Experiencing ‘ataxia’ while walking can signal ‘irreversible’ B12 deficiency, warns NHS

Vitamin B12 helps your body create and maintain your brain cells. It’s linked with creating substances that help your brain tissue communicate. Low levels of the substance can result in some nasty consequences that are sometimes “irreversible”. One of these more dire consequences is the “loss” of physical ability – known as ataxia.

According to health professionals at the Mayo Clinic vitamin deficiency anaemia can develop “slowly” over months or even years.

The signs may be “subtle” but get more intense as the “deficiency worsens”.

The NHS explains that most cases of vitamin B12 are easily treatable, but complications can “occasionally develop” if you’ve been deficient for a long time.

These complications often come as neurological disorders – problems with how the nerves around your body communicate.

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The health body goes on to say “if neurological problems do develop, they may be irreversible”.

The health body notes that vitamin B12 deficiency “can cause” a “loss of physical coordination (ataxia), which can affect your whole body and cause difficulty speaking or walking”.

Other neurological symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency that can be spotted include pins and needles, and memory loss.

People may also find their vision starts to play up, and in some cases experience numbness or tingling in their legs.


Vitamin B12 deficiency is also linked to the onset of psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.

One recent case report, published in the journal European Psychiatry, a trusted, peer-reviewed journal – described a 52-year-old man who “presented with psychotic features: persecutory delusions, tactile and auditory hallucinations”.

According to the study, psychiatric disorders from vitamin B12 deficiency are “more common” in elderly patients with roughly 10 to 20 percent showing signs.

Vitamin B12 is found in lots of foods, including meat, fish, milk, cheese eggs, and some fortified breakfasts.

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A vitamin deficiency can be caused by a diet low in food containing nutrients. But in some cases, a B12 deficiency can result from an inability to absorb vitamin B12 in the digestive system.

This lack of absorption can lead to pernicious anaemia.

This type of vitamin B12 deficiency can have even more serious consequences, including stomach cancer, according to the NHS.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can be treated with vitamin B12 injections or dieting. Doctors may give you one of two vitamin B12 injections: hydroxocobalamin and cyanocobalamin.

And if your problems are due to a lack of the vitamin in your diet, they may prescribe vitamin B12 tablets to have daily.

The NHS explains: “People who find it difficult to get enough vitamin B12 in their diets, such as those following a vegan diet, may need vitamin B12 tablets for life.”

Mayo Clinic adds: “When taken at appropriate doses, vitamin B-12 supplements are generally considered safe.”

The recommended amount of vitamin B12 for adults between 19 to 64 is around 1.5 micrograms in the UK. But according to the Mayo Clinic, absorbing higher doses than the recommended amount has been found to be safe.

“Your body absorbs only as much as it needs, and any excess passes through your urine,” it concludes.

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