Vitamin B-12, which is sometimes called cobalamin, is one of the B complex vitamins. Several critical biological processes depend of vitamin B-12, such as cellular metabolism, DNA replication and red blood cell formation. Most people obtain sufficient vitamin B-12 from their diet, although certain groups of people, such as people older than 50, are at a higher risk for developing vitamin B-12 deficiency. People who have difficulty absorbing nutrients from food can also suffer from B-12 deficiency, a condition called pernicious anemia. A vitamin B-12 deficiency can cause many symptoms, including hair loss. Vitamin B-12 deficiency is a serious health condition, and if you suspect you have a deficiency of vitamin B12, you should consult your doctor.
Many different parts of your body require vitamin B-12, including the liver, eyes, skin and hair. One possible symptom of vitamin B-12 deficiency is hair loss, because cells need to divide constantly to produce new hair, a process that requires production of new DNA. Without enough B-12, hair grow slows or stops and existing hair starts to fall out. Hair loss that is accompanied by symptoms of malnutrition and gastrointestinal disorders should be checked for deficiencies of several vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B-12.
Vitamin B-12 deficiency can cause several other superficial symptoms, including dark or light patches of skin, skin lesions or angular stomatitis, a condition characterized by drying and cracking at the corners of the mouth. However, these symptoms can be caused by a variety of other deficiencies or health conditions and do not necessarily mean you have a vitamin B-12 deficiency.
Anemia is a common symptom of vitamin B-12 deficiency. Because your body needs vitamin B-12 to make red blood cells, a deficiency of vitamin B-12 reduces the number of red blood cells traveling in your circulation, resulting in a condition called anemia. Anemia often causes symptoms that include fatigue, fainting spells, dizziness, headaches, pale skin and shortness of breath.
Prolonged vitamin B-12 deficiency can cause nerve damage. The first symptoms of nerve damage are often tingling sensations in the hands and feet, or increasing degrees of numbness. Over time, damage to nerves that control muscles cause difficultly walking and coordinating movement. Vision problems including loss of vision and hallucinations may also occur. Nerve damage can also cause depression, memory problems or personality changes, but these changes are severe and usually only arise after the deficiency has gone on for a long time.