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Vitamin B12 is an essential water-soluble vitamin that is commonly found in a variety of foods, such as fish, shellfish, meat, eggs, and dairy products. Vitamin B12 plays an important role in supplying essential methyl groups for protein and DNA synthesis. Vitamin B12 is bound to the protein in food. Hydrochloric acid in the stomach releases B12 from protein during digestion. Once released, B12 combines with a substance called intrinsic factor (IF) before it is absorbed into the bloodstream. Keep reading, it will make sense!

The human body stores several years’ worth of vitamin B12 in the liver, so nutritional deficiency of this vitamin is extremely rare. However, deficiency can result from being unable to use vitamin B12. Inability to absorb vitamin B12 from the intestinal tract is called pernicious anemia. Vitamin B12 deficiency is common in the elderly. HIV-infected persons and vegetarians who are not taking in proper amounts of B12 are also prone to deficiency.

Symptoms of Pernicious Anemia

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Pale or yellowish skin
  • Swollen tongue that may appear dark red
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Numbness or tingling in your hands and feet
  • Muscle weakness
  • Irritability
  • Unsteady movements
  • Mental confusion or forgetfulness

Who Is At Risk For Pernicious Anemia?

  • You don’t eat meat and dairy products, foods that contain a lot of vitamin B-12. Vegetarians who don’t eat dairy products and vegans, who don’t eat any foods from animals, may fall into this category.
  • You have an intestinal disease, abnormal bacterial growth in your stomach, or have had surgery to your intestines or stomach that interferes with the absorption of vitamin B-12.
  • You lack intrinsic factor. Most people with a vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia lack intrinsic factor — a protein secreted by the stomach that is necessary for absorption of vitamin B-12. Lack of intrinsic factor may be due to an autoimmune reaction or it may be inherited.
  • You take certain medications. Antacids and some drugs used to treat type 2 diabetes may interfere with B-12 absorption.
  • You have another autoimmune disorder. People with endocrine-related autoimmune disorders, such as diabetes or thyroid disease, may have an increased risk of developing a specific type of vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia called pernicious anemia.

Pernicious Anemia is diagnosed through a physical examination and lab work. Replace vitamin B12 is important in treating this type of anemia. One might think that you can simply take more B12 in pill form or through diet. This is not the case. When you have a B12 deficiency, the intrinsic factor in your stomach does not allow your body to absorb the B12. The only way to effectively treat this type of anemia is through B12 injections.

See your health care provider, if you are exhibiting any of the symptoms of pernicious anemia. So, if you aren’t deficient in B12 – should you be taking B12 injections or B12 supplements? Coming soon!