Your nailbeds give away a surprising amount of information about your health. Having the right levels of vitamin B12 is important, and any deficiency can show up on your nails
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One in 10 people in the UK are believed to be deficient in vitamin B12, which equates to roughly six million people suffering from the consequences of having less than the optimum amount of B12 in their system.
For vegetarians and vegans, this number is even higher because B12 is not found in any plant food.
It is, however, abundant in many meats and fish, and in smaller amounts in milk and eggs.
This makes it difficult for people following a strict vegetarian diet to get the necessary amount of vitamin B12.
When the body lacks the essential vitamin, a number of unusual symptoms may arise – including a tell-tale change in your nails…
Why do we need vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 plays an essential role in red blood cell formation, cell metabolism, nerve function and the production of DNA, the molecules inside cells that carry genetic information.
It is also a key player in the function and development of brain and nerve cells.
Both iron and B12 are necessary for keeping nails strong and healthy, and when there is not enough of the essential vitamin in the system, changes to your nails may be seen.
Nail manifestations caused by a lack of vitamin B12 were investigated in a recent study published in the BMJ.
The research involved a case study of a 12-year-old boy who had progressive darkening of his nails of both hands and feet for the past three months.
“Pigmentation was more marked in fingernails, particularly over thumbnails,” noted the study.
“A severe vitamin B12 deficiency was considered as the attributing factor for his nail hyperpigmentation.”
The patient underwent vitamin B12 therapy for seven days followed by weekly injections for four weeks, along with oral B12 supplements.
Marked improvements were noted after one month of vitamin B12 therapy.
The study concluded: “Nail changes in vitamin B12 deficiency present as hyperpigmentation of nails like bluish discolouration of nails, blue-black pigmentation with dark longitudinal streaks, and longitudinal and reticulate darkened streaks.
“The nail pigmentation associated with B12 deficiency is more frequent in patients with dark skin.
“Complications of vitamin B12 deficiency may be prevented if the condition is recognised early and treatment is initiated.”
Other symptoms of a B12 deficiency
- Weakness, tiredness, or light-headedness
- Heart palpitations and shortness of breath
- Pale skin
- A smooth tongue
- Constipation, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, or gas
- Nerve problems like numbness or tingling, muscle weakness, and problems walking
- Vision loss
- Mental problems like depression, memory loss, or behavioural changes.
How to top up your B12 levels
“Most people can prevent vitamin B12 deficiency by eating enough meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products and eggs,” says WebMD.
The health site added: “If you don’t eat animal products, or you have a medical condition that limits how well your body absorbs nutrients, you can take vitamin B12 in a multivitamin or other supplement and foods fortified with vitamin B12.”
Vitamin B12 is also added to some foods, such as fortified breakfast cereals, and is available as an oral supplement or an injection.
Speak to your GP if concerned you may be lacking in B12 and what may be the best treatment option for you.