Have you had your vitamin B12 levels checked recently? A 37-year-old homemaker in Delhi had been suffering from mood swings for over six months before her family and general physician suggested she consult a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist ordered a battery of blood tests for hormonal imbalances and nutritional deficiencies. The woman’s blood report was normal apart from vitamin B12 levels—they were very low, at 70 pg/ml (below 250 pg/ml is defined as deficient). The psychiatrist recommended 10 vitamin B12 injections over 20 days combined with daily vitamin B12 tablets.
The why of vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is profoundly important for health. Adequate stores of the vitamin help our nerve and blood cells to function properly; this vitamin is also needed for the manufacture of DNA strands in the body. If left untreated, vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to permanent nerve damage. Sanjay Chugh, a psychiatrist who practises in New Delhi, says: “Vitamin B12 deficiency is rampant in India (among men and women). The deficiency is so common that it’s the first thing I recommend for patients regardless of their psychiatric symptoms. And often when vitamin B12 deficiency is found, simple supplementation of vitamin B12 is enough to clear the symptoms such as mood swings and crying bouts.” Vitamin B12 injections are recommended when the deficiency diagnosed is severe and vitamin B12 levels have to be brought back to normal quickly. Once the levels have normalized, then vitamin B12 can be taken orally like any other vitamin supplement.
One reason why vitamin B12 deficiency is particularly common in India is that a large number of people here are vegetarians.Read More
Sujata Kelkar Shetty, PhD, writes on public health issues and is a research scientist trained at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, US.