Vitamin B12 deficiency can occur if a person lacks the vitamin in their diet. People that follow a vegan or vegetarian diet are at risk of not getting enough B12 because the best sources of B12 are from foods of an animal origin. Certain health conditions can also affect a person’s absorption of B12 from foods, such as pernicious anaemia. Vitamin B12 plays an important role in the production of red blood cells in the body and helps keep nerves healthy.
A lack of B12 can result in a low red blood cell count and nerves can become damaged.
When this happens, complications can develop, such as problems with the nervous system, temporary infertility and heart failure.
But if vitamin B12 deficiency is spotted early enough it can be easily treated and complications can be avoided.
One symptom to be wary of is a sore tongue, according to Bupa.
A sore tongue is associated with a condition known as glossitis (inflammation of the tongue).
Studies have shown the symptoms of glossitis can be an early sign of vitamin B12 deficiency.
There are three signs on the tongue that signal glossitis and vitamin b12 deficiency, say experts.
These signs include:
- A smooth tongue – this is because all the tiny bumps on your tongue that contain your taste buds stretch out and disappear.
- A painful tongue that can change the way you eat and speak
- A swollen and inflamed tongue that has long straight lesions
Additionally, some people deficient in vitamin B12 may experience other oral symptoms such as mouth ulcers, feelings of pins and needles in the tongue or a burning and itching sensation in the mouth.
Other vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms
Bupa also outlines other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency to watch out for:
- Feeling very tired
- Breathlessness even after little exercise
- Heart palpitations
- A reduced appetite
The health organisation adds: “If you have vitamin B12-deficiency anaemia, you may also look pale or jaundiced (have a yellowy tinge to your skin and the whites of your eyes).
“As well as the symptoms of anaemia, vitamin B12-deficiency may cause symptoms related to your nerves. This is called vitamin B12 neuropathy. It may affect your movement and sensation, especially in your legs, cause numbness or pins and needles and decrease your sensitivity to touch, vibration or pain. It can also cause confusion, depression, poor concentration and forgetfulness.
“These symptoms aren’t always due to vitamin B12-deficiency anaemia, but if you have them see your GP.”
Treatment of vitamin B12 deficiency
If a person isn’t getting enough vitamin B12 from their diet they may be advised by a GP to eat more foods fortified with vitamin B12 or to take regular supplements.
Vitamin B12 injections may also be recommended, and for those with pernicious anaemia, injections may be required for the rest of their lives.
Experts say adults aged 19 to 64 require around 1.5 micrograms (mg) a day of vitamin B12, and unless you have pernicious anaemia, you should be able to get this through your diet.
If vitamin B12 deficiency is triggered by not including enough B12 foods in the diet, Harvard Health Publishing, part of Harvard Medical School, offers the “A list of B12 foods” on its website.