Numbness in the Toes and Vitamin B12 Deficiency
There are many potential causes of numbness in the toes, one of which is a deficiency in vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 – or cobalamin as it is otherwise known – has a number of roles in the body. It is vital for the synthesis of DNA and the formation of red blood cells, and it has a role in the regulation of certain amino acids such as homocystine, in energy production and in brain function. Numbness in the toes can be caused by a deficiency in vitamin B12 because without this vital vitamin it is not possible to maintain healthy nerves. Vitamin B12 needs to come from the diet, and it is important that foods high in Vitamin B12 are consumed on a regular basis as the body is not able to store vitamin B12 easily.
How Do You Get Vitamin B12 from the Diet?
The primary source of Vitamin B12 is animal products, which places vegans – and to a lesser extent vegetarians – at a higher risk of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency. In contrast to vitamins which are fat soluble and can be stored in body fat, Vitamin B12 is water soluble and cannot be retained by the body. Because of this, Vitamin B12 needs to come from the diet and sufficient quantities need to be consumed on a daily basis. Going for a day or two without any dietary vitamin B12 is not going to cause numbness in the toes as the body can last for some time without sufficient levels of this vitamin, but over time the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency will start to become apparent, with numbness in the toes just one of a wide range of symptoms associated with a deficiency in this vitamin.
The foodstuffs with the highest concentrations of vitamin B12 are oily fish such as sardines, mackerel and salmon, with lamb and beef also good sources. However chicken, shellfish, and dairy products are all good sources of vitamin B12. Vegans may have to ensure that breakfast cereals are consumed as these are fortified with Vitamin B12, as are many soy products, margarines, and textured vegetable proteins. An alternative is to take brewer’s yeast to boost daily intake. Vegetarians who eat eggs, yoghurt, milk and cheese can get vitamin B12 from these sources so should not need to take additional dietary supplements.
What are the Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Due to the numerous roles of this vitamin in the body, the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency can be wide ranging and they can often be confused with other medical problems. The most common symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency are listed below. This is not an exhaustive list, and not all of these symptoms will be present even with a severe vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Numbness in the toes, feet, hands and fingers
- Weakness and fatigue
- Sore tongue
- Digestive problems (constipation or diarrhoea)
- Stomach upsets
- Memory problems and confusion
- Pale skin
- Weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Menstrual problems
- Difficulty with balance
Non-Dietary Factors Which Can Cause a Vitamin B12 Deficiency?
Even if you are a regular meat and fish eater and you get plenty of vitamin B12 from the diet or you take vitamin supplements, you can still suffer from a vitamin B12 deficiency. There are a number of medical conditions which can affect how the body absorbs vitamin B12 from the diet. If you are experiencing numbness in the toes and you have one of the medical conditions listed below, a vitamin B12 deficiency may be the cause.
- Pernicious anemia
- Crohn’s Disease
- Celiac disease (gluten intolerance)
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Bacterial or parasitic infections
- Long term antacid use
- Atrophic gastritis affects almost a third of the over 50 age range, which can reduce the efficiency of vitamin absorption
Correct a Vitamin B12 Deficiency and Cure Numbness in the Toes
Fortunately for most people who have numb toes caused by a lack of this vitamin, tackling the vitamin B12 deficiency is as simple as taking vitamin b supplements, although a doctor may opt for a larger dose with the administration of a vitamin B12 injection. Maintaining the correct levels of vitamin B12 from the diet is important to ensure that the deficiency does not return, and the long term use of vitamin B supplements may be required for people those who have trouble absorbing the vitamin or who do not consume enough natural dietary sources of the vitamin due to dietary choice; such as vegans.