Vitamin B12 deficiency: Can you smell that? The ‘odorous’ symptom hinting at low levels

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

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B12 absorption naturally slows as the body ages. But because the essential dietary component is readily available in animal products, vegetarians and vegans may also struggle to source the dietary compound. What’s more, signs of low levels can be broad-ranging and non-specific, making it difficult to pick up a deficiency in the initial stages. As the condition advances, however, some “odorous” symptoms may become difficult to ignore.

Vitamin B12 is stored in the liver, where it is able to sustain the body for years at a time.

As levels start to fall, however, the digestive tract can become affected as insufficient red blood cells are able to reach the gut.

This lack of oxygen could leave a person feeling sick, but could also cause changes in the regularity and odour of their flatulence. reports: “Not getting enough of a certain vitamin such as vitamin B12, can cause some people to have excessive, odorous gas, but not necessarily an unpleasant body odour.

READ MORE: B12 deficiency: Dr Sara warns of the ‘irreversible’ consequence that can occur – signs

“Mineral deficiency, particularly of zinc and magnesium, are more likely to contribute to body odour.

“Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about body odour and how it relates to your diet.”

Common causes of flatulence include swallowing more air than usual or eating food that is difficult to digest.

In patients with low B12 levels, it is usually a side effect of abdominal bloating and constipation.

Those with a deficiency, however, may struggle to notice changes in odour because low B12 levels can cause olfactory dysfunction characterised by a partial or complete loss of smell.

Other symptoms of B12 deficiency

B12 binds to the protein in foods and is unbound in the stomach with the help of hydrochloric acid and enzymes.

“From there, vitamin B12 combines with a protein called intrinsic factor so that it can be absorbed further down in the small intestine,” explains Harvard Health.

A deficiency in vitamin B12 can manifest in numerous ways, but fatigue, lightheadedness, and pale skin may be among the most apparent signs.

People also often complain of breathlessness and a decreased ability to think, alongside mood disorders such as depression.

In the advanced stages of the condition, symptoms tend to intensify, particularly as the nerves become progressively damaged.

This can cause multi-sensorial complications in the extremities, such as pins and needles, or numbness.

At this stage, the nerve is suffering from a lack of myelin sheath – a substance that enables electrical pulse to transmit along the cells.

Without myelin’s protection, impulses slow down and make nerve endings susceptible to irreversible damage.

It typically takes up to six months after symptoms appear for nerve damage to become permanent.

So adherence to a diet that comprises the right foods should allow enough time to correct any deficiency.

Where diet cannot correct the issue, patients may be advised to begin treatment with supplementation or injections of B12.

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