B12 deficiency: The smelly symptom that can signal low levels – seen ‘for the first time’

Dr Oscar Duke issues warning over ‘fizzy’ vitamins

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The current symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency include:
• A pale yellow tinge to the skin
• A sore and red tongue
• Mouth ulcers
• Pins and needles
• Changes in the way someone walks and moves around
• Disturbed vision
• Irritability
• Depression
• Changes in the way someone thinks feels and behaves
• A decline in mental abilities.

Although this is a thorough list, a new study published by Mugla Sitki Kocman University in Turkey suggests there is one symptom missing, olfactory dysfunction.

Olfactory dysfunction is defined by the JAMA network as “the reduced or distorted ability to smell during sniffing or eating”.

It is the reduced ability of someone to smell and this new study suggests it could also be a symptom of a vitamin B12 deficiency.

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According to the authors they “showed for the first time that olfactory dysfunction may be present in patients with vitamin B12 deficiency”.

Their conclusion was reached after analysis of 39 patients with low levels of vitamin B12; 34 controls were conducted during the course of the study.

The authors added that problems with smell (hyposmia) were evident in over half of the vitamin deficient group, but none in the control group – those without a B12 deficiency.

While these results open the possibility of olfactory disruption being added to the list of symptoms a vitamin B12 deficiency, it is important to note the small number of participants in the study.

Subsequently, research on a larger group of patients is required in order for scientists and doctors to be able to draw a definitive conclusion.

How to avoid a vitamin B12 deficiency.

A vitamin B12 deficiency can be caused in a number of ways including because of a lack of it in the diet.

B12 can often be found in foods such as meat, fish, milk, cheese, eggs, and some fortified breakfast cereals. The NHS says adults between the ages of 19 and 64 need around one an and a half micrograms of B12 a day.

However, a B12 deficiency can also be caused by conditions affecting the stomach or the intestines, medication, a functional B12 deficiency, and pernicious anaemia; the most common cause of this type of deficiency in the UK.

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What is pernicious anaemia?

Pernicious anaemia is an autoimmune condition affecting the stomach; one where the body’s immune system attacks the health cells.

How does it work?

Normally B12 is combined with a substance known as intrinsic factor in the stomach; this is then absorbed into the body through a part of the gut known as the distal ileum.

What pernicious anaemia does is to cause the immune system to attack the cells in the stomach which produce the intrinsic factor, preventing the body from absorbing B12.

Unfortunately, despite years of research, there is as yet no known cause for pernicious anaemia. What scientists do know is that it is most common in women over the age of 60 in patients with a family history of the condition.

What are the complications of a B12 deficiency?

Complications vary in severity, but all can cause severe discomfort to the patient and those around them.

Neurological complications include:
• Vision problems
• Memory loss
• Pins and needles
• Loss of physical coordination
• Damage to parts of the nervous system.

As well as neurological changes, a B12 deficiency can also cause infertility with the NHS adding: “Vitamin B12 deficiency can sometimes lead to temporary infertility, an inability to conceive.”

A vitamin B12 deficiency has also been linked to stomach cancer, particularly in those with pernicious anaemia.

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