Vitamin B12 deficiency: Three ways lacking the nutrient can impact your mood

Vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia occurs when a lack of the vitamin affects the body’s ability to produce fully functioning red blood cells. A vitamin B12 or folate deficiency can cause a wide range of symptoms, and these usually develop gradually, but can worsen if the condition goes untreated. In addition to physical changes, lacking the vitamin can have an adverse impact on a person’s mood.

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According to the NHS, a vitamin B12 deficiency can cause the following problems associated with mood:

  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Changes in the way you think, feel and behave

Growing evidence links a low levels of mood to depression, such as an article published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, which reviewed studies of depression and low vitamin B-12 status.

The researchers found a strong corelation between decreasing levels of vitamin B-12 serum and an increase in depression.

They also observed upping vitamin B-12 may be associated with better treatment outcomes of depression, suggesting that people with depression should take a 1-milligram supplement of B-12 daily.

In addition to impacting mood, people with a vitamin B12 deficiency may experience:

  • A pale yellow tinge to their skin
  • A sore and red tongue (glossitis)
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
  • Changes in the way that a person walks and moves around
  • Disturbed vision

According to the NHS, you should see a GP if you’re experiencing symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia as a condition can often be diagnosed based on your symptoms and the results of a blood test.

Although many of the symptoms improve with treatment, some problems caused by the condition can be irreversible if left untreated.

The longer the condition goes untreated, the higher the chance of permanent damage, warns the NHS.

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How to top up the vitamin

The first line of treatment for a vitamin B12 deficiency is a course of injections and there are two types of vitamin B12 injections:

  • Hydroxocobalamin
  • Cyanocobalamin

As the health body explains, if your vitamin B12 deficiency is caused by a lack of the vitamin in your diet, you may be prescribed vitamin B12 tablets to take every day between meals.

Vitamin B12 can also found in a small number of foods, including:

  • Meat
  • Salmon and cod
  • Milk and other dairy products
  • Eggs

People who find it difficult to get enough vitamin B12 in their diets, such as those following a vegan diet, may need vitamin B12 tablets for life, notes the NHS.

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Alternatively, those following a vegan or vegetarian diet can find alternatives to meat and dairy products, such as yeast extract (including Marmite), as well as some fortified breakfast cereals and soy products.

Reserves of vitamin B12 in the body can last around two to four years without being replenished, so it can take a long time for any problems to develop after a dietary change, explains the health site.

To ensure treatment working, you may need to have further blood tests, which are often carried out around 10 to 14 days after starting treatment to assess whether treatment is working.

As the NHS explained: “This is to check your haemoglobin level and the number of immature red blood cells (reticulocytes) in your blood.”

Haemoglobin is the substance that carries red blood cells carry oxygen around the body.

Vitamin B12 complications

Although it’s uncommon, vitamin B12 or folate deficiency (with or without anaemia) can lead to complications, particularly if you have been deficient in vitamin B12 or folate for some time, notes the NHS.

Potential complications can include:

  • Problems with the nervous system
  • Temporary infertility
  • Heart conditions
  • Pregnancy complications and birth defects

Who is at risk?

Strict vegetarians and vegans are a greater risk of developing a B12 deficiency as vitamin B12 is mainly found in meat, eggs, poultry, dairy products, and other foods from animals, so vegans or vegetarians that do not don’t eat grains that have been fortified with the vitamin or take a vitamin supplement may develop a deficiency.

According to Harvard Health, conditions that interfere with nutrient absorption, such as celiac or Crohn’s disease, may also spell B12 trouble.

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