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Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms: How your tongue feels could signal the condition

Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms are important to spot, particularly if you’re not sure if you’re getting enough of the vitamin. If B12 is in short supply, the body won’t make as many red blood cells, they won’t last for as long as they can be abnormally large. A lack of red blood cells means the tissues and orange in the body aren’t getting enough oxygen and this can lead to the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.

One symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency experts say is important to note is a smooth tongue

One symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency experts say is important to note is a smooth tongue.

A smooth tongue is a sign of glossitis, which can be triggered by a lack of the vitamin.

Glossitis is a medical term used to describe an inflamed tongue, and alongside a smooth and shiny appearance the condition is characterised by a sore and reddened tongue.

It is important to note however that glossitis can be caused by a bacterial, viral or fungal infection.

But this isn’t the only symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency to be aware of. Bupa lists five others:

  • Feeling very tired
  • Breathlessness even after a little exercise
  • Heart palpitations
  • Headaches
  • A reduced appetite

The health organisation adds: “If you have vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia, you may also look pale or jaundiced (have a yellowy tinge to your skin and the whites of your eyes).

“As well as the symptoms of anaemia, vitamin B12-deficiency may cause symptoms related to your nerves. This is called vitamin B12 neuropathy. It may affect your movement and sensation, especially in your legs, cause numbness or pins and needles and decrease your sensitivity to touch, vibration or pain. It can also cause confusion, depression, poor concentration and forgetfulness.

“These symptoms aren’t always due to vitamin B12-deficiency anaemia, but if you have them see your GP.”

How to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin B12

Adults aged 19 to 64 require around 1.5 micrograms (mg) a day of vitamin B12, and you should be able to get this through your diet.

Certain foods contain vitamin B12, and Harvard Health Publishing, part of Harvard Medical School, lists the best dietary sources of the vitamin. 

Here are five:

  • Clams – three ounces contains 84mcg of B12
  • Liver – three ounces contains 70.7mcg of B12
  • Fortified cereal – one cup contains 6mcg of B12
  • Beef – three ounces contains 1.5mcg of B12
  • Egg – one large egg contains 0.6mcg of B12
  • Nonfat plain greek yoghurt – six ounces contains 1.3mcg of B12


Vitamin B12 deficiency can easily be treated with either injections or tablets.

The NHS explains: “At first, you’ll have these injections every other day for two weeks, or until your symptoms have started improving. Your GP or nurse will give the injections.

“After this initial period, your treatment will depend on whether the cause of your vitamin B12 deficiency is related to your diet. The most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency in the UK is pernicious anaemia, which isn’t related to your diet.”

People who risk not getting enough vitamin B12 in their diet, for example vegans and vegetarian, may be advised to take supplements.

If this is the case, the Department of Health advises not to take too many as this could be harmful.

Taking 2mg or less a day of vitamin B12 in supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.

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