Tiredness, lightheadedness, a rapid heart rate and skin that bruises easily. These are some of the symptoms of a B12 deficiency and it’s older Australians most at risk.

The human body needs vitamin B12 to make blood and for the brain and nervous system to function properly. We get it from our food, particularly from meat and animal products. When we eat a strict vegetarian diet or when our bodies aren’t absorbing the vitamin well – as can happen in later life – we need to keep an eye out for signs of a deficiency.

“The human body needs vitamin B12 to make red blood cells, nerves, DNA, and carry out other functions,” according to Harvard Medical School.

“The average adult should get 2.4 micrograms a day. Like most vitamins, B12 can’t be made by the body. Instead, it must be gotten from food or supplements.”

For older people, even if they are consuming all the right foods, there might be stomach issues preventing the B12 from being absorbed. That along with other age-related complications can create a dangerous combination of factors.

“Elderly people are particularly at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency because of the high prevalence of atrophic gastritis-associated … vitamin B12 malabsorption, and the increasing prevalence of pernicious anaemia with advancing age,” one study found.

“The deficiency most often goes unrecognised because the clinical manifestations are highly variable, often subtle and non-specific, but if left undiagnosed the consequences can be serious.”

As well as age and vegetarianism, another risk factor for B12 deficiency is weight-loss surgery.

“People who have stomach stapling or other form of weight-loss surgery are also more likely to be low in vitamin B12 because the operation interferes with the body’s ability to extract vitamin B12 from food,” according to Harvard Medical School.

Signs of a B12 deficiency


There are a number of symptoms that might indicate a deficiency. A blood test is required to determine whether or not a patient requires B12 but if you notice these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, seek medical advice.

Keep an eye out for:

  • strange sensations, numbness, or tingling in the hands, legs, or feet
  • difficulty walking (staggering, balance problems)
  • anemia
  • a swollen, inflamed tongue
  • yellowed skin (jaundice)
  • difficulty thinking and reasoning (cognitive difficulties), or memory loss
  • paranoia or hallucinations
  • weakness
  • fatigue.

Harvard Medical School says, “a serious vitamin B12 deficiency can be corrected in two ways: weekly shots of vitamin B12 or daily high-dose B12 pills.”

“A mild B12 deficiency can be corrected with a standard multi-vitamin.”

Remember, plants don’t make vitamin B12. The only foods that you can get it from are meat, eggs, poultry, dairy products, and other food products that come from animals.

Vitamin deficiencies can often go unnoticed but lead to serious health complications. There are several vitamins and minerals Australians are commonly deficient in so be sure to eat a balanced diet and keep an eye out for any symptoms.