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Vitamin B12 deficiency: The symptom that could also be a sign of coronavirus

Vitamin B12 performs a number of vital functions in the body, such as supporting proper red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis. If you become deficient in the vitamin, your body will therefore undergo a number of changes. One change is also a symptom that has been reported in patients with COVID-19, a deadly new disease.


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Shortness of breath, which has been commonly cited as a symptom of COVID-19, is an early warning sign of B12 deficiency caused by pernicious anaemia, according to Pernicious Anaemia Society (PAS), an international charity.

Pernicious anaemia is an autoimmune disease that prevents the body from making intrinsic factors (a protein made by the stomach and needed to absorb vitamin B12 in the intestine).

According to PAS, the symptom typically describes a desire to continually take deep breaths or heavy sighing.

The symptom was also identified in a case report of a 44-year old with anaemia.

Writing in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the researchers said the patient reported increasing shortness of breath while stocking shelves at work and recently stopped recreational jogging because of this symptom.

Other symptoms of pernicious anaemia include:

  • Shortness of Breath
  • Usually manifesting as the desire to continually take deep breaths or heavy sighing
  • Extreme Fatigue
  • Brain Fogs
  • Clumsiness/Lack of coordination
  • Brittle, flaky nails and dry Skin

How to treat it

Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia is usually treated with injections of vitamin B12.

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There are two types of vitamin B12 injections:

  • Hydroxocobalamin
  • Cyanocobalamin

“At first, you’ll have these injections every other day for two weeks or until your symptoms have started improving,” explains the NHS.

The health body adds: “After this initial period, 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.”

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.


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According to the NHS, this especially applies to people following a vegan diet, as the vitamin is naturally found in meat, daily and fish items.

In fact, people following a vegan diet may need to take the vitamin for life, says the health site.

Which foods naturally contain B12?

Good sources of vitamin B12 include:

  • Meat
  • Salmon and cod
  • Milk and other dairy products
  • Eggs

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, or are looking for alternatives to meat and dairy products, there are other foods that contain vitamin B12.

B12 alternatives include yeast extract (including Marmite), as well as some fortified breakfast cereals and soy products, notes the NHS.

Check the nutrition labels while food shopping to see how much vitamin B12 different foods contain, the health body advises.

It adds: “If your vitamin B12 deficiency is not caused by a lack of vitamin B12 in your diet, you’ll usually need to have an injection of hydroxocobalamin every two to three months for the rest of your life.”

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