The gray hair you see in the mirror or the unrelenting fatigue you feel can be chalked up to stress, but you might be surprised to learn that a deficiency in vitamin B-12 may actually be the culprit. Your doctor can perform testing to diagnose a deficiency. Do not take B-12 supplements without first talking with your doctor to see if they are safe and appropriate for you to consume.
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Cobalamin, more commonly known as vitamin B-12, is found in food, supplements and prescription medications. This vitamin must be present for DNA synthesis, healthy red blood cell formation and proper neurological functioning to happen. Most individuals obtain enough B-12 from dairy products, fortified cereals and animal products. A deficiency of vitamin B-12 can cause megaloblastic anemia, as well as constipation, memory problems and dementia. If you think you may be deficient, talk with your doctor.
The general medical condition in which you do not have enough healthy red blood cells is called anemia. There are many different types of anemia with varying causes. Without enough red blood cells, your tissues cannot get enough oxygen, which is transported throughout the body by the blood cells. This can cause fatigue, irregular heartbeat and pale skin. Megaloblastic anemia, also called pernicious anemia, occurs from insufficient amounts of red blood cells because the body cannot absorb enough B-12 to make the cells.
You may be surprised to learn that your hair is initially white. In utero, a protein called melanin is manufactured, and this gives hair its color. Melanin continues to give color to hair once you are born, although the amount of melanin in the body decreases with age. Over time, melanocytes, the cells with melanin, stop forming, causing hair to lose pigmentation. The B vitamins, including B-12, are essential for healthy hair, reports the University of Maryland Medical Center. Gray hair is more common with old age. As individuals get older, the risk of atrophic gastritis increases, which can interfere with the absorption of vitamin B-12. This may affect the hair, but more research needs to be done to see if there is any link between vitamin B-12 and gray hair.
Do not try to self-treat anemia by taking vitamin B-12 supplements; this vitamin is not a substitute for medical attention. If your doctor prescribes B-12 supplementation, talk with her about all other medications or supplements you may be taking, as this vitamin can interact with drugs and cause adverse effects.
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin B12
- MayoClinic.com; Anemia: Symptoms; Mayo Clinic Staff; February 2011
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Blood Diseases; Megaloblastic Anemia; January 2008
- The Library of Congress; Why Does Hair Turn Gray?; August 2010
- "International Journal of Trichology"; Aging of the Hair Follicle Pigmentation System; D Tobin; 2009
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Vitamin B12; Dr. Steven Ehrlich; June 2009