- A man who followed a vegan diet for 20 years had “undetectable” vitamin B12 levels, according to a report.
- The man’s arms went numb because the deficiency affected his nervous system.
- People who do not eat animal products should take B12 supplements to prevent nervous system damage.
A man who followed a ‘strict’ vegan diet for 20 years developed a vitamin B12 deficiency that caused him to struggle to find the words to speak and numbness in his arms, according to a report.
Vitamin B12 – found naturally in meat, eggs and dairy products but available in supplement form – is essential for the nerves and red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause irreversible damage to the nervous system if left untreated for more than six months after symptoms begin.
The unnamed 39-year-old visited the doctor after experiencing numbness and tingling in his arms – from elbows to fingertips – for four days, doctors and medical students wrote in a report published in the Cureus Journal of Medical Science on September 16.
For the past seven months, he had struggled to find his words, felt confused and had intermittent blurred vision, they said.
He also felt unbalanced, dizzy, short of breath and more tired than usual, medical professionals working in Atlanta said.
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency vary and include: tingling in the arms or legs, difficulty walking, fatigue, nausea, rapid heartbeat and irritability. Numbness occurs due to effects on the nervous system.
Man had ‘undetectable’ vitamin B12 levels
Investigations revealed the man had “undetectable” vitamin B12 levels and depleted levels of red and white blood cells and platelets.
Vitamin B12 deficiency usually has two causes: because a person does not eat enough foods that contain it or because they suffer from malabsorption due to conditions such as celiac disease and pernicious anemia.
In this case, the man had followed a vegan diet for 20 years without taking vitamin B12 supplements.
B12 deficiency is becomore and more likeas more and more people go vegan
Most people in the United States get enough vitamin B12, according to data from the National Institutes of Health. However, vegans and those who have not eaten eggs, dairy and meat for more than five years are at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, says the British Dietetic Association. He recommends long-time vegetarians and vegans check their vitamin B12 status and take supplements of around 10 micrograms daily as needed.
According to the report, severe B12 deficiency, like that in humans, is rare but is becoming more common as more and more people adopt a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.
Early treatment of vitamin B12 deficiency is essential to prevent irreversible damage to the nervous system, the doctors wrote.
Doctors treated the man with vitamin B12 injections and blood transfusions
Doctors treated the man in hospital with three blood transfusions and daily vitamin B12 injections for two days.
He then took vitamin B12 injections daily for five days at home, followed by an injection once a week for four weeks, then once a month.
According to the report, his word-finding difficulties improved after one day of treatment, and his coordination, fatigue and shortness of breath improved after two days.
After a month, his confusion was “completely better”, but he still had numbness in his left hand, doctors said.
After two months, blood tests revealed that her vitamin B12 levels had returned to normal.