Vitamin B12 for Neuropathy - Are you at risk of deficiency?

Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, helps with essential functions such as red blood cell production and nerve function. When a lack of vitamin B12 occurs, it can lead to neurological problems such as neuropathy. Here, we break down important information about using vitamin b12 for neuropathy, as well as how a lack thereof can cause neuropathy, to help you live your healthiest life.

Neuropathy

Woman with Neuropathy Pain in hands

According to the Cleveland Clinic, neuropathy indicates a problem with the peripheral nervous system (nerves outside of your spinal cord and brain). It is the dysfunction or damage of these types of nerves which can lead to effects such as tingling, muscle weakness, numbness, and pain of the affected area. The peripheral nervous system helps to bring information to the central nervous system (which are your brain and spinal cord). Neuropathy happens when the nerve cells, known as neurons, are destroyed or damaged. Usually symptoms begin in feet or hands, however, this is not always the case. There are three types of neuropathy:

  1. Mononeuropathy- When one nerve type or nerve itself is damaged
  2. Multifocal neuropathy- When a combination of nerves in a set area of the body is affected
  3. Polyneuropathy- When nerves are affected throughout the entirety of the body

The University of Chicago notes that without the protective veneer offered by myelin through vitamin B12 to the nervous system, nerves will start to break down, potentially leading to neuropathy. This can occur even in mild to moderate cases.

Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Tired woman sleeping at work - symptom of vitamin deficiency

In order to help prevent neuropathy, it is essential to try to maintain healthy vitamin B12 levels. According to Healthline, there are nine primary symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, all of which are vital to be aware of, especially if you have had issues with your B12 levels in the past. They include:

  1. Fatigue and Weakness- When you don’t have enough B12 in your body, your red blood cell count can be low, which means there are less cells available to carry oxygen throughout your body. Without proper oxygenation of your blood, you become anemic, which leads to excessive feelings of fatigue and weakness.
  2. Pins and Needles- This is a serious side effect of a lack of B12 as it is indicative of nerve damage. This occurs because B12 helps to create a metabolic pathway that produces myelin, which protects your nerves. When myelin breaks down, your nervous system isn’t able to work properly. This often happens in conjunction with anemia.
  3. Jaundiced or Pale Skin- A common side effect of B12 deficiency, this can present as a pale tinge to one’s skin or a yellowing of one’s skin and the whites of one’s eyes. This also results from not having enough red blood cells in circulation in your body from the anemia that can occur with B12 deficiency, thereby losing the normal color of your skin.
  4. Mouth Ulcers and Tongue Inflammation- A change in the size, shape, or color of your tongue (known as glossitis); long, straight mouth ulcers; a burning, itching, or pins and needles sensation in your mouth can also be indicators.
  5. Mobility Issues- Because B12 deficiency can affect your nervous system; issues with balance, coordination, and mobility are all symptoms. This specific one often occurs in the elderly. If it does occur in younger patients, it usually indicated a very extreme deficiency. 
  6. Interrupted Vision- Blurry or disturbed vision can result from damage to your optic nerve, which connects your brain to your eye and is known as optic neuropathy.
  7. Dizziness or Shortness of Breath- If your red blood cell count is low, you can also tire easily when exerting yourself due to your body’s not being oxygenated properly. This could then also result in dizziness or shortness of breath.
  8. High Temperature- It is possible for high temperature to be a result of B12 deficiency however, this is a rarer side effect, so do take into account that it might be a result of other types of illness as well. 
  9. Mood Changes- A lack of B12 can cause disorders such as depression, dementia, and mood swings. The theory on this correlation is that low levels of B12 can cause high homocysteine which can result in damage to brain tissue interrupting the normal nerve signals that should be taking place. An increase in B12 is thought to help with mood swings, however, other treatments are recommended for addressing depression and dementia.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can be quite common and present itself is a variety of ways, so it can be difficult to diagnose at times. This is why making sure to have a diet rich in vitamin B12, and taking a supplement if you have issues incorporating it into your diet (such as with veganism), or, if you have other pre-conditions that might put you at higher risk for a vitamin B12 deficiency are so important. A number of these symptoms also present as a result of neuropathy from lack of B12.

Those at High Risk of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Elderly woman holding head in pain with headache

It’s possible for anyone to have a vitamin B12 deficiency; however, it is important to also understand the circumstances where you may be at higher risk and to plan to monitor your levels accordingly. According to Healthline people at a higher risk include:

  • Vegans
  • The elderly
  • Those who have had bowel surgery
  • Those on certain diabetes drugs
  • Those on ant-acid long term for heartburn

Drugs that Lead to Vitamin B12 Deficiency

To expand upon medications that may result in a vitamin B12 deficiency, it is important to monitor your vitamin B12 levels if you are taking these types of prescriptions. According to the MayoClinic, these include:

  • Drugs used to treat Type II Diabetes such as Riomet and Glumetza
  • Stomach acid-reducing histamine (H-2) blockers such Pepcid AC and Tagamet HB 
  • Stomach acid-reducing proton pump inhibitors such as Prilosec OTC and Prevacid 24 HR

Natural Sources of Vitamin B-12 

Healthy foods with high doses vitamin b12 for neuropathy

The MayoClinic and Healthline report on natural sources of vitamin B-12 that are important to make a regular part of your diet:

  • Lean red meat
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Vitamin fortified products such as breakfast cereal, bread, and plant-based milk

Summary

Your vitamin B12 levels are something to pay attention to as a marker of overall health, especially if you have other pre-existing conditions that might put you at risk, as a deficiency can lead to health issues such as neuropathy. In addition to ensuring that vitamin B12 is an integral part of your diet, taking supplemental B12 can help avoid this health issue as well.

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