Vitamin B12 – An Essential Vitamin for Your Child’s Brain and Nerves
Vitamin B12 deficiency in children is an easily treatable condition which often goes undiagnosed making children prone to permanent brain injury
The symptoms associated with vitamin B12 deficiency in children are often appear non-specific – such as weakness, irritability, developmental delay, mental retardation, reduced IQ, tremors and failure to thrive. If the deficiency persists for long without being diagnosed, then the consequences may be neurological difficulties and anaemia (neurological complications and permanent neurological damage). B12 deficient children demonstrate behavioural problems, social delays, language and speech difficulties, and issues with fine and gross motor movement as well – if the deficiency persists for long.
However, late diagnosis can be prevented with a timely consultation with paediatric neurologists who are quite familiar with the risk factors, initial symptoms and proper diagnostic approach. Therefore, parents can ensure timely diagnosis and treatment if they show promptness in approaching the experts in time.
Importance of Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is a boon for your child for the proper functioning of his or her brain as it helps in keeping the brain and nervous system in good shape – It helps in the production of red blood cells in the body. This essential vitamin is not produced in the body – one must get it from the foods one eats, but the only way to get it is to consume animal products or through fortified foods. Vegans and vegetarians are at increased risk of developing deficiency of this vitamin – whereas non-vegetarians are less likely to develop deficiency unless they have any disorder such as – deficiency of intrinsic factor, autoimmune disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, metabolic disorders, reduced pancreatic function and stomach acid production.
Causes of vitamin B12 deficiency
Reduced intake of vitamin B12 is due to vegan or vegetarian diet; deficiency in a nursing mother and due to a genetic disorder (untreated phenylketonuria). The other cause is lack of intrinsic factor or insufficient intrinsic factor due to hereditary cause, surgical removal of intestine and pernicious anaemia. Diminished pancreatic function and less stomach acid is another cause. Bacterial and parasitic overgrowth creates competitive environment in the intestines depleting vitamin B12 for the body. Conditions such as celiac and Crohn’s disease cause malabsorption in the small intestine. Metabolic disorders such as Methylcobalamin deficiency and adenosylcobalamin deficiency and combined deficiencies of both the compounds can also cause vitamin B12 deficiency in children. Disorder in the transport due to transcobalamin-II deficiency or cobalamin R-binder protein deficiency is another cause.
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency
The symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency may take time to manifest; therefore, proper measures should be taken during the early stage itself to prevent complications in the long-run.
A child or an adult becomes gradually deficient. The typical symptoms may include general weakness, light-headedness, fatigue, palpitations, shortness of breath, muscular weakness. And, when the deficiency becomes severe, the deficiency may lead to anaemia.
Children demonstrate different symptoms – such as irritation, feeding difficulties, reflex problems, face tremors, unusual movements and growth issues if the deficiency remains undiagnosed and untreated. There is a huge risk of brain and nerves damage with a severe deficiency of vitamin B12 in children.
Neurological symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency: In adults the typical neurological symptoms associated with vitamin B12 deficiency include muscular weakness, pain in legs and hands, tingling sensation is hands and legs, changes in behaviour, mood, learning difficulty, memory loss, irritability, numbness in hands and legs, headaches, diminished cognitive abilities. Severe deficiency may lead to anxiety, restlessness and depression.
How is the deficiency of vitamin B12 diagnosed in children?
Deficiency of vitamin B12 for long period of time causes anaemia and damage to the nerves and brain cells – and, in children, the risk for permanent brain injury is very high. Therefore, to prevent the long-term consequences, vitamin B12 testing is very important. Testing helps physicians check the deficiency and to know the cause of the associated symptoms – weakness, memory problems, cognitive issues, anaemia, numbness in hands and legs and other neurological problems. A paediatrician may also order test if he or she suspects a family history of anaemia or any other genetic disorder – and also when the physician suspects other risk factors such as atrophic gastritis and metabolic disorders. Children suffering from metabolic disorders have normal levels of vitamin B12 in the blood, but low levels in the tissues. Therefore, if a vitamin B12 deficiency is suspected in children but this is not clear from the serum B12 value, or from the symptoms, doctors recommend testing for homocysteine and MMA (Methylmalonic acid). This test is quite sensitive for the diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency. After the diagnosing vitamin B12 deficiency, paediatricians often recommend additional tests to identify the cause.