Vitamin B12 is vital for red blood cell production in the body and for keeping nerves healthy. It’s best gained through diet from B12-rich foods, which tend to be of an animal origin, such as meat, cheese and milk. This can put those who follow a vegan or vegetarian at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, unless they opt for foods such as fortified cereal or take supplements. A lack of vitamin B12 in the body may also occur as a result of a health condition, such as pernicious anaemia, which affects the body’s absorption of B12 from foods.
Whatever the cause, if a person lacks vitamin B12, their red blood cell production will be low and the nerves can be affected.
When this happens, the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are triggered.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to vision problems, memory loss, loss of physical co-ordination, and heart failure if left untreated, so recognising the symptoms is very important.
One symptom which could mean you’re at risk of the condition is an eye twitch.
An eye twitch, usually in one eye or the other, can be a sign, warns Patient Thyroid Advocacy.
it explains: “It can occur on the eyelid or just below the eyes. This is not usually painful, just annoying.”
Other vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms
Bupa lists six symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency. These include:
- Feeling very tired
- Breathlessness even after little exercise
- Heart palpitations
- A reduced appetite
- A sore mouth and tongue
The health organisation adds: “If you have vitamin B12-deficiency anaemia, you may also look pale or jaundiced (have a yellowy tinge to your skin and the whites of your eyes).
“As well as the symptoms of anaemia, vitamin B12-deficiency may cause symptoms related to your nerves. This is called vitamin B12 neuropathy. It may affect your movement and sensation, especially in your legs, cause numbness or pins and needles and decrease your sensitivity to touch, vibration or pain. It can also cause confusion, depression, poor concentration and forgetfulness.”
But it also advises: “These symptoms aren’t always due to vitamin B12-deficiency anaemia, but if you have them see your GP.”
Treatment of vitamin B12 deficiency
If a person if not getting enough vitamin B12 from their diet they may be advised by a GP to eat more food fortified with vitamin B12 or to take regular supplements.
Vitamin B12 injections may also be recommended, and for those with pernicious anaemia, injections may be required for the rest of their lives.
Experts say adults aged 19 to 64 require around 1.5 micrograms (mg) a day of vitamin B12, and unless you have pernicious anaemia, you should be able to get this through your diet.
If vitamin B12 deficiency is triggered by not including enough B12 in the diet, Harvard Health Publishing, part of Harvard Medical School, offers the “A list of B12 foods” on its website.