Vitamin B12 deficiency: Four signs when you look into the mirror signalling low levels

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

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No matter what causes a vitamin B12 deficiency – whether it is diet related or not – lacking the vital nutrient disrupts the development of red blood cells. Deformed, the oxygen-carrying cells are not capable of functioning well. As oxygen saturation depletes, the skin may begin to take on a peculiar colouring one could describe as “pale”, the experts at the NHS confirmed. Even for fair-skinned people, the pallor could cause some close family friends and loved ones to think you look a bit ill.

As vitamin B12 stores essentially become non-existent, the pallor may begin to take on a yellowish hue, known as jaundice.

By looking into the mirror, you will be able to notice if the whites of your eyes now have a yellow tinge.

Any indication of jaundice needs to be investigated by your healthcare professional as soon as possible.

While standing in front of a mirror, also take the time to poke your tongue out to see what it looks like.

A swollen and red tongue that looks smooth in appearance is descriptive of glossitis.

This too could be an indication of dangerously low vitamin B12 levels that needs remedying.

Lacking enough vitamin B12 can also lead to weight loss, so are your clothes seemingly looking too big on you nowadays?

Four tell-tale signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency you can see in a mirror:

  1. Pale skin
  2. Yellow tinge to the skin
  3. Glossitis
  4. Weight loss.

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The NHS listed other possible signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency, which can include:

  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Lack of energy (lethargy)
  • Breathlessness
  • Feeling faint
  • Headaches
  • Noticeable heartbeats (palpitations)
  • Hearing sounds coming from inside the body, rather than from an outside source (tinnitus)
  • Loss of appetite.

Additional symptoms may include:

  • Mouth ulcers
  • Pins and needles
  • Changes in the way that you walk and move around
  • Disturbed vision
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Changes in the way you think, feel and behave
  • A decline in your mental abilities, such as memory, understanding and judgement (dementia).

The best course of action to take if you identify with any of these symptoms is to discuss them with your doctor.

By requesting a blood test that tests for vitamin B12 levels, you can get a concrete answer as to if you are deficient in the nutrient or not.

What causes a vitamin B12 deficiency?

The most common cause of a vitamin B12 deficiency in the UK is an acquired autoimmune condition called pernicious anaemia.

The body’s immune system begins to attack stomach cells, preventing a protein called intrinsic factor from binding to vitamin B12 ingested from food.

Food rich in vitamin B12:

  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Fish
  • Meat.

Intrinsic factor is supposed to bind with vitamin B12 so that the nutrient can be reabsorbed via the gut when travelling through the digestive system.

WebMD added that some medication used to treat high blood sugar (i.e. type 2 diabetes) can also cause difficulty when it comes to the body absorbing vitamin B12.

Other causes of a vitamin B12 deficiency, as pointed out by the experts at the NHS, include:

  • A vegan diet
  • Gastrectomy
  • Proton pump inhibitors.

Should you be diagnosed with a vitamin B12 deficiency, your doctor should try to work out what is the reasoning behind your deficiency.

Depending on the cause, treatment options can differ, ranging from oral supplementation to intramuscular injections.

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