Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. The body absorbs the vitamin from food but some people are unable to obtain B12 through this way. This is because they suffer from an underlying condition called pernicious anaemia.
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Pernicious anaemia is an autoimmune disease that prevents the body from making intrinsic factor (a protein made by the stomach and needed to absorb vitamin B12 in the intestine).
A B12 deficiency is the result of this impaired process.
In fact, pernicious anaemia is the most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency in the UK.
How do I know I have it?
B12 deficiency caused by pernicious anaemia produces symptoms that are also associated with general B12 deficiency symptoms but there are some specific warning signs to tell it apart.
According to the Pernicious Anaemia Society (PAS), there are a number of telltale signs when you go to the toilet.
As PAS explains, a person with B12 anaemia may experience the following gastrointestinal Symptoms:
- Floating Stools
- Explosive diarrhoea – some patients experience this after a bout of constipation
According to the NHS, these usually develop gradually, but can worsen if the condition goes untreated.
When to see a GP
See a GP if you’re experiencing symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia.
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As the NHS explains, these conditions can often be diagnosed based on your symptoms and the results of a blood test.
It’s particularly important for vitamin B12 to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
“Although many of the symptoms improve with treatment, some problems caused by the condition can be irreversible if left untreated,” warns the NHS.
Neurological problems, such as vision problems or memory loss, can be irreversible.
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How to treat it
Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia is usually treated with injections of vitamin B12.
There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:
It is important to note that B12 deficiency can also be related directly to diet.
“If your vitamin B12 deficiency is caused by a lack of the vitamin in your diet, you may be prescribed vitamin B12 tablets to take every day between meals,” advises the NHS.
Why do some people struggle to get enough B12 in their diet?
B12 is naturally found in meat, salmon and cod, milk and other dairy products, so people following a vegan or vegetarian diet may avoid these sources.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, or are looking for alternatives to meat and dairy products, there are other foods that contain vitamin B12, however.
According to the NHS, B12 can be found in yeast extract (including Marmite), as well as some fortified breakfast cereals and soy products.
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