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Boy, 14, sees B12 deficiency resolve after making dietary correction

Dr Dawn Harper on signs of vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency

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Most nutritional deficiencies are caused by insufficient intake of the right foods. In some exceptional instances, however, the presence of certain foods in the diet interferes with the absorption of B12 in the intestines. One case study highlights how rapidly symptoms may be resolved after making the necessary dietary corrections.

In 2016, the Royal Society for Public Health detailed the case of a 14-year-old boy who presented with severe anaemia at the onset of puberty.

The researchers wrote: “The case is presented of a 14-year-old boy who developed severe anaemia at the onset of puberty caused by a nutritional deficiency of vitamin B12 of about 10 years duration.

“The dietary intake composed mainly chips, ice cream, fruit and Coca-Cola – with small amounts of B12 from occasional slices of chicken meat.

“His denial of abnormal nutritional intake, supported by his mother, delayed confirmation of the correct diagnosis.

“However, the true stain was eventually confessed – and following implementation of a normal diet he rapidly improved clinically, the haemoglobin value rose to normal and he subsequently remained well.”

In 2019, a report published in the journal Nutrients highlighted the dangers of avoidant and restrictive food intake patterns.

The authors noted that these severely selective diets can lead to nutrition-related medical issues such as electrolyte imbalances, fat-soluble vitamin deficiencies, and B vitamin deficiencies.

Nutritionist Sheet Shah also cautions against three major types of foods and drinks that contribute to the onset of vitamin B12 deficiency.

Shah explained: “Some foods and drinks can interfere with vitamin B complex intake like alcohol, caffeine and processed foods, etc, should be avoided completely.”

Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to a number of health issues, such as anaemia, fatigue and nerve damage.

Problems like anaemia occur when blood cells do not form properly inside the bone marrow, a tissue inside the bones.

As the blood cells die, they can pave the way for severe complications like nerve damage and neurological deficits.

Though pernicious anaemia can be cured, an increased intake of vitamin B12 can eliminate most symptoms.

Some foods interfere with the absorption of vitamin B12 by slowing the release of gastric acids into the stomach.

Other factors that can hinder B12 absorption include medications that suppress stomach acids, for conditions like acid reflux.

The research on stomach acid depletion is problematic because the body relies on it for the absorption of B12 in the liver.

How to prevent B12 deficiency?

The best way to prevent the condition is to consume more foods that contain vitamin B12, such as red meat, fish, poultry eggs and other dairy products.

For individuals who choose to exclude animal dietary sources from their diets, fortified foods are recommended.

In some cases where the body is unable to absorb the nutrient naturally, however, supplements may be warranted.

Supplementation with B12 should not be considered without the guidance of a qualified healthcare provider, however.

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