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Vitamin B12 for Anemia

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If you are feeling tired and sluggish all day long, you just might be suffering from anemia. But before you start popping iron pills, consider that vitamin B12 is also an important factor in anemia. Many cases of anemia are caused by B12 deficiencies, not iron deficiencies. Learn more about the connection below.

Anemia is widely recognized as a condition in which the body does not produce enough red blood cells or hemoglobin. However, most cases of anemia are associated with an iron deficiency, but research shows that although iron is a cause for many cases of anemia, it is not the only cause.

A lesser-known cause for anemia is a vitamin B12 deficiency. When you are low in vitamin B12, you are likely to suffer from anemia. However, unless you have a specific blood test testing your vitamin levels, you may miss this crucial cause of anemia.

Learn more about the importance of vitamin B12 for anemia below:

How Does B12 Support Blood Health?

Vitamin B12 works with folate (or folic acid) to create red blood cells and synthesis DNA. One of the first signs of a B12 deficiency is declining blood levels of B12. In severe cases, a lack of vitamin B12 causes macrocytic anemia.

We often think of vitamin B12 as a nervous system vitamin and brain vitamin, which are also important roles for B12, but the vitamin is also equally crucial in the development of healthy red blood cells. If you are low in B12, you will have a harder time producing healthy red blood cells.

What Causes B12-Deficient Anemia?

If you are low in B12, it is likely you either aren't eating enough or have a condition that prevents the proper absorption of the vitamin.

Common causes of vitamin B12 deficiency include:

  • A lack of foods rich in vitamin B12, such as poultry, dairy, eggs, shellfish, and meat.
  • A vegetarian diet.
  • A lack of nutrition during pregnancy.
  • Poor diet during childhood.
  • Alcoholism.
  • Long-term use of heartburn medication and antacids.
  • Weight loss surgery.
  • Crohn's disease, celiac disease, or other difficulties absorbing nutrients.
  • Pernicious anemia.

The Symptoms of B12-Deficient Anemia

If you have B12 anemia, you will likely have the same symptoms of anemia as iron-deficient anemia, with a few exceptions. The biggest difference between iron and B12 anemia is that with B12 anemia, you may also have problems with your nervous system, since B12 is so important there as well.

Signs of B12-Deficient Anemia
  • Constipation or loose stools
  • Fatigue and chronic lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Problems concentrating
  • Light-headedness, particularly after rising quickly
  • Shortness of breath during exercise
  • Bleeding gums
  • Red and swollen tongue
  • Depression
  • Numbness in hands and feet
  • Loss of balance
  • Confusion or memory problems

Anemia Often Caused by Several Factors

Anemia is usually caused by a deficiency in several nutrients, including vitamin B12, iron, and folic acid. If you are deficient in these nutrients, you are likely to be anemic. However, one single deficiency is rarely the complete cause of anemia. It is important to determine exactly what is the true cause of anemia with a blood test, as it is possible to overdose on many of the vitamins associated with anemia (including B12).

However, if you are low in B12, it is likely you are also low in other vitamins. According to research, the following nutrient deficiencies are strongly linked with anemia:

Iron

Iron deficiency is one of the most common reasons for anemia (particularly in women). In addition to the signs for B12 anemia, iron anemia often causes hair loss, heavier menstrual bleeding, and difficulty with endurance during exercise. When iron is a cause of anemia, supplementing with iron reverses the condition in just a few weeks. However, as iron alone is usually not the only deficiency, it is important not to ignore the other nutrients required for hemoglobin production in favor of iron supplements only.

Folic Acid

A vitamin B12 and folic acid deficiency often go hand in hand (particularly during pregnancy). Women often have this deficiency due to hormonal birth control, which makes it difficult to absorb both folic acid and vitamin B12. Men who do not eat a lot of leafy greens are also at risk for a folic acid deficiency.

Zinc

Individuals who are prone to anemia are often also commonly low in trace minerals. Medical professionals are not sure exactly why nutrient deficiencies are more common in some people that others, but some theorize that some people simply need to consume higher amounts than recommended by the USDA to get as much as their bodies need. Chron's disease and other digestive problems often result in a deficiency in zinc, as do conditions such as ADHD and nervous system disorders. Supplementing with zinc can help settle neurological disorders and reverse some forms of anemia when taken with other anemia-fighting supplements.

Copper

Copper not only is necessary to reverse many cases of anemia, but it is crucial to take copper along with zinc. When zinc is given without copper, it can quickly cause deficiencies in copper levels that can be quite severe. Copper and zinc should always be taken together.

Selenium

A deficiency in selenium is linked with anemia. In fact, some health professionals argue that it is more likely that a selenium deficiency is causing anemia over an iron deficiency. Selenium levels are almost always low in individuals with anemia. Raising selenium levels helps reverse anemia.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps form healthy red blood cells and also boosts the absorption of other nutrients. Vitamin C can help make it easier to use whatever nutrients you are consuming, whether through food or supplement sources.

Treating Vitamin B12-Deficient Anemia

If you have low vitamin B12 levels, you are more likely to have anemia. Treatment for B12 anemia simply involves boosting B12 levels. This may include an initial shot of B12 given by your doctor, but commonly just includes diet changes and the addition of a B12 supplement. Foods high in B12 include: beef liver, fatty fish, red meat, yogurt, swiss cheese, milk, and shellfish.

Reversing B12-Deficient Anemia

If your anemia is the result of a B12 deficiency, you can reverse it with diet and supplement changes. If you have been diagnosed with anemia, always consult with your doctor to see what nutrient deficiencies are causing the anemia. Iron is often a common factor, but it is not the only factor. If your anemia is caused by a B12 deficiency increasing iron intake will not make you feel better. Usually, anemia is caused by multiple factors and it is important to address them all during treatment. Within a few weeks of taking vitamins that reverse anemia you will feel happier, more energetic, and a lot less tired.

Next Article: Home Remedies to Treat Anemia