Speaking of Health – B-12 deficiency

By Gilda Morales, ANP, DC

Today’s topic deals with Vitamin B12 and its much-touted qualities for increasing energy and stamina.  There are still many people who stop by the clinic complaining of fatigue, malaise and loss of energy, and request a Vitamin B12 injection.  Unfortunately, insurance companies no longer pay for the injection, but will pay for the vial of the vitamin, if there is truly a deficiency.

Vitamin B12 is important to the formation of red blood cells and insures that nerve cells are healthy and functioning correctly.   A true vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to a specific type of anemia, called megaloblastic anemia.  If left untreated, this type of deficiency can lead to serious consequences including nerve and brain damage, which may become irreversible.

Pernicious anemia is another type of anemia which develops because the body does not produce a chemical called intrinsic factor, which is essential for the proper absorption of vitamin B12.  This is a condition that commonly develops in people who have had gastric bypass surgery, and is treated with B12 injections since oral B12 is not absorbed without intrinsic factor.  People who eat a Vegan diet are also at greater risk of developing B12 deficiency, as are chronic alcoholics.

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vitamin B12 deficiency occurs in almost 6% of people over the age of 60. Symptoms and signs of B12 deficiency can range from a headache to skin rash and swelling, which may be quite subtle at first.  The more common symptoms of B12 deficiency include fatigue, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations.  In severe cases, where the deficiency continues to be untreated, the patient may develop numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, calves that are tender, memory loss, confusion, general muscle weakness, difficulty walking and balance problems, and irritability.

How much vitamin B12 is needed varies from person to person, but the National Institutes of Health give an approximate daily-recommended amount for different ages.  From birth to 6 months, 0.4 mcg (micrograms), infants 7 to 12 months, 0.5 mcg, children 1 to 3 years, 0.9 mcg, children 4 to8 years, 1.2 mcg, children 9 to 13 years, 1.8 mcg, teens 14 to 18 years, 2.4 mcg, adults 2.4 mcg, pregnant teenagers and women, 2.6 mcg, and breastfeeding teenagers and women, 2.8 mcg,

Elderly patients who suffer from low vitamin B12 levels are at greater risk to suffer from decreased brain mass and decline in cognition or understanding.  The condition is diagnosed with a simple blood test and treated with about 6 injections of vitamin B12, with a booster every three months for life.