“I’m so tired! …I wake up exhausted even though I slept well!” This is a common phrase that I always hear from my patients.
It’s a common complaint for most of us living busy lives trying to juggle work, family and leisure. There are many reasons for us to be tired and I find my patients are always quick to assume that tiredness must mean a lack of iron. This could be true but without blood tests to confirm iron deficiency, it’s difficult to determine if someone is iron deficient – especially if they eat a balanced diet.
Another less well-known deficiency that could be causing tiredness and lack of energy is a deficiency in vitamin B12 – also known as cobalamin. This vitamin is incredibly important because it is involved in the production of red blood cells and plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of nerve cells.
Everyone needs vitamin B12 but older people and vegans or vegetarians are particularly at risk of being vitamin B12 deficient.
Veganism is becoming popular amongst teenagers and young adults – they may not be aware of the additional supplements required following this dietary lifestyle.
You may be asking: why is this?
Vitamin B12 and all of the B vitamins are water-soluble, meaning that the body does not store them, so we must consume them daily. Vitamin B12 is mainly found in meat, eggs and dairy products. Plants don’t contain B12.
Older adults can have poor diets and vegan/ vegetarian diets can exclude animal products. Approximately 10% of those over 75 could be B12 deficient.
Also, those with intestinal problems such as Crohn’s Disease or inflammatory bowel disease could be at risk.
Some medicines can also lead to B12 deficiency such as anti-seizure medicines – come in and see us if you’re concerned.
“Now I can imagine you’re asking this: why does my body need B12?”
This is an important question which links to the symptoms of tiredness. All B vitamins help the body convert food, specifically carbohydrates, into fuel (glucose), which our body used to produce energy. Vitamin B12 works closely with vitamin B9 (also, called folate) to help make red blood cells. Lack of B12 can cause red blood cells to be abnormally large and not function properly – they’re unable to transport oxygen efficiently around the body which can lead to tiredness and exhaustion.
Other symptoms can include mouth ulcers, muscle weakness and confusion.
“What should I do if I think I’m lacking B12?”
The first step is to see your GP who can confirm B12 deficiency with a blood test. If you are deficient then they can replace the B12 with an injection of it into the muscle. If possible, increasing your intake of meat, salmon, milk, cheese and eggs can also help prevent B12 deficiency.
“I’ve seen B12 tablets at some pharmacies – should I buy them if I think I’m B12 deficient?”
The short answer is no – you should get the blood test to confirm deficiency first. If you are eating a balanced diet then it’s unlikely that you would be deficient and buying tablets could be a waste of money. However, if you are vegan, vegetarian or on a restricted diet supplementation could be beneficial but it’s best to talk to a nutritionist or GP first. If they agree then see me or another of the eastMED Pharmacy team who can help advise on the best B12 supplement to take.
To you and your family’s health,