Studies show that 15% of people are B12 deficient, and nearly 40% are borderline.
B12 deficiencies are more common in older people, affecting around one in 10 people aged 75 or over and one in 20 people aged 65 to 74.
Vegetarians and vegans are also at particular risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency, as it is mainly found in meat, eggs, and dairy products.
Vitamin B12 deficiencies are often a root cause of neurological, psychiatric and cognitive issues, health experts warn, and can also put a person at risk for developing depression and anxiety.
What are the benefits of vitamin B12?
Some psychological benefits from boosting your B12 levels may include:
Calming stress and anxiety to balance moods
Assisting in normal nerve growth and development
Improving communication between nerve cells
Promoting stable adrenal function
Providing emotional and mental energy
Helping with the ability to concentrate
Bolstering memory function
One research paper published in Psychiatry Online, looked at how vitamin B12 can have a major effect on a person’s overall mood.
It noted: “Psychiatric manifestations of vitamin B12 deficiency can include depression, apathy, irritability, dementia, catatonia, delirium, and hallucinations.
“Higher vitamin B12 levels are thought to be associated with a more favourable outcome in depression.”
The research also linked a patient suffering with bipolar disorder and having a vitamin B12 deficiency.
“This report highlights the importance of assessment of Vitamin B12 in patients with psychiatric illness,” concluded the study.
B12 and brain chemicals
Symptoms of severe deficiencies may also include irritability.
The link of psychological side effects and low levels of vitamin B12 is hypothesised to be because of how the vitamin plays a vital role in producing brain chemicals.
This is paramount when it comes to the effects of mood and other brain functions.
“B12 deficiency can cause almost any psychiatric symptom, from anxiety, and panic to depression and hallucinations,” warns Dr Robert Hedaya, clinical professor of psychiatry.
He continued: “This is because B12 deficiencies trigger symptoms in the nervous system and red blood cells.
“If you think you have a B12 deficiency, get yourself assessed and treated right away.”
Treatment for a B12 deficiency
“Your treatment will depend on whether the cause of your vitamin B12 deficiency is related to your diet or whether the deficiency is causing any neurological problems, such as problems with thinking, memory and behaviour,” says the NHS.
It added: “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.
“Or you may need to have an injection of hydroxocobalamin twice a year.”
Eating enough meat, salmon and cod, milk and other dairy products or eggs helps to improve a B12 deficiency.