Dietary supplements

Lack of vitamin B12 (cobalamin): what symptoms?

Cobalamin or vitamin B12 is essential for the production of red blood cells and the proper functioning of the nervous system. This B vitamin is naturally found in animal products: dairy products, meat, fish and eggs.

The vegans, vegans and vegetarians, as well as those who have reduced their consumption of food of animal origin for health reasons, are therefore directly concerned by a risk of deficiency. But other populations may be affected.

Risks of vitamin B12 deficiency increase with age

Between 10 and 30% of people aged over 50 would also be affected by a vitamin B12 deficiency, without even being aware of it. In effect, absorption of this vitamin becomes more difficult with age. It is more and more complicated for the organism to assimilate the 4 micrograms recommended each day (μg/d) by ANSES for people over 18 (source 1).

Certain medications against type 2 diabetes, as well as acidity regulators can also interfere with vitamin B12. Weight loss surgery and certain diseases such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, autoimmune diseases, andpernicious anemia (or Biermer), can block the process of natural absorption of vitamin B12.

Satisfactory intakes (AI) of vitamin B12 increase for pregnant women (4.5 μg/d) and for breastfeeding women (5 μg/day).

The main symptoms of a lack of cobalamin

Swollen tongue, an unrecognized symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency

In the columns of the Daily Express, dietician Helen West highlights another symptom: swollen tongue. This condition also known as glossitis can develop rapidly and without warning. It is characterized by a change in the appearance and color of the tongue, which becomes red and painful, and by atrophy of the papillae.

In addition to a swollen tongue, people with severe vitamin B12 deficiency may also develop mouth ulcers or “pins” feeling on the tongue. The latter also playing a role in maintaining balance and coordination, severely deficient people may also “find it more difficult to walk and move around”, specifies the dietician.

Vitamin B12 deficiency increases the risk of depression

The vitamin B12 deficiency is particularly common among vegans and this condition is to be taken very seriously not only for physical but also mental health, as asserted by researchers from Trinity College Dublin. Their study published in the “British Journal of Nutrition” shows a significantly higher risk of depressive symptoms in the event of vitamin B12 deficiency in people over 50 years old.

The researchers observed that people with a status deficient in vitamin B12 had a 51% increased likelihood of developing depressive symptoms over four years in this study. The finding was the same regardless of the adjustment factors taken into account: physical activity, chronic diseases, vitamin D status, cardiovascular diseases and use of antidepressants. The results of the study show, on the other hand, that fortifying foods with vitamin B12, as is the case for certain foods with vitamin D, for example breakfast cereals, to increase the level of consumption of this vitamin would prevent this phenomenon.

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When in doubt, the easiest way to check for the presence of a deficiency is a test. The blood test often gives rather vague results. The most reliable examination is based on the dosage of methylmalonic acid concentration (AMM) in the urine, recalls the site of the Vegetarian Association of France.

Once the results have been analyzed by a doctor, supplements or treatments may make up for any lack of vitamin B12. In any case, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional before taking any supplements.

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