years ago, and we have switched to monthly injections. I have not fallen since that time and I’ve regained my memory. I would like others to recognize that vitamin B12 deficiency is serious.
Causes of Vitamin B12 Lack:
A. Vitamin B12 deficiency is more common than many people realize and can easily go unrecognized. Pernicious anemia, in which people lack “intrinsic factor,” is a possible cause but not the only one. People who have had bariatric surgery and those with stomach inflammation (“atrophic gastritis”) also have difficult absorbing adequate vitamin B12 (American Family Physician, Sep. 15, 2017).
Older people are far more likely to suffer a vitamin B12 lack, as are heavy drinkers. Vegans and strict vegetarians are, too, because they don’t consume sources of this vitamin: meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs or dairy products. Certain medicines, especially those that block stomach acid such as the PPIs, can contribute to vitamin B12 deficiency. The diabetes medicine metformin can also lower levels of vitamin B12.
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency:
Symptoms that this vitamin is too low include balance and memory problems such as those you experienced. Other complications include numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, fatigue, heart palpitations, depression, shortness of breath and sore tongue. In severe cases, people may develop a distinctive type of anemia or other blood abnormalities. Irritability, peripheral neuropathy and trouble with the sense of smell could also signal low vitamin B12 levels.
In making the diagnosis, doctors often check methylmalonic acid levels (MMA) as well as serum vitamin B12. MMA is elevated when there is a vitamin B12 lack. Doctors used to use injections to correct this deficiency, but now they may prescribe a high-dose oral vitamin. This generally makes people feel much better.
To learn more about this and other vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can be caused by common medications, you will wish to consult Dr. Tieraona Low Dog’s book, Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals and More. A paperback edition is available from www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.