Dr Dawn Harper on signs of vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency
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Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin stored in the liver, where it can sustain the body’s needs for years. The nutrient is key for a host of biological processes inside the body, including the production of red blood cells and the functioning of the nervous system. A B12 shortage can give rise to severe nerve damage, which becomes irreversible unless treated swiftly. Signs that you’re lacking the nutrient may be apparent when examining your eyes.
Since vitamin B12 is critical for protecting the nerves, low levels put the optic nerves in peril of damage.
This is because nerves are covered in a protective coating, known as myelin, which shields the nerves and enables them to transmit sensation.
During a shortfall in B12, myelin production ceases, making the nerve ending vulnerable.
At this stage, peripheral neuropathy may occur, which usually causes a tingling sensation in the hands and feet in the initial stages.
READ MORE: Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms: 8 warning signs of low levels ‘inside your mouth’
Three different complications may occur in the eyes at this stage.
Because B12 is a key player in the production of red blood cells, units become enlarged and damaged when they’re deprived of the nutrient.
This in turn prevents the cells from leaving the bone marrow, where they are produced to circulate the blood.
The body can then expect a build-up of the yellow substance bilirubin, which can give the skin a yellow tinge.
Yellowing of the whites of the eyes and skin are two telltale signs of jaundice.
The role of B12 in the nervous system means a deficiency can damage the optic nerve.
The health website Medanta explains: “Disturbed and blurred vision can […] occur as a result of a vitamin B12 deficiency.
“This happened when the deficiency causes damage to the nerve that leads to your eyes.
“The nervous signal that travels from the eye to the brain is disturbed due to this damage, leading to impaired vision.
“The condition is called optic neuropathy and treatment involving B12 supplementation usually reversed the impairment.”
With sufficient damage, however, the cable of nerve fibre will lose its capacity to regenerate, causing some patients to lose their sight permanently.
According to the health body Medical Daily: “Eye twitching and eyelid spasms are also signs that could help pinpoint vitamin B12 deficiency.”
This uncomfortable twitching sensation – known scientifically as blepharospasm – can occur in the eye or the surrounding area.
There is substantial evidence to date that the condition can be reversed with adequate administration of B12.
Scientists have previously stressed that although eyelid twitches may be a manifestation of B12 deficiency, it remains a rare one.
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