Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency on the Tongue

Cobalamin, otherwise known as Vitamin B12, is an important nutrient found in many foods, particularly animal products. Vitamin B12 is considered an essential nutrient because it helps the body create DNA, form red blood cells and produce energy within cells.

If you don't consume enough vitamin B12, you may experience issues with your mouth and tongue. (Image: solidcolours/iStock/GettyImages)

Most people need just a few micrograms per day, but this tiny amount is critical to your health. Insufficient vitamin B12 can cause various issues, including problems with oral health that range from a beefy tongue to mouth lesions.

Vitamin B12 and Its Deficiency

Vitamin B12 is considered to be an essential nutrient and helps maintain healthy cells throughout the body. This vitamin is particularly important for your nervous system and blood. Its consumption also has health benefits. A 2014 study in the Journal of Biomed Research International showed that this vitamin, along with vitamins B6 and B9, can help reduce the severity of migraines.

Most adults need to consume 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day, though this amount can increase to as much as 2.8 micrograms per day if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Vitamin B12 is typically obtained through animal products, like eggs, dairy products, fish, meat and shellfish. You may also be able to find vitamin B12 in fortified foods; many grain products, like cereals, are fortified with B12. People who are vegan or vegetarian or who avoid meat products are more likely to be vitamin B12-deficient.

Deficiency symptoms include menstrual disturbances, anemia, issues with memory and mental health (such as confusion and depression) and issues with balance. Vitamin B12 deficiency is also known for causing tongue and mouth soreness.

Oral Health and Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 deficiency is well-known for causing issues with the mouth and tongue. In particular, it may cause a swollen, beefy tongue, as well as burning sensations, discolorations and lesions throughout the mouth. Certain people, such as those with autoimmune disease, may also be more likely to have secondary diseases, like oral candidiasis, or oral thrush. These symptoms can be extremely unpleasant and painful.

Although vegans and vegetarians are more likely to be vitamin B12 deficient since they're likely to avoid meat and fish products, other people are also at risk. In particular, people with certain gastrointestinal conditions preventing the absorption of nutrients are likely to be vitamin B12 deficient. Other people at risk include older adults, people who have recently had surgery affecting their digestive system and those with pernicious anemia.

Fortunately, B12 deficiency can be resolved through supplements. Large doses have been clinically recommended for years. Recently, a 2018 study in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews and a 2017 study in the American Family Physician Journal showed that supplements between 1,000 and 2,000 micrograms are safe and effective ways to treat the problem. If your symptoms are particularly severe, you may also be prescribed high doses of this vitamin that should be injected, rather than swallowed.

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