Diabetes and vitamin B12: understanding the connection

Credit: Unsplash+

When it comes to managing diabetes, many people focus on sugar levels, diet, and physical activity.

However, there’s another aspect of health that diabetics should not overlook: vitamin B12 levels.

Research has increasingly shown a link between diabetes, particularly those on certain medications, and the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. This connection is crucial because vitamin B12 is vital for producing red blood cells and maintaining healthy nerve cells.

Here’s a closer look at why vitamin B12 matters for people with diabetes and how they can manage their risk.

Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is a nutrient found in foods like meat, fish, and dairy products.

It helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Vitamin B12 also prevents a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia that makes people tired and weak.

In people with diabetes, particularly those with type 2 diabetes, vitamin B12 deficiency has been linked to the use of the common diabetes medication metformin.

Metformin is the first-line medication for type 2 diabetes and works by helping the body use insulin more effectively and reducing glucose production in the liver.

However, studies have found that long-term use of metformin can lead to decreased absorption of vitamin B12, potentially leading to a deficiency if not monitored and managed.

The reason behind this decreased absorption is not fully understood, but it is thought that metformin may interfere with calcium-dependent absorption mechanisms of vitamin B12 in the intestines.

Over time, this effect can become significant, especially in older adults or in those with existing gastrointestinal issues, who are already at higher risk for vitamin B12 deficiency.

Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include fatigue, lightheadedness, rapid heartbeat, pale skin, sore tongue, easy bruising and bleeding, including bleeding gums, stomach upset and weight loss, diarrhea or constipation.

If the deficiency is not corrected, it can lead to severe nerve damage, causing tingling or numbness in the fingers and toes, difficulties in walking, mood changes, and memory loss.

These symptoms can be particularly problematic for individuals with diabetes, who may already be at risk for nerve damage due to high blood sugar levels.

Diagnosing vitamin B12 deficiency involves blood tests to measure the level of vitamin B12 in the blood, along with a complete blood count (CBC) test to see if your red blood cells are normal.

For people with diabetes, especially those on metformin, healthcare providers might recommend regular screening for B12 levels if they exhibit any symptoms of deficiency or as a preventive measure.

Managing vitamin B12 deficiency typically involves increasing dietary intake of vitamin B12 through foods like fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products.

For those who struggle to absorb vitamin B12 from food, or where dietary intake is insufficient, vitamin B12 supplements may be necessary. In some severe cases, high-dose B12 injections may be required.

For diabetics, it’s important to have a holistic approach to managing their condition, which includes monitoring for potential deficiencies like vitamin B12.

Regular communication with healthcare providers, proper dietary management, and possibly supplementation are key components in preventing and treating deficiencies that could complicate the management of diabetes.

In conclusion, there’s a significant link between diabetes, especially when treated with metformin, and the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency.

Awareness and proactive management of this risk are essential for maintaining overall health and preventing complications associated with both diabetes and vitamin B12 deficiency.

Follow us on Twitter for more articles about this topic.

Copyright © 2024 Scientific Diet. All rights reserved.