An Alarming Sign Of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

B12 deficiency early in life can lead to these cognitive problems.

B12 deficiency early in life can lead to these cognitive problems.

Difficulties with memory and thinking skills can be signs of vitamin B12 deficiency, research finds.

People with a deficiency in this vitamin can find it hard to recall memories or to concentrate.

A study finds that low levels of vitamin B12 in infancy would result in poor development and performance on visuospatial skills and social perception tasks later on.

Social perception and visuospatial abilities are part of cognitive functioning, like understanding information and responding to them, or making judgments about social rules.

In this study, children low in vitamin B12 at 5 years of age scored poorly in cognitive tests such as recognising other children’s feelings and solving puzzles.

Dr Ingrid Kvestad, the study’s first author, said:

“Our results clearly demonstrate associations between early vitamin B12 status and various measures on development and cognitive functioning, as for example the ability to interpret complex geometrical figures, and the ability to recognize other children`s emotions.”

Their findings suggest that vitamin B12 deficiency causes harm or delays the development of children’s brains.

Previous studies have found that vitamin B12 is important for the developing brain, learning, problem solving skills, and memory.

Dr Kvestad said:

“The number of children in low-income countries that do not develop according to their potential is large.

Our results indicate that correcting children`s vitamin B12 status early may be one measure to secure a healthy development for these vulnerable children.

We are currently in the process of confirming our results in randomized controlled trials.”

Red meat is a good source of vitamin B12, but in South Asia and countries with low incomes, animal products are limited, thus low B12 status is often seen in those population.

For this study, 500 infants in Nepal underwent a blood test to estimate their vitamin B12 levels.

Then five years later, these children underwent several cognitive development tests.

Dr Kvestad said:

“Most of the Nepalese children participating in the study did not have severely low levels of vitamin B12, but their levels were suboptimal, below the recommendations for best possible growth and development.

It’s like a hidden deficiency of the vitamin in these children’s bodies, making their cells work rigorously to signalize imminent danger.

Our study is one contribution in the big puzzle to understand the implications low B12 levels might have on small children’s cognitive development.”

About the author

Mina Dean is a Nutritionist and Food Scientist. She holds a BSc in Human Nutrition and an MSc in Food Science.


The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Kvestad et al., 2021).


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This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.

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