There are eight different forms of vitamin B, and vitamin B12 is one of them. It is a water-soluble vitamin. Its unique features are its complex structure and the presence of the biochemically rare component cobalt in it. This vitamin is essential for proper functioning of the brain and the nervous system. It is also required for formation of red blood cells, repair works of the body cells and synthesis of essential DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) molecule. It stimulates the mechanisms involved in detoxification of our body. In other words, it has a major role in the removal of poisonous chemical substances like lead, arsenic and antimony from the body.
Both men and women are equally prone to deficiency of vitamin B12. In adults, there is an extensive reserves of this cobalamin form of vitamin, which can be used for three to five years. Hence, the symptoms of its deficiency become apparent after several months. However, in infants and children, the symptoms can be observed quite early.
Those who have low vitamin B12 in their body tend to develop a specific type of anemia called pernicious anemia that inhibits the secretion of glycoprotein from the gastric cells of stomach. The condition can be identified with symptoms like -
- Lethargic feelings
- Lack of appetite
- Digestive problems
- Weight loss
The central nervous system that consists of the brain and spinal cord, suffers maximum damage due to this deficiency. Methylcobalamin, formed as a result of methylation reaction of vitamin B12, is an essential nutrient for the brain. It prevents the ill-effects of glutamate and nitric oxide, which are responsible for Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. It has been found that people who are suffering from vitamin B12 deficiency for a long time often tend to develop various types of mental disorder.
Lack of vitamin B12 affects the secretion of a number of vital hormones, like melatonin that induces sleep and serotonin that controls mood. Some common problems that people often face in this condition are:
- Concentration problems
- Sleeping problems
- Emotional disturbances
- Mental fatigue
The myelin layer present in the central nervous system provides insulation to the nerve cells. Methylcobalamin obtained from vitamin B12 protects myelin from any kind of degeneration. Deficiency of vitamin B12 leads to decadence of myelin and neurological damage occur. As a result, the following symptoms are observed:
- Loss of memory
- Lack of balance
- Tingling sensation in hands, feet or tongue
- Absence of muscle-tendon reflexes
When a patient visits a doctor with symptoms, he conducts a blood test to check the levels of the vitamin. The treatment is then based upon the severity of the condition. Those who have developed pernicious anemia, B12 is administered through injections. Patients with a mild to moderate deficiency of the vitamin are given oral supplements. The main source of vitamin B12 in our body is animal proteins. Foodstuffs like shellfish, meat, eggs and dairy products have rich contents of vitamin B12.
Therefore, doctors advise these patients to increase their intake of all such food that contain a high amount of B12. Normal functioning of the body can be restored only when vitamin B12 works with other essential vitamins. Therefore, a balanced diet is must to control the symptoms. The problem can be successfully treated with proper diet and supplements. However, if any damage has already occurred in the nerves due to the vitamin deficiency, then unfortunately, it cannot be cured with any treatment.
Usually, vitamin B12 is not found in vegetables. Even if it is found in some of them, it is almost in negligible amount. For this reason, vegans are more prone to its deficiency. Those infants who are breastfeeding from vegan mothers also tend to develop this problem. Therefore, these people should regularly take it as dietary supplements to prevent its deficiency.