Vitamin B12 is vital to maintain healthy energy levels and is one of the most important vitamins in maintaining the nervous system. Consistently low levels of B12 can cause “damage” to parts of the nervous system, warns the NHS, even leading to irreversible damage.
The nervous system has two main parts: the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system, which is made up of nerves that branch off from the spinal cord and extend to all parts of the body.
A b12 deficiency can lead to peripheral neuropathy, which develops when nerves in the body’s extremities, such as the hands, feet and arms, are damaged.
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According to the NHS, the main symptoms of peripheral neuropathy in your feet include:
- muscle weakness
“These symptoms are usually constant, but may come and go,” explains the health body. It’s important to see your GP if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms.
What causes B12 deficiency?
Pernicious anemia is the most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency in the UK
Pernicious anemia is an autoimmune condition whereby your immune system attacks the cells in your stomach that produce the intrinsic factor, which means your body is unable to absorb vitamin B12.
However, some people can develop a vitamin B12 deficiency as a result of not getting enough vitamin B12 from their diet.
The richest sources of B12 are animal-based so vegetarians and vegans are at a greater risk of B12 deficiency.
B12 is naturally found in:
- meat and liver
- Milk and dairy products
Plant-based sources of vitamin B12 include yeast extract (such as Marmite) fortified plant milks and fortified breakfast cereals.
How to treat at B12 Deficiency
“If you’re following a plant-based diet, taking a vitamin B12 supplement can help prevent a deficiency,” say Holland and Barrett. “Breast-feeding mothers could also consider a supplement, as they need an extra 0.5mcg a day.”
As it explains, older people, or those taking medication to reduce production of stomach acid, may need a B12 supplement to boost absorption. Most cases of vitamin B12 and folate deficiency can be easily treated with injections or tablets to replace the missing vitamins, the NHS says.
Vitamin B12 supplements are usually given by injection at first. Then, depending on whether your B12 deficiency is related to your diet, you’ll either require B12 tablets between meals or regular injections.
These treatments may be needed for the rest of your life. In some cases, improving your diet can help treat the condition and prevent it coming back.
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