Symptoms of Vitamin B Deficiency – How to Recognize them and What to do?

Do you wonder why doctors and nutritionists constantly tell us to eat a balanced diet?

The reason is building blocks for good health come from a variety of foods, not from a single food. Even if foods are from the same family of nutrients, they come from different sources.

Such is the case with vitamin B as well, a key reason for maintaining cell health. Not all vitamin B do the same thing. And that also means that you do not have vitamin B deficiency. Instead, you are deficient in one of the different types of vitamin B.

Additionally, not all vitamins B are found in the same foods. For example, vitamin B12 is mostly found in meat and dairy products, while vitamin B7 and B9 are mostly found in fruits and vegetables.

Deficiency in any of the vitamins can lead to health problems. In some cases, doctors prescribe a supplement of all B vitamins.

There are also certain groups that need larger amounts of vitamin B, for example, older adults and pregnant women. Certain conditions, for example, Celiac disease, can lead to poor absorption of vitamin D.

With that in mind, symptoms of vitamin B deficiency are different, depending on which type of vitamin B you lack. They can range from fatigue to anemia, to compromised immune system.

In some cases, skin rashes are also possible. With that in mind, we will discuss some of the three main vitamin B deficiencies, which are vitamin B9 (folate or folic acid), vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 deficiency.

Vitamin B9, Folate Deficiency

Vitamin B9

Folate deficiency is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies [1]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1897956/. The deficiency happens due to inadequate intake, abnormal metabolism, increased requirement during pregnancy, or defective absorption.

Pregnant women and breastfeeding women are at higher risk of deficiency in B9 due to rapid tissue growth during pregnancy and losses through milk. Therefore, they are usually required to take a multivitamin and folic acid supplements.

Why is vitamin B9 important?

Consumption of vitamin B9 will help the body utilize the amino acids in the body which are building blocks of protein [2]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4320236/ .

Amino acids and protein help the body form blood cells in bone barrow and ensure there is rapid cell growth during infancy, adolescence, and pregnancy. And most importantly, B9, or folate is a key ingredient in the production of nucleic acids like DNA, which is the body’s genetic material.

Vitamin B9 works on its own, but also in combination with B6 and vitamin B12 to help control blood levels of amino acids that are related to heart disease and other chronic conditions [3]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4367008/.

With that in mind, here are some quick benefits of consuming enough vitamin B9.

  • Ensure normal blood formation
  • Ensure normal homocysteine levels, which is related to early development o heart and blood vessel disease
  • Normal metabolism of the immune system
  • Ensure normal cell division
  • Normal maternal tissue growth during pregnancy
  • Ensure normal amino acid synthesis
  • Support normal psychological functions
  • Help in the reduction of tiredness and fatigue

Symptoms of a deficiency in B9

The most common symptoms of folate deficiency are the following [4]https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/147/6/1183/4584818:

  • Tiredness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatal birth defects in pregnant women, such as neural tube defects
  • Severe folate deficiency can lead to bone marrow production of oversized immature red blood cells, condition known as megaloblastic anemia

How to up your vitamin B9 consumption?

Usually, when you are deficient in vitamin B9, doctors prescribe folic acid supplements. But you can up your consumption with foods.

Folate can be found in many different foods, but the richest sources of them all include liver, dark leafy vegetable, beans, and yeast.

Think of broccoli, spinach, kale, and similar green leafy vegetables. Other good sources include the egg yolk, milk, dairy products, orange juice, beets, and whole wheat bread.

Being that folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin, it is unlikely to reach toxic levels. There is little to no danger when taken orally, and no adverse effects have been reported with excessive consumption of vitamin B9.

The problem with folic acid is that it is not stored in your body [5]https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/research.html. That means you need to recharge it on a daily basis.

Adults need at least 200mcg of folic acid per day, and women need even more during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Increased consumption of folate during pregnancy will prevent birth effects of the central nervous system.

Vitamin B6 Deficiency

Vitamin B6 Deficiency

Vitamin B6 is composed of pyridoxal, pyridoxal 5-phosphate, and pyridoxamine. All of these are important compounds involved in many different biological functions. Vitamin B6 is probably one of the most important vitamins, as it is used by our body every single day [6]https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB6-HealthProfessional/.

The vitamin plays a role in almost every major function, including memory, energy expenditure, blood flow, movement, and much more. Because of that, deficiency in the vitamin can result in many different symptoms, some of which are temporary, while others are more serious.

Some of the functions of the vitamin include maintain a healthy nervous system, produce hemoglobin, carry oxygen in red blood cells throughout the body, provide energy from food, balance blood sugar levels, and act as a natural pain treatment [7]https://www.nutraingredients.com/Article/2017/01/16/Vitamin-B6-deficiency-linked-to-cognitive-decline-Study.

Symptoms of Vitamin B6 deficiency

As mentioned previously, we need vitamin B6 for almost every function in our body.

And while a deficiency is not as common, some studies show risk for a range of serious health issues. Some of the early symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Muscle pain
  • Muscle cramps
  • Changes in mood, including anxiety, depression, and irritability
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Worsening of PMS symptoms
  • Worsening of anemia symptoms

Almost every neuropsychiatric disorder is linked with deficiency in vitamin B6, since the vitamin plays a role in nerve function [8]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23394203 . These include migraines, chronic pain, mood disorders, seizures, and much more.

The risk of Alzheimer’s also increases with deficiency in B6. Older adults are at higher risk for deficiency, and that is why it is recommended that they have their levels tested by their doctor.

When older adults lose appetite, and start eating less, this is when vitamin B levels should be checked instantly.

Can you prevent vitamin B6 deficiency?

In the western and developed nations, deficiency in this vitamin is rather rare. People in developed countries usually consume enough calories and are not experiencing malnourishment.

The recommended amount of vitamin B6 for healthy adults is 1.3 milligrams, and this amount is relatively easy to get from your diet. That is, assuming you consume enough healthy calories in general.

Recommended daily intake increases as we get older, and goes up to 1.7 milligrams once we get over 50 years old.

Some foods that contain vitamin B6 include nuts, seeds, meat, poultry, legumes, beans, and avocado. That is a wide range of foods you can consume on a daily basis to satisfy the need for vitamin B6.

If you are experiencing a lot of stress and low energy levels, you can always take a B complex vitamin or any other multivitamin.

Same as vitamin B9, vitamin B6 is water-soluble, which means it will be flushed out of the body and dissolved in urine if you consume too much.

It also means you need to consume on a daily basis, as your body doesn’t store vitamin B9. But the good news is there is no concern with overdosing on vitamin B6 or reaching toxic levels.

The only way you can consume too much vitamin b6 is you take supplements and eat or drink fortified processed foods that contain synthetic B vitamins, like fortified grain products and energy drinks.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Vitamin B12

When it comes to a deficiency, vitamin B12 is usually the first on the list [9]https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/. The reason is this vitamin is usually hard to get unless you consume a lot of meat. That puts vegetarians, vegans, and those following a drastic weight loss diet at risk.

Our body needs vitamin B12 in order to produce red blood cells, nerve, DNA, and carry out other functions. The daily recommended intake is 2.4 micrograms for healthy adults. And as most other vitamins, our body does not produce vitamin B12, meaning we have to source it from food or supplements.

Some people do not consume enough vitamin B rich foods, or cannot absorb the vitamins and minerals properly due to some health issues and conditions.

Are you at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency?

There are many causes of vitamin B12, but as mentioned previously, two are often practices we take to improve our general health. The irony is that vegetarian diet, one that is dubbed as a healthy diet, puts you at risk of deficiency in vitamin B12 [10]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257642/.

The reason is plants do not make vitamin B12, and the only foods that can deliver this vitamin are eggs, poultry, dairy products, meat, and other animal-sourced foods and products. Strict vegetarians and vegan diets put you at risk of deficiency. The solution is to consume fortified grains and consume vitamin supplements.

Conditions that can interfere with food absorption, think of Crohn’s disease or Celiac disease can also cause vitamin B12 deficiency [11]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2294088/. Additionally, use of commonly prescribed heartburn drugs reduce acid production in the stomach, and acid is needed in order to absorb all B vitamins

What are the symptoms of deficiency?

Usually, deficiency in vitamin B12 is slow to develop. Symptoms appear gradually and then intensify over time. However, in some cases, the symptoms may appear relatively quickly.

In many cases, the symptoms are wide enough, and they can be related with other conditions. This is why many people overlook or confuse the deficiency with some other underlying health issue.

With that in mind, here are the symptoms [12]https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/89/2/693S/4596795:

  • Anemia
  • Difficulty walking
  • Common balance problems
  • Strange sensations, including numbness and tingling in the hands, feet, and/or legs
  • Swollen and inflamed tongue
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Paranoia or hallucinations
  • Difficulty thinking reasoning and other cognitive difficulties
  • Memory loss
  • Jaundice, yellowed skin

An experienced physician can notice the symptoms, and probably detect a deficiency in vitamin B12. However, in addition to the physical exam and the interview, it is always recommended to take a blood test to confirm the condition.

As with most deficiencies and health problems, early detection and treatment are crucial for success. If left untreated, vitamin B12 deficiency can cause severe neurologic problems and blood diseases.

What can you do?

It is always a good idea to be proactive, and ask your doctor to check vitamin B12 levels if you:

  • Are over 50 years old
  • Take a diabetes drug, metformin especially
  • Are a strict vegan or vegetarian
  • Have had weight-loss surgery
  • Have a condition that interferes with absorption of food
  • Take a proton-pump inhibitor or H2 blocker

Mild deficiency in vitamin B12 can easily be treated with a standard vitamin. However, a serious condition requires weekly shots of vitamin B12 or daily high-dose of B12 pills.

The deficiency can also be prevented by consuming vitamin B rich foods. And if you are following a vegetarian or vegan diet, make sure to consume enough bread, grains, and cereals fortified with vitamin B12 or take a daily supplement.

Other B Vitamins

Vitamin B1 and Vitamin B2

Vitamin B12 is also known as thiamin, while B2 is known as riboflavin. These two vitamins are crucial for converting food into energy.

Vitamin B1 also has some neurological benefits, while B2 helps you maintain proper eyesight. You can source them from breakfast cereals and whole grains, but also form milk, eggs, and dark green vegetables.

Generally speaking, deficiency in B1 and B2 is rare in the United States because many of the foods, such as cereals and milk are fortified with them. However, it can become an issue in people who misuse alcohol.

The symptoms include confusion and cracks along the sides of the mouth.

Vitamin B3

Known as niacin, this vitamin also helps convert food into energy but is also responsible for proper digestion and a healthy appetite.

You can easily source it from chicken, liver, red meat, fish, whole grains, and peanuts. Lack of niacin can cause any digestive problems, including abdominal cramps and nausea. In severe conditions, the result might be mental confusion.

Best sources of vitamin B

Vitamin B foods

If you want to source all of the vitamin B types and prevent deficiency, consume the following vitamin B rich foods.

You can get all eight vitamins from them.

  • Whole grains, including barley, millet, and brown rice
  • Meat, including poultry, fish, and red meat
  • Eggs and dairy products
  • Legumes, mostly beans, and lentils
  • Seeds and nuts (almonds and sunflower seeds contain highest amounts)
  • Dark and leafy green vegetables
  • Citrus fruits
  • Avocado
  • Banana
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