Vitamins are one of the six classes of foods and there are about twelve of them which are essential for the body to maintain a healthy status. Most vitamins in the body are gotten from external sources which may either be from plant or animal products. Vitamin B12 is one of such essential vitamin and just like the other vitamins (except Vitamin D which can be produced by the skin from exposure to sunlight or another source of Ultra Violet B radiation); it is not produced by the human body and must be gotten from animal and dairy products or from vitamin B12 supplements.
Vitamin B12 also known as cyanocobalamin can be derived from eating meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products and from vitamin B 12 supplement or food fortified with it. Vitamin B12 is responsible for the production of healthy red blood cells from the bone marrow, individuals with mild deficiency may not have symptoms initially but with worsening deficiency without treatment, they present with symptoms such as
- Anemia: reduced level of red blood cells called megaloblastic anemia where the red blood cells appear larger than normal in size.
- Generalized body weakness, extreme tiredness, dizziness and lightheadedness
- Pale looking skin and conjunctiva.
- A smooth tongue with beefy appearance.
- Gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and
- Cardiovascular problems such as palpitations, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat and hypotension
If vitamin B12 deficiency is further left untreated, the following may occur
- It progresses to affect the nerves, these presents with symptoms such as numbness, tingling sensation, muscle weakness, difficulty maintaining posture and walking.
- Mental and behavioral changes such as psychosis, dementia, depression and irritability, confusion.
Deficiency of vitamin B12 is common in elderly persons, vegetarians, people who have had surgery to remove their stomach or those with a condition called pernicious anemia (intrinsic factor deficiency which is necessary for the reabsorption of vitamin B12). These persons will benefit from vitamin B12 supplements.