When the immune system decides to attack its own cells – for reasons still unknown – and the stomach lining becomes the target, specialised proteins can no longer be made. Known as intrinsic factor (IF), this protein attaches to vitamin B12 in the stomach. Stuck together, IF enables vitamin B12 to be re-absorbed into the body via the gut.
An adequate supply of vitamin B12 can help the body in so many versatile ways – and the effects can be felt if you’re not getting it.
Ever so slowly, the body will begin presenting symptoms that something isn’t right.
Without vitamin B12, the red blood cells made in the body are bent out of shape, deformed, and can’t work properly.
This causes a lack of oxygen to be transported around the body, which can become dangerous.
READ MORE: Vitamin B12 deficiency: The warning sign in your feet that signals ‘possible nerve damage’
The Mayo Clinic pointed out that the way you move can be affected by a lack of healthy blood cells (i.e. pernicious anaemia).
An example is “unsteady movements”, as well as numbness or tingling in the feet, shortness of breath, and muscle weakness.
Other warning signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency might include:
- Pale or yellowish skin
- Irregular heartbeats
- Weight loss
- Personality changes
- Mental confusion
“Vitamin deficiency signs and symptoms may be subtle at first, but they increase as the deficiency worsens,” the Mayo Clinic added.
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Am I eating vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 can be found in meat, eggs, and milk – so unless you follow a vegan diet, you should be getting enough vitamin B12.
People who follow a vegan diet can also get an adequate supply of vitamin B12 by taking supplements or consuming foods fortified with the nutrient.
Pernicious anaemia risk
Those who have diabetes or thyroid disease may have an increased risk of developing pernicious anaemia.
Other possible risk factors can include:
- Abnormal bacteria growth in small intestines
- Stomach surgery
- Crohn’s disease
- Celiac disease
- A tapeworm.
Once a diagnosis has been verified via the blood sample results, treatment can begin.
If you’re found to have pernicious anaemia (i.e. lack of IF protein), then you will need to have vitamin B12 injections.
This could be a life-long treatment option, but this will depend on a case-by-case scenario.
For more mild vitamin B12 deficiencies, supplements might be recommended.