Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms: The sign when you go to the toilet you could lack B12

Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms may appear if a person lacks the vitamin from the foods they’re eating. Vegans and vegetarians may not get enough B12 because the main sources of the vitamin are from foods of an animal origin. Certain medical conditions, such as pernicious anaemia, can also affect a person’s absorption of vitamin B12 from foods. Vitamin B12 is an important vitamin for the body, responsible for the production of red blood cells and keeping nerves healthy.

According to the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a sign of vitamin B12 deficiency is diarrhoea

If a person lacks B12 their red blood cell count will be lower and their nerves risk becoming damaged.

Vitamin B12 deficiency left untreated can lead to serious health complications, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

But spotting the symptoms early can help prevent these complications developing.

One symptom of the vitamin B12 deficiency can be spotted when you go the toilet, but can be overlooked.

According to the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, this sign is diarrhoea.

A person deficient in B12 may experience diarrhoea because a lack of B12 can impact the digestive tract.

Your digestive health relies on the healthy function of your stomach, small and large intestines, the colon and the rectum, and these tissues rely on B vitamins.

Low intake of vitamin B12 affects the digestive tract, and a severe deficiency paralyses the muscle tissue in the lining of the digestive tract, hindering intestinal function.

A lack of B12 may also cause gas and constipation to occur.

Other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency

Other symptoms of the condition are listed by Bupa as:

  • Feeling very tired
  • Breathlessness even after a little exercise
  • Heart palpitations
  • Headaches
  • 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.

“These symptoms aren’t always due to vitamin B12-deficiency anaemia, but if you have them see your GP.”

Avoiding vitamin B12 deficiency

Experts say adults aged 19 to 64 require around 1.5 micrograms a day of vitamin B12, and you should be able to get this through your diet.

Certain foods contain vitamin B12 and Harvard Health Publishing, part of Harvard Medical School, offers the “A list of B12 foods” on its website. 

Five foods rich in B12 include:

  • Beef – 3 ounces contains 1.5mcg of B12
  • Eggs – 1 large egg contains 0.6mcg of B12
  • Fortified cereal – one cup contains 6mcg of B12
  • Salmon – 3 ounces contains 4.9mcg of B12
  • Low-fat milk – 1 cup contains 1.2mcg of B12

Vitamin B12 is primarily found in almost all foods of animal origin. This means, those with plant based diets, such as vegans, are at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency if they don’t eat the right foods.

For vegans, they should look to the following food sources:

  • Yeast extract (for example Marmite)
  • Soya milk, yoghurts and desserts
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Certain brands of rice drinks and oat drinks

Vitamin B12 deficiency treatment

If you consume very little vitamin B12 foods you may be advised by your GP to take a vitamin B12 supplement or to have vitamin B12 injections.

This may be the case for pregnant or breast feeding women and vegan or vegetarians.

You may also want to consider taking vitamin B12 supplements. The Department of Health advises you don’t take too much as this could be harmful.

Taking 2 milligrams or less a day of vitamin B12 in supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.

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