Vitamin B12 deficiency: The warning sign when walking that could signal you’re lacking B12

VITAMIN B12 supports the body’s complex architecture – it is needed to make red blood cells, nerves and DNA. Low levels of B12 therefore scuppers the body on several fronts, causing all manner of mental and physical symptoms. One of the more commonly reported side effects is a loss of balance, which causes people to fall over more frequently.

A case report of a previously healthy 55-year-old East African man with severe vitamin B12 deficiency charts his rapid decline over a series of months.

The patient had pernicious anaemia, an autoimmune disease that prevents the body from making intrinsic factor (a protein made by the stomach and needed to absorb vitamin B12 in the intestine).

Over the course of three to six months, he had a history of repeated falls and postural dizziness, among other symptoms.

In another case study, an 86-year-old woman showed functional decline and gait problems.

The patient’s gait was ataxic and she was unable to stand without support.

Ataxia describes a lack of muscle control or coordination of voluntary movements, such as walking or picking up objects.

She was diagnosed after having falls and ataxia caused by vitamin B12 deficiency.

In both case reports, symptoms improved with vitamin B12 supplementation.

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Other physical symptoms include:

  • A pale yellow tinge to your skin
  • A sore and red tongue (glossitis)
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
  • 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)

“Some of these symptoms can also happen in people who have a vitamin B12 deficiency but have not developed anaemia,” notes the NHS.

According to the health body, you should see a GP if you’re experiencing symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.

“These conditions can often be diagnosed based on your symptoms and the results of a blood test,” it says.

It is also important to get the symptoms checked out sooner rather than later.

“Although many of the symptoms improve with treatment, some problems caused by the condition can be irreversible if left untreated,” warns the NHS.

How is B12 treated?

The treatment for vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia depends on what’s causing the condition.

Most people can be easily treated with injections or tablets to replace the missing vitamins.

Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia is usually treated with injections of vitamin B12.

There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:

  • Hydroxocobalamin
  • Cyanocobalamin

If your vitamin B12 deficiency is caused by a lack of the vitamin in your diet, you may be prescribed vitamin B12 tablets to take every day between meals, according to the NHS.

Why do some people struggle to get enough B12 in their diet?

B12 is naturally found in animal products such as meat and dairy so many sources are off-limits for vegans and some vegetarians.

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, or are looking for alternatives to meat and dairy products, there are other foods that contain vitamin B12, however.

According to the NHS, B12 alternatives include yeast extract (including Marmite), as well as some fortified breakfast cereals and soy products.

“Check the nutrition labels while food shopping to see how much vitamin B12 different foods contain,” the health body advises.

You can also get B12 through supplementation if you are vegan.

A standard multivitamin delivers six micrograms – more than enough to cover the average body’s daily need, according to Harvard Health.

The health body includes a word of warning about B12 supplementation.

“The Internet is full of articles lauding the use of vitamin B12 to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and other chronic conditions or reverse infertility, fatigue, eczema, and a long list of other health problems,” the health site explains.

Most are based on poor or faulty evidence, it says, recommending that you take B12 supplement solely to remedy B12 deficiency.

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