Vitamin B12: New diagnosis of low level

If your recent blood test indicated that your Vitamin B12 levels are low please read this:

What does Vitamin B12 do?

Vitamin B12 helps to keep the nervous system and blood cells healthy.  Vitamin B12 deficiency is when your Vitamin B12 levels are too low.

What are the symptoms of low Vitamin B12 levels?

Low Vitamin B12 levels can cause anaemia which can cause tiredness; lack of energy; breathlessness; dizziness and headaches.

It is also possible to have low Vitamin B12 without anaemia which may cause symptoms such as pins and needles; disturbed vision; mouth ulcers; tongue soreness; memory difficulties and muscle weakness.

Where do I get Vitamin B12?

It is only naturally found in animal products including meat, eggs, fish, milk and dairy products. Plants do not make B12 and so will not provide this vitamin.

Foods richest in B12 include:

  • Liver and organ meats
  • Shellfish
  • Clams
  • Oysters

If you are sea-food averse, B12 can also be found in:

  • Lamb
  • Beef
  • Eggs
  • Cheese

Causes of Vitamin B12 deficiency

For many people, the cause of their deficiency is not taking enough in their diet, especially if they do not eat animal products.  Some people are unable to absorb Vitamin B12 from food and some take medications which can reduce the absorption of Vitamin B12 from the stomach e.g. metformin (which is used for diabetes) or omeprazole (which is often prescribed for indigestion).

Treatment of Vitamin B12 deficiency

  • The good news is that there is evidence that shows that oral B12 supplements are just as effective intramuscular injections of B12.
  • If you have been diagnosed by a doctor you may well be prescribed  Cyanocobalamin 1mg daily for six months.
  • At the end of this your B12 and full blood count levels will need to be checked.
  • When you have completed the course, we would advise that you try to include foods that are rich in B12 in your diet (see above) and recheck your levels again in 12 months or sooner if you start to feel your original symptoms returning.
  • If you are a vegan, you may need to purchase oral B12 over the counter from the pharmacy or from a reliable source on the internet. We would recommend Methylcobalamin 1mg daily as it currently the most cost-effective option (costing about £12 for a six-month supply). As you do not consume any animal foods as a vegan, you are at high risk of your Vitamin B12 levels dropping again without ongoing use of an oral supplement.

If you have any questions or are unsure as to the cause for your Vitamin B12 deficiency – please arrange a routine appointment with your doctor.