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We became vitamin B12 deficient (officially) when we were traveling abroad in Malaysia in 2018. It began slowly and progressed over time. Initially, we were just tired and lethargic, but that developed into gastrointestinal problems including chronic constipation and diarrhea. All of us had different problems, as it is with most vitamin deficiency issues. John struggled with his stomach and digestion while I struggled with my mood and thinking. Lydian was tired all the time. And then one day, I started reading about vitamin B12 deficiency and dementia for an uncle who had been diagnosed recently with Lewy Body Dementia and realized as I was reading books and research articles that my own family had a lot of these symptoms. I’d thought we were immune to the problem because we took multivitamins and we ate nutritional yeast, but the more I read, the more I realized that this simply wasn’t enough.
Immediately, as soon as I realized that we probably weren’t getting enough vitamin B12, I went to the drug store to get vitamin B12 supplements and cooked eggs that night to feed the “vegan” family. Suddenly, we all started feeling better again. So I sought out vitamin B12 injections when we traveled through Bangkok, Thailand the next week. And the next week, we got another set of vitamin B12 shots in Myanmar. I unabashedly tracked down these injections because I’d read that injections are the best way to recharge the liver with stores of this essential vitamin. Our whole family proceeded to have a “health revolution”. We felt better overall and we never went back to veganism.
Needless to say, we’re no longer vegan because we know now how hard it is to avoid a B12 deficiency if you eat this way. And in reading about vitamin B12, I recognized that there’s a real need to alert not only older people who might be misdiagnosed with dementia, but also parents whose children could be misdiagnosed with Autism or ADHD or any number of other health problems due to vitamin B12 deficiency. Indeed, young vegan or vegetarian couples who are trying to conceive should know that veganism and even vegetarian eating that’s low in animal products can lead to a deficiency of B12 which can, in turn lead to fertility issues. I believe that a lot of our fertility issues in my youth were likely the combination of an iodine and vitamin B12 deficiency. And a lot of our stomach issues over the years were attributable to this issue as well. And so now, I’m writing this article to alert others to the various health problems that can happen as a result of vitamin B12 deficiency. As vitamin B12 injections are becoming more difficult to get in the U.S. from doctors offices, I wanted to make sure that people understand how to get a large dose of this vitamin if they need it. I talk more about this in the last section of this article since it’s become trendy for doctors to refuse to give vitamin B12 shots, in large part because they’re very cheap and they solve problems quickly which means that Big Pharma and the doctors themselves get far fewer profits from their patients.
According to Harvard experts, vitamin B12 (cobalamin) deficiency may be one of the most common vitamin deficiencies in the United States and perhaps the world. The people most at risk of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency are vegans and people over the age of 50 years. Scientists speculate that up to 30% of Americans over the age of 50 are suffering from a low level vitamin B12 deficiency due to atrophic gastritis, or the natural thinning of the stomach lining that makes it more difficult for the body to absorb vitamin B12 from foods or supplements. But as more and more people are taking up the vegan lifestyle and eating diets low in animal products, vitamin B12 deficiency is becoming more common in younger populations. Vegans in particular, even young adults, are in danger of developing a deficiency of vitamin B12, which is significant because young mothers can pass the deficiency on to their children through breast milk that is also deficient in the vitamin. Children who are vitamin B12 deficient may suffer from severe development abnormalities or even irreversible neurological damage.
A deficiency of vitamin B12 may manifest itself differently in adults than it does in children.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency in Children
Children who eat a vegan diet may be at risk of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency because the only vitamin B12 they would get would be from vitamin supplements or fortified breakfast cereals. But vegetarian children are also at risk of suffering from a deficiency vitamin B12 because many of them consume smaller quantities of eggs and dairy products than what they actually need in order to fulfill their vitamin B12 requirements.
Children who are suffering from neurological or cognitive issues that seem to have arisen out of nowhere would benefit from a vitamin B12 injection to rule out the possibility that a vitamin B12 deficiency is the cause of their issues. A vitamin B12 injection won’t hurt and these injections are typically very cheap (they cost only a few dollars) to administer. One injection of vitamin B12 may clear up the child’s neurological symptoms, saving the parents thousands of dollars in tests and treatments that don’t work. Today, doctors tend to refuse to give patients the vitamin B12 shot. See below if this is your story, for more information about how to gain access to vitamin B12 as an injection. Though you can give your child vitamin B12 supplements by mouth, injections are a much more efficient way to deliver this nutrient to the body while ensuring that the liver can store some for times when vitamin B12 is deficient in the child’s diet.
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency in Children
Children who are vitamin B12 deficient may not show the same symptoms as an adult who is deficient in this vitamin. For children, a vitamin B12 deficiency may mimic or worsen the signs and symptoms of:
- Autism –
Cobalamin deficiency often mimics those of autism spectrum disorders. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause the following symptoms, which are also symptoms of autism, developmental delay, hypotonia, seizures, tremors, mental retardation, and reduced IQ:
- Speech delays
- Language delays, both speaking and writing
- Comprehension difficulties
- Social delays – aloofness and social withdrawal
- Behavioral problems
- Movement problems
- Brain atrophy
- Intellectual delays
- Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
Unfortunately, few children who are diagnosed as autistic receive testing to determine if they are deficient in vitamin B12.
- Developmental Delay, Mental Retardation, and Reduced IQ –
A deficiency of vitamin B12 can cause symptoms that mimic all of the above.
- Lethargy, Hypotonia (abnormally low levels of muscle tone) –
Any infant or young child who suddenly become lethargic or lacks muscle tone should be tested for vitamin B12 deficiency. Vegetarian or vegan mothers who breastfed their babies may be too low on vitamin B12 themselves in which case both mother and child should be given injections. Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency that develop between the ages of 2 and 12 months of age could include regression of developmental skills, failure to thrive, sudden loss of muscle tone, vomiting, and colic.
- ADHD –
A recent study done on Turkish children demonstrated that the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency in children often manifested as non-specific symptoms including lack of appetite, irritability, developmental delays, a diverging growth curve, neurological issues, and general physical weakness. Another study showed that many children with ADHD have vitamin deficiencies, in particular a deficiency of vitamin B12 and yet another study demonstrated that offering micronutrient injections that included vitamin B12 and a variety of other nutrients reduced symptoms of ADHD in adults.
- Learning Problems –
Children who are struggling with learning problems may benefit from vitamin B12 injections. Parents who feed their children a vegan or vegetarian diet need to be particularly mindful of the potential for their kids to develop a vitamin B12 deficiency. Children with this deficiency may seem apathetic or dull and go from seemingly normal development to a situation where they are late at walking or late at talking due to the development of this vitamin deficiency.
- Failure to Thrive –
Experts are starting to realize that vitamin B12 deficiency is more common than previously thought in kids and that one of the most obvious manifestations of this deficiency is failure to thrive.
- Gastrointestinal Symptoms (Colic or Gastroenteritis) –
Infants and young children may develop irritability and digestive problems due to a vitamin B12 deficiency. The symptoms may mimic colic or gastroenteritis.
Vitamin B12 injections can bring about a hasty improvement of symptoms in children with a deficiency of vitamin B12, but the sooner the treatment occurs, the less likely permanent neurological damage will happen. But again, doctors in the U.S. have been taught to dissuade parents from thinking that their child may have something as simple as a vitamin B12 deficiency. It would be much more profitable for parents to purchase expensive pharmaceuticals or agree to treatment using a medical device or surgery instead of simply being prescribed a vitamin B12 injection (which costs only a few dollars). A vitamin B12 injection won’t hurt the child and rather than doing costly tests and perhaps delaying treatment yet another day, it is often much simpler just to give the child a B12 shot and then see if there is improvement in the symptoms.
Vitamin B12 Dementia Symptoms in Adults
Vitamin B12 deficiency dementia comes on slowly. Often, there are only subtle neurological or cognitive changes at first and then, as the deficiency of vitamin B12 becomes more serious, dementia and anemia may develop. A deficiency of vitamin B12 may affect a person’s memory, balance, and mood. Indeed, a vitamin B12 deficiency may look a lot like Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, or Lewy Body Dementia. Anyone who is having symptoms affecting balance, mood, memory or that are causing anemia should ask their doctor for a vitamin B12 injection, just to rule out the possibility that the problems are caused by a deficiency of this vitamin.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is becoming more and more common in American society as people take up vegan and vegetarian lifestyles and fail to consume the proper amount of vitamin B12, a nutrient that comes primarily from animal products like meats, eggs, and milk. I was once an avid vegan and I once became deficient in vitamin B12. And I never would’ve figured it out had it not been for the fact that I was researching vitamin B12 and its role in dementia. As I read more about the symptoms of deficiency of vitamin B12, I realized that my family and I were suffering from a lack of this crucial nutrient. At that time, it had been about 5 years since meat, eggs, or milk had crossed our lips and we’d relied primarily on nutritional yeast for vitamin B12 thinking that that was enough. But I realized with just a little reading and research that nutritional yeast actually does not contain vitamin B12 at all, which explained why all of us were feeling sick all the time.
Of course, fixing our family’s vitamin B12 deficiency was the most important thing on my mind and it wasn’t hard for us because we were in Southeast Asia at the time. We went to a pharmacy right away to get vitamin B12 pills and we cooked up some eggs right away for ourselves. Then, in Bangkok, Thailand, we stopped at Bumrungrad Hospital and asked for a couple of vitamin B12 shots each. And then, a week later in Myanmar, we went to a Global Health clinic and asked for additional B12 shots. So we recharged our livers (where vitamin B12 is stored) with plenty of vitamin B12 and it was like a fog lifted over our lives! How could we have NOT KNOWN that we were deficient in vitamin B12? The more I read, the more I began to feel that the propagation of veganism as a lifestyle is in some ways perhaps meant to encourage the development of vitamin B12 deficiency in much the same way as the development of seedless grapes are meant to encourage the development of cancer.
In the United States, it is becoming more and more difficult for people to get a vitamin B12 shot when they need it. The older people get, the harder it becomes for them to absorb vitamin B12 from their food or from supplements that are taken by mouth. That’s why it used to be common practice for doctors to give every person over the age of 65 years a vitamin B12 shot whenever they showed up at the clinic. The shot was given to prevent problems like the development of dementia, a common symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency. But Big Pharma has recently realized that there are big profits to be gleaned from people who don’t have access to the tools to prevent vitamin deficiencies. So doctors now have to justify the prophylactic administration of vitamin B12 injections to insurance companies who don’t want to approve them for older patients whether it seems like they need them or not. The presence of vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms doesn’t matter. Many patients have to really fight to get a vitamin B12 injection for dementia or any other vitamin B12 deficiency symptom. As a result, people in the U.S. no longer expect to receive those preventative injections. And when a person develops dementia, few doctors consider the possibility that that the dementia might be caused by a deficiency of vitamin B12 and the possibility that a few simple injections of this vitamin might bring the patient back into a completely normal state of mind.
Recognizing Dementia as a Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Older individuals (over the age of 50 to 60 years of age) are more likely to develop a vitamin B12 deficiency because their bodies don’t absorb the vitamin as easily from food and supplements. That’s why, for the past 100 years, doctors have given vitamin B12 injections to older patients who come to see them for other health reasons; the injections help to prevent the development of dementia and other serious symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency. Dementia that’s caused by a deficiency of this vitamin looks exactly like other types of dementia and it can be almost impossible to tell the difference between Alzheimer’s Disease, Lewy body dementia, dementia caused by Parkinson’s Disease, or other types of dementia without administering vitamin B12 just to see what happens with the patient. In other words, it used to be common practice for doctors to administer vitamin B12 to patients who were showing signs of dementia. In some of these cases, the patients were miraculously cured of the dementia because the dementia was caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency. But nowadays, doctors are being taught to withhold the vitamin B12 injections, thereby allowing vitamin B12 dementia to spiral out of control. With dementia caused by vitamin B12 deficiency, time is of the essence! The sooner a person receives the necessary nutrient as an injection, the more likely they’ll recover a fully coherent state of mind. But many Americans find themselves frustrated and unable to get the vitamin B12 injections they need.
Fortunately, there are still vitamin B12 injections readily available in other countries. And there’s a new trend developing in cities across the U.S. where non-medical intravenous therapies are being offered as a cure for hang-overs or for morning sickness. Many of these intravenous therapies contain large doses of vitamin B12 that patients can access. A quick Google search for “IV therapy near me” or information about places that offer a “Myers Cocktail” will give you a lead to follow if you’re looking for vitamin B12 injection outside of a doctor’s office. Contact the companies that offer IV therapies and find out if they offer therapies that include high doses of vitamin B12. Some of these companies even travel directly to the patient’s home to provide therapy.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency Symptoms
A deficiency of vitamin B12 causes a wide range of different symptoms. Often, the symptoms come on very gradually and patients may not notice at first. As the deficiency worsens however, the symptoms also worsen. Anyone of any age can develop a vitamin B12 deficiency but older individuals and people who eat a vegan or vegetarian diet are most likely to suffer from the deficiency. One of the most important symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency is anemia (having a low red blood cell count or low hemoglobin levels). Anemia, in turn, leads to a variety of unpleasant symptoms including:
- Extreme fatigue
- Extreme lethargy of lack of energy
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling faint
- Pale skin
- Heart palpitations (often experienced as noticeable heartbeats)
- Tinnitus (a ringing in the ears)
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Additional symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include:
- Glossitis (a sore, inflamed tongue)
- Mouth ulcers
- Yellowish-colored skin
- Movement problems or changes in how you walk or move around
- Changes in the way you think or feel
- Behavioral changes
- Paresthesia (a feeling of pins and needles in the extremeties)
- Vision disturbances
- Dementia (a change in mental abilities, memory, understanding, and judgment)
- Gastrointestinal disturbances
How to Treat Vitamin B12 Deficiency
If you or a loved one is a vegan and you suspect that vitamin B12 deficiency is a problem, start by consuming animal products right away (chicken broth can be a good starting block for people who have been vegan for a long time). If you’re against consuming dairy products, consider goat’s milk kefir or eggs. And take vitamin B12 supplements by mouth. It can be difficult for your body to absorb a lot of this vitamin by mouth so you’ll need to take supplements religiously and eat a dose of vitamin B12 as food (in meat, eggs, or other animal products) so that your liver can store it for times of need. And make an appointment with your doctor to get a vitamin B12 injection as soon as possible.
Like I’ve mentioned many times in this article already, anyone who is older than age 50 or anyone who eats a vegan diet is likely to be suffering from a vitamin B12 deficiency. But children who eat poorly overall just due to bad habits may also develop a vitamin B12 deficiency. And young adults may be vitamin B12 deficient too for the same reasons. At any rate, if you find yourself in a situation where you believe you or your child or a parent has a vitamin B12 deficiency and your doctor refuses to administer a vitamin B12 injection, seek out treatment from a non-medical provider of intravenous (IV) therapies. Some of these companies offer vitamin and mineral-based IV therapy for hangovers or morning sickness and their IV’s contain vitamin B12. Be sure to contact the company to ensure that they do, in fact, offer vitamin B12 in high doses. When you administer vitamin B12 into the bloodstream the body is better able to absorb it than when it is administered by mouth as a supplement or in foods like meat or dairy products.
Other Important Links:
Pacholok, S., & Stuart, J. J. (2011). Could It Be B12? An Epidemic of Misdiagnoses. Quill Driver Books: Fresno, California
NHS (2020). Vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anemia. Retrieved February 10, 2020 from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamin-b12-or-folate-deficiency-anaemia/symptoms/
Harvard University (2005). Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Vegetarians, elderly may not get enough vitamin B12, says the Harvard Health Letter. Retrieved February 10, 2020 from https://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/vitamin_b12_deficiency
StitchingB12Tekort (n.d.). Vitamin B12 Deficiency in Children. Retrieved February 10, 2020 from https://stichtingb12tekort.nl/wetenschap/stichting-b12-tekort-artikelen/english/vitamin-b12-deficiency-in-children/
Unal, D., Çelebi, F., Neslihan, H., B., Koyuncu, A., Karahan, S. (2017). Vitamin B12 and haemoglobin levels may be related with ADHD symptoms: a study in Turkish children with ADHD. Retrieved February 10, 2020 from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/24750573.2018.1459005
Stiles, L. (2020). Micronutrient Levels May Be Altered in ADHD. Retrieved February 10, 2020 from https://www.neurologyadvisor.com/conference-highlights/aan-2018-coverage/micronutrient-levels-may-be-altered-in-adhd/
Briggs, H. (2014). Vitamins `effective in treating ADHD symptoms´. Retrieved February 10, 2020 from https://www.bbc.com/news/health-25946116
Rassmusan, S. A., Fernhoff, P. M., Scanlon, K. S. (2001). Vitamin B12 Deficiency in Children and Adolescents. Retrieved February 10, 2020 from https://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476%2801%2931040-5/abstract
Pacholok, S. M. (2014). Pediatric Vitamin B12 Deficiency: When Autism Isn’t Autism. Retrieved February 10, 2020 from https://www.pharmacytimes.com/publications/issue/2014/february2014/pediatric-vitamin-b12-deficiency-when-autism-isnt-autism
Bousselamti, A. et al. (2012). Psychomotor regression due to vitamin B12 deficiency. Retrieved February 10, 2020 from https://www.panafrican-med-journal.com/content/article/30/152/full/