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The visual clue on your hands or toes that could signal you have low vitamin B12 levels

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Vitamin B12 plays an important role in DNA formation and keeping the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy. Becoming deficient in B12 can therefore cause the body to undergo an array of unusual symptoms. The extensive range of possible symptoms means a diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency is often overlooked in its early stages because the signs are not specific to vitamin B12 deficiency alone.

According to research published in the journal Canadian Family Physician, vitamin B12 deficiency can show up on your skin.

Hyperpigmentation of the extremities – especially over the surface of the hands and feet – is characteristic of vitamin B12 deficiency, the research says.

Hyperpigmentation is a condition whereby patches of skin become darker in colour than the normal surrounding skin.

According to the study, the hyperpigmentation related to vitamin B12 deficiency is more common in darker-skinned patients.

“The mechanism of hyperpigmentation is due to increased melanin synthesis rather than a defect in melanin,” the researchers of the study note.

Melanin is the pigment that gives human skin, hair, and eyes their colour.

General symptoms of B12

Low B12 levels can also cause a range of neurologic, psychiatric and gastrointestinal symptoms.

These include:

  • A pale yellow tinge to your skin
  • A sore and red tongue (glossitis)
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
  • Changes in the way that you walk and move around
  • Disturbed vision
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Changes in the way you think, feel and behave
  • A decline in your mental abilities, such as memory, understanding and judgement (dementia)
  • Nausea (feeling sick to your stomach) and vomiting.

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How to respond

According to the NHS, you should see a GP if you’re experiencing symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.

“These conditions can often be diagnosed based on your symptoms and the results of a blood test,” explains the health body.

As the health body points out, it’s important for vitamin B12 deficiency to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

Although many of the symptoms improve with treatment, some problems caused by the condition can be irreversible if left untreated.

Am I at risk of Vitamin B12 deficiency?

The two primary causes of vitamin B12 deficiency are pernicious anaemia and adhering to a vegan or vegetarian diet.

Pernicious anaemia is an autoimmune disease that prevents the body from making intrinsic factor – a protein made by the stomach and needed to absorb vitamin B12 in the intestine.

People following a vegan or vegetarian diet are more prone to B12 deficiency because B12 is found naturally in a wide variety of animal foods and is added to some fortified foods.

“Plant foods have no vitamin B12 unless they are fortified,” explains the National Institutes of Health.

How to treat B12 deficiency

Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia is usually treated with injections of vitamin B12.

There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:

  • Hydroxocobalamin
  • Cyanocobalamin.

According to the NHS, if your vitamin B12 deficiency is caused by a lack of the vitamin in your diet, you may be prescribed vitamin B12 tablets to take every day between meals.

“People who find it difficult to get enough vitamin B12 in their diets, such as those following a vegan diet, may need vitamin B12 tablets for life,” it adds.

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