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Vitamin B12 deficiency: Four ways a lack of the vitamin may affect your mind

Vitamin B12 is vital for the body to produce healthy red blood cells. It also needed for proper nerve function and DNA synthesis. A vitamin B12 deficiency can be the result of a variety of problems, such as not getting enough of it in the diet. It is well understood that lacking the vitamin can cause a number of physical changes, but it can also impact the mind too.

According to the NHS, a vitamin B12 deficiency can impact the mind in four ways:

  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Changes in the way a person thinks, feels and behave
  • A decline in their mental abilities, such as memory, understanding and judgement (dementia)

Growing evidence reveals the extent to which a B12 deficiency may impair a person’s cognitive function. One study published in the journal Neurology, found that people with low levels of B12 or folate may have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The long-range Swedish study of persons 75-years-old and older found that more than half (46 out of 78) of those diagnosed with dementia had both low levels of vitamin B12 or folate and Alzheimer’s type dementia.

Study authors theorised that vitamin B12 or folate deficiencies affect Alzheimer’s disease by influencing neurotransmitters or the levels of the amino acid homocysteine in the body.

Either vitamin B12 or folate deficiency can increase homocysteine levels.

Homocysteine has a neurotoxic effect that could lead to cell death or neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Monitoring B12 levels is important in order to avoid unfavourable conditions

“In our study, we found that low levels of either of these two vitamins were related to an increased Alzheimer’s disease risk,” said study co-author Hui-Xin Wang.

Wang added: “Monitoring B12 and folate levels is important in order to avoid unfavourable conditions, even for those elderly people who are quite healthy in terms of cognition.”

Study data were pulled from a population-based longitudinal study in Sweden called the Kungsholmen Project. A random sample of 370 non-demented persons, age 75 and older, and not treated with B12 or folate dietary supplements, was followed for three years to detect cases of Alzheimer’s disease. Within the timeframe of the study, 78 people developed some form of dementia.

According to the NHS, people with a vitamin B12 deficiency may also experience the following symptoms:

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

Find out other ways it can affect your body here.

How to treat it

One of the best ways a person can top up the vitamin is to incorporate more of it into their diet.

Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal foods including fish, milk products, eggs, meat, and poultry.

Leafy greens such as spinach and turnip greens, dry beans and peas, fortified cereals and grain products, and some fruits and vegetables are rich food sources of folate.

“If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, or are looking for alternatives to meat and dairy products, there are other foods that contain vitamin B12, such as yeast extract (including Marmite), as well as some fortified breakfast cereals and soy products,” noted the NHS.

Depending on the extent and root cause of the deficiency, injections may also be suitable course of treatment.

There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:

  • Hydroxocobalamin
  • Cyanocobalamin

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