How Vitamin B12 Deficiency Can Be Harmful to Your Health

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vitamin B12 deficiencyI’m reminded of a story I read about from Kemps Corner in Pune, India. A small salon owner noted how some of her customers complained of excessive hair shedding and lackluster, brittle strands. The salon owner suggested her clients get tested for a vitamin B12 deficiency test—and with good reason.

A study conducted in 2010 among middle-class men in Pune, India revealed that 81% were vitamin B12 deficient. Dr. Sadanand Naik, head of biochemistry at KEM Hospital, and his colleagues, conducted a follow-up study that consisted of 120 young post-graduate male and female students from Pune, all vegetarians and whose diets did not consist of food of animal origin. Researchers discovered that half of the participants were vitamin B12 deficient. So other than avoiding hair loss/thinning, why else do you need vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 plays an essential role in the composition and regulation of DNA; it keeps the red blood cells healthy, which are responsible for delivering oxygen throughout the body. It is the most complex vitamin currently known to man! This is why a vitamin B12 deficiency can be a health risk. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause fatigue, anemia, and depression. Long-term deficiency can cause permanent damage to the brain.

Neuroscientists believe that vitamin B12 has properties that can help elevate one’s mood. It helps manufacture neurotransmitters such as monoamines, which help regulate the mood and reduce depression and anxiety.

Dementia can be seen as a symptom of pernicious anemia—an autoimmune disorder caused by low levels of vitamin B12. People with dementia aren’t absorbing enough vitamin B12 from the foods they eat, which can lead to various forms of dementia.

Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

  • Weakness
  • Yellow skin
  • Swollen or inflamed tongue
  • Strange sensations, numbness, or tingling in the feet, hands, and legs
  • Difficulty thinking and reasoning, or memory loss
  • Paranoia or hallucinations

Are You at Risk?

If you have certain conditions that interfere with food absorption, such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease, it could possibly lead to a vitamin B12 deficiency. If you take heartburn drugs, they can reduce acid production in the stomach, which is needed to absorb vitamin B12. The elderly can be at risk, since stomach acid production decreases with age.

Furthermore, since non-vegetarian food such as meat, eggs, fish, and dairy products are rich in vitamin B12, vegetarians are at a high risk of developing B12 deficiency.

Vitamin B12-Rich Food Sources

1. Turkey: Nothing tastes better than turkey. It is full of flavor and one cup of cooked turkey breast provides you with 48.2 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin B12.

2. Trout: Every three ounces of trout provides you with 5.4 mcg of vitamin B12, which is 90% of the recommended dietary amount (RDA).

3. Clams: Clams are one of the top sources for vitamin B12. Three ounces of cooked clams contains 84.1 mcg of vitamin B12. They are also high in iron and potassium.

5. Oysters: Every 100 grams (g) of oysters contains 15.6 mcg of vitamin B12.

6. Chicken: Half of a chicken breast (100 g) contains 0.3 mcg of vitamin B12. It’s best to stick with organic chicken or poultry from a local farm in order to avoid meat that has been bathed in chlorine.

7. Salmon: Nothing says refreshing like salmon caught from the Alaskan waters. Three ounces of cooked salmon contains 4.9 mcg of vitamin B12.

8. Cereal: A 1/3 cup of fortified cereal, such as “Special K” or “Total Raisin Bran” contains about 4.9 mcg of vitamin B12.

9. Dairy products: One cup of milk contains 0.9 mcg of vitamin B12 (15% of your daily value). Vegetarians should aim to consume at least four servings of dairy products each day. For example, drink one cup of milk with your breakfast, one cup of yogurt with your lunch, a glass of buttermilk in the evening with dinner, and consume one cup of warm milk before bedtime.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Ask your doctor about having your vitamin B12 levels checked if you:

  • Are a strict vegetarian
  • Take metformin (a diabetes drug)
  • Have had weight loss surgery or a condition that interferes with food absorption
  • If you are over the age of 50 your doctor might recommend you take vitamin B12 supplements, to compensate for lack of vitamin absorption from food sources. Before you consider taking supplements, consult your doctor first.

Related Reading:

Sources for Today’s Article:
“What’s Causing Your Memory Loss?” Help Guide web site;, last accessed September 17, 2015.
Skerrett, P. J., “Vitamin B12 deficiency can be sneaky, harmful,” Harvard Health Publications web site, last updated September 9, 2015;, last accessed September 17, 2015.
Gehi, R., “How to Treat Vitamin B12 Deficiency,” iDiva web site, September 4, 2012;
“Vitamin B12 deficiency,” Boots WebMD web site, February 24, 2015;
“Brain Food: Top 10 Sources of Vitamin B12,” Good Housekeeping web site;, last accessed September 17, 2015.
“Vitamin B12,” The Worlds of David Darling web site;, last accessed September 17, 2015.