Q: I don't eat meat and am worried that I'm deficient in Vitamin B12. How can I tell?
A: Vitamin B12 is sometimes called the "energy vitamin," so it's not surprising that one of the symptoms of a deficiency is always being tired. Fatigue, lethargy and weakness can occur when your body doesn't have enough B12 to produce red blood cells needed to transport oxygen to your organs. Significant B12 deficiency can cause anemia (low blood count).
Memory problems can be another symptom of a B12 deficiency. Low B12 can hinder your brain chemistry, causing an imbalance in your neurotransmitters. If severe and left untreated, this can become a permanent condition.
Ongoing B12 deficiency can cause nerve damage, which can cause tingling sensations in your hands and feet. Other nerve and neurological problems can develop from chronic B12 deficiency, some of which can, again, become permanent if not treated.
B12 produces both serotonin and dopamine, two mood-regulating neurotransmitter chemicals in your brain, so without enough B12 you can suffer from sleep and emotional disturbances. Over time, these can turn into depression or anxiety.
Severe B12 deficiency can cause blood flow issues that result in pale skin, bruising, mouth sores and a swollen and inflamed tongue. Other problems that stem from poor blood flow are a rapid heartbeat or heart palpitations.
Testing for a B12 deficiency is quick and easy. Your doctor will send a small blood sample to be tested. Depending on the results, you may need to take a daily B12 supplement or receive B12 injections. You should start seeing improvements in two to six months.
— Dr. Yuri Sawa, Erlanger Medical Group, Erlanger Primary Care, Soddy-Daisy; member, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society