As one of the essential vitamins required for proper nerve function and red blood cell production, vitamin B12 deficiency can have serious consequences for your health.
While it is often associated with conditions such as anemia and neurological disorders, recent studies have suggested a potential link between vitamin B12 deficiency and cancer.
In this article, we explore whether vitamin B12 deficiency can be a sign of cancer and what you can do to ensure you’re getting enough of this important nutrient.
Vitamin B12: An Overview
Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin naturally present in some foods.
The recommended dietary intake (RDI) of vitamin B12 varies based on age:
- For men and women 14 years and older: 2.4 mcg daily
- For pregnant and lactating women: 2.6 mcg and 2.8 mcg daily, respectively
Importance of Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is a crucial vitamin required for many important functions in the body.
- It is needed to form red blood cells
- It helps carry oxygen around the body by using hemoglobin ( a protein found in the blood)
- It is needed for DNA (the genetic material) synthesis
- It plays an important role in the function and development of brain and nerve cells
Any shortfall in vitamin B12 intake can result in its deficiency.
Causes, Symptoms, and Risk Factors of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
There are several reasons why you can develop vitamin B12 deficiency:
- With age, it becomes harder to absorb this vitamin
- Absorption of vitamin B12 becomes difficult for people who drink heavily
- Surgery to remove a part of the stomach
- Atrophic gastritis (a condition in which the stomach lining is thin)
- Pernicious anemia (a condition that makes it difficult to absorb vitamin B12)
- Chronic conditions of the digestive tract or immune system disorders
- Medications that may interfere with the absorption of vitamin B12
- Vegetarian or vegan diet
When you are deficient in vitamin B12, you can become anemic. A mild deficiency may not cause any symptoms. However, leaving it untreated can cause symptoms like:
- Weakness and tiredness
- Feeling lightheaded
- Pale skin
- Smooth tongue
- Increased heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Digestive symptoms like diarrhea, loss of appetite, bloating or gas
- Nerve problems like tingling sensation in the fingers, muscle weakness or difficulty in walking
- Vision loss
In severe cases of vitamin B12 deficiency, you may develop memory loss, depression, and experience behavioral changes.
What Medical Conditions Cause B12 Deficiency?
A few medical conditions that can increase your risk of developing B12 deficiency are:
- Crohn’s disease
- Celiac disease
- Bacterial infections
- Presence of a parasite in the small intestine
- Immune system disorders like lupus or Grave’s disease
What Organ Does Vitamin B12 Affect?
Vitamin B12 deficiency can affect:
- Blood cells that are unable to carry sufficient oxygen, resulting in anemia
- Nerve cells
- Cells of the stomach lining
- The small intestine
Can Vitamin B12 Deficiency Be A Sign of Cancer?
Vitamin B12 deficiency is not typically considered a sign of cancer on its own, but it can sometimes be a symptom of certain types of cancer.
In particular, cancers that affect the stomach, small intestine, or pancreas can interfere with the absorption of vitamin B12, leading to a deficiency.
This is because vitamin B12 is absorbed in the gut, and certain types of cancer can affect the cells that produce intrinsic factors, a protein that is necessary for the absorption of vitamin B12.
Additionally, some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, can also cause a vitamin B12 deficiency.
While some studies report that an increase in vitamin B12 levels is associated with lung cancer, others have found that a deficiency of the vitamin may increase the risk of gastric cancer.
A controlled study published in 2017 found that people with low vitamin B12 levels developed cancer 10 years after their blood collection.
So, while there is some evidence that vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to cancer, it is too early to state it conclusively.
While vitamin B12 deficiency alone is not an indicator of cancer, it is important to monitor your B12 levels and speak with your doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms of deficiency, especially if you have a personal or family history of cancer.
Which Type of Cancer Is Caused by Vitamin B12 Deficiency?
Vitamin B21 deficiency is said to `increase the risk of developing non-cardia gastric adenocarcinoma by 5.8 times.
Does B12 Deficiency Cause Leukemia?
Vitamin B12 plays a role in the development of red blood cells.
A deficiency of this vitamin can cause significant changes in the bone marrow, which can mimic acute leukemia, a serious condition.
So, while vitamin B12 deficiency can give rise to a similar clinical picture as leukemia, it does not cause the condition.
Is B12 A Tumor Marker?
The relationship between vitamin B12 levels and cancer is poorly understood.
However, several studies show that elevated vitamin B12 can be used as a marker for various types of cancers, especially hematological cancers.
More research is required in this field to conclusively prove that B12 can be a reliable tumor marker for diagnosing certain cancers.
Other Vitamin Deficiencies Link To Cancer Risk
Research states that a deficiency in vitamins like folate, B12, B6, C, and D, and minerals like iron and zinc can contribute to DNA damage and lead to cancer risk.
Recent studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency may promote metastasis (or spread) of some types of breast cancer.
Meeting Your Vitamin B12 Requirements
Vitamin B12 deficiency is found to be more common among vegetarians and vegans.
Regardless of your food preferences, here are some foods that can help you meet your vitamin B2 requirements:
- Low-fat milk and yogurt
- Plant milk like soy, almond, and coconut
- Breakfast cereals fortified with vitamin B12
- Fruit juices
- Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin that is required for producing red blood cells and maintaining healthy nerves.
- The recommended dietary intake of vitamin B12 varies with age and increases in certain conditions like pregnancy and lactation.
- Vitamin B12 is important for forming the DNA, and a deficiency of the vitamin may increase the risk for certain types of cancers.
- There are several reasons for vitamin B12 deficiency, including increasing age, conditions that affect mineral absorption, atrophic gastritis, and others.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency affects blood and nerve cells, cells in the stomach lining, and the small intestine.
- Though poorly understood, vitamin B12 may be a tumor marker for certain cancers.