What is Vitamin B12 and Folate?Vitamin B12 is a nutrient from food we eat that helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy. It also assists with making DNA in our cells. Vitamin B12 is an important nutrient to prevent anemia. Folate is a water soluble B vitamin that is found in food and helps create and maintain cells including the DNA and RNA, the building blocks of cells. Folate is used to make red blood cells that prevent anemia and it is also essential for the metabolism of the amino acid, homocysteine.
Why Would I Need a B12 and Folate Blood Test?Vitamin B12 and folate blood tests are typically ordered when detecting deficiencies or to help determine the cause of certain anemias. Malnutrition or malabsorption of these vitamins can stem from people that have
- liver disease
- gastric cancer
- celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease
- cystic fibrosis
If the body is not absorbing B12 and folate from the diet or insufficient amounts of these vitamins are not being ingested, then the blood lab test will indicate low levels. Vitamin B12 and folate tests may be ordered along with a Complete Blood Count (CBC) and homocysteine so a physician can provide a correct diagnosis regarding any low test values that show a deficiency.
What Are the Main Causes of Low B12 or Folate?
- Insufficient ingestion of foods that contain Vitamin B12 and Folate. This is very uncommon, but it is more prevalent amongst vegans who do not consume any animal products, including milk and eggs. Most cereals, breads and other grains are fortified, so even vegans will usually get sufficient intake.
- Malabsorption occurs with conditions that interfere with the absorption of Vitamin B12 or folate in the small intestine.
What are the Symptoms of Low B12 Levels?
The most common symptom of B12 deficiency is anemia which is typically revealed in a simple Complete Blood Count (CBC) test. Less severe symptoms include:
- muscle weakness
- unsteady gait
- low blood pressure
- cognitive problems (memory)
What are Symptoms of Low Folate Levels?
Low folate levels may take months before any signs or symptoms appear. Additionally the symptoms are very general and therefore can be signs of other health issues or diseases.
- Fatigue and weakness
- Headaches and difficulty concentrating
- In the early stages, the tongue may be red and painful leading to a smooth shiny surface in the chronic stages of deficiency.