Vitamin B12 and anaemia – what you should know

Vitamin B12 is a crucial nutrient to help the body form red blood cells.
Vitamin B12 is a crucial nutrient to help the body form red blood cells.

We know by now that iron deficiency in the body is the most common cause of anaemia in children and adults alike. But there is another nutrient that is important for the body to produce healthy blood.

Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps the nervous system, blood cells and DNA function optimally.

Vitamin B12 is found naturally in a variety of animal products such as beef liver, fish, meat, poultry, eggs and other dairy products. Manufacturers often fortify other food sources such as breakfast cereals, nutritional yeast, or plant-based milk with B12, especially for those following a vegan diet.

How anaemia and B12 deficiency are linked

In pernicious anaemia, the body does not absorb enough vitamin B12 from the digestive tract, resulting in inadequate production of normal red blood cells.

Pernicious anaemia occurs when the body lacks the protein needed to absorb the vitamin B12 from the digestive tract. If there is not enough vitamin B12, red blood cells don’t form properly and this causes anaemia. Not only is there a halt in the production of red blood cells, but a lack of vitamin B12 can also cause the existing blood cells to be destroyed more quickly.

Pernicious anaemia is so named because it is a serious illness that was previously incurable ("pernicious" means destructive or fatal). Nowadays it can be very effectively treated by correcting vitamin B12 deficiency in the body.

Do I have a vitamin B12 deficiency?

Symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency include:

  • Severe fatigue
  • Pins and needles in the hands and feet
  • A lack of concentration
  • A feeling of depression

How to diagnose a vitamin B12 deficiency

You can properly diagnose or rule out a vitamin B12 deficiency through blood tests. While such a deficiency can easily be corrected, it’s important that it is correctly diagnosed.

Treating vitamin B12 deficiency

Vitamin B12 deficiency can be treated with injection or tablets. Injections are the first port of call as these are more quickly absorbed than tablets. After that, you might be required to take tablets between meals, or further injections on a regular basis.

Adjustments to your diet may also be able to correct vitamin B12 deficiency. You can include sources such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy products in your diet to boost your intake.

Image credit - iStock 

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
33% - 9371 votes
67% - 19386 votes