Constantly tired and suffering from brain fog, shortness of breath, short-term memory loss or mood swings? If those symptoms sound familiar, a lack of vitamin B12 could be to blame – HELLO! Beauty Editor Nadine Baggott investigates…
Feeling tired all the time, with an inability to concentrate and a tendency to forget things is so commonplace these days that we dismiss it as an inevitable part of busy modern life. But doing so could mean failing to recognise the early signs of a vitamin deficiency or possible anaemia.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is a worldwide problem, yet it remains largely under the radar. In the UK, around 6 per cent of people under 60 and close to 20 per cent of those aged 60-plus are B12 deficient. In fact, it has been estimated that nearly six million Britons are deficient, while some experts believe the true figure to be far greater. That means millions of us could be feeling unwell but completely oblivious to the fact that vitamin B12 deficiency is to blame.
Also known as cobalamin, water-soluble vitamin B12 is vital for the formation of red blood cells, as well as healthy nerve function and DNA synthesis. It also plays a key role in energy release, which explains why those deficient in B12 often feel out of breath, can sleep for more than eight hours but still wake up feeling tired and say they suffer from chronic fatigue.
The trouble is, there is no consensus as to exactly what level of B12 constitutes a deficiency and doctors’ guidelines vary from region to region within the UK. There is even concern that the tests for B12 are inaccurate and often overestimate our levels. Also, as a result of lifestyle changes such as the growing popularity of meat- and/or dairy-free diets and the use of certain medications, becoming deficient is easier than you might think.
Vitamin B12 occurs naturally in some seaweeds but chiefly in animal products. What’s more, if you eat meat but choose to go dairy free, your deficiency risk is also increased.
So if you are vegetarian or vegan, or are watching your weight and are constantly talking about being tired, forgetful and lacking energy, the chances are that you need to up your B12 intake. There are also a small number of people who suffer from an autoimmune disorder called pernicious anaemia, in which their digestive tracts cannot absorb or metabolise vitamin B12.
This is increasingly common as we age, but can also happen due to infections caused by bacteria many of us carry in our stomach and intestines and conditions such as Crohn’s disease, colitis and gastritis, an inflammation of part or all of the digestive tract.
For these people, vitamin B12 deficiency can become chronic, leading to dizziness, tingling in the fingers and toes, muscle weakness, pale and dry skin, confusion and even depression.
Meanwhile many everyday prescription and over-the-counter medications can be an extra risk factor. Women who are on the contraceptive pill and anyone who regularly takes ibuprofen, metformin for type 2 diabetes and PPI (proton pump inhibitors) for acid reflux, indigestion and ulcers are also more prone to becoming deficient in vitamin B12.
The good news is that the problem is easy to treat. Once you have visited your GP and been diagnosed, you are likely to be offered a course of vitamin B12 injections, administered once every three months.However, if you don’t like needles, you will be pleased to learn that B12 oral mouth sprays are available and research has shown that these are not only effective but can be cheaper and easier to take.
Absorbed through the lining of the mouth, oral sprays are particularly useful for those taking the contraceptive pill or PPI tablets for acid reflux and those with type 2 diabetes who have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 through their intestinal tracts.
For more information visit pernicious-anaemia-society.org.