Spinal cord of boy,13, ‘seriously damaged’ by severe B12 deficiency

Dr Dawn Harper on signs of vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency

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Vitamin B12 is a vital nutrient to our bodies. Found in many animal products such as meat, cheese and eggs, it is needed to produce DNA and red blood cells. Without enough of it the body can’t produce healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body.

Therefore, a deficiency can cause serious side effects.

This was the case for one 13-year-old boy, JJ, whose story was presented as a case study by B12deficiency.info.

For almost a year he suffered a range of symptoms including difficulty walking before he was finally diagnosed.

The study explains: “He contracted pneumonia and missed school from November 2006 to January 2007.

“He tried to return to school after the Christmas holidays, however 13-year-old JJ felt unwell and on his way home his legs suddenly buckled and he collapsed.

“For eight long months, JJ was in and out of hospital but there were no answers found. He was referred to a liver specialist, who failed to diagnose his condition.

“At one point it was thought that JJ was suffering from Wilson’s Disease, a genetic disorder in which copper accumulates in tissues.”

He continued to decline and experienced jaundice – yellowing of the skin and eyes – and lost his ability to walk and write.

JJ was told he might never walk again.

The study continues: “His paediatrician worried that JJ’s organs were shutting down. He was getting weaker, felt really sick and was exhausted.

“He couldn’t keep food down and all he did was sleep.”

In August 2007, JJ was referred to a haematologist who diagnosed him with pernicious anaemia, an autoimmune condition that affects the stomach meaning the body is unable to absorb vitamin B12.

When he was tested for B12 he had a record serum level of zero, as well as low levels of vitamin D.

The study adds: “JJ went undiagnosed for so long that the tissue in his spinal cord which carries nerve impulses was also seriously damaged.

“This condition (SACD) Subacute Combined Degeneration of the spinal cord is secondary to pernicious anaemia.

“He also has multiple fractures and osteoporosis in his back.

“JJ’s mother Kelly, knows that a simple test of his B12 level would have diagnosed his problem months before and would have prevented some of his nerve damage.”

Symptoms of B12 deficiency include:

  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Lack of energy (lethargy)
  • Breathlessness
  • Feeling faint
  • Headaches
  • Pale skin
  • Noticeable heartbeats (palpitations)
  • Tinnitus
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss.

Good sources of B12 in food include:

  • Meat
  • Salmon and cod
  • Milk and other dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Some fortified cereals
  • Yeast extract such as Marmite.

However, if you have pernicious anaemia and are unable to absorb B12 you might need injections from a GP.

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