What’s Causing India’s Most Widespread Nutritional Deficiency?

“Eat your vegetables or no dessert” is an age-old mantra since it’s the prerogative of every child to hate veggies! As we grew up, we made our peace with veggies and when we found out about the alleged link between red meat and cancer, it fortified the idea that a veg diet is the way to go. As Indians, many of us grew up on a vegetarian diet and so we find it easier to forgo meat. Yes, a vegetarian diet is very nutritious, but there are a few vitamins and nutrients that cannot be found in fruits and vegetables. This is why a strict vegetarian diet is often linked to a couple of nutritional deficiencies. The main vitamin B12 deficiency cause among Indians is a vegetarian diet that lacks eggs and milk products.

“If you are vegetarian, you are 4.4 times more likely to experience a vitamin B12 deficiency; 81 per cent of Urban Indians have low Vitamin B12”

Research shows that if you are vegetarian, you are 4.4 times more likely to experience a vitamin B12 deficiency, because of the scarcity of good vegetarian  sources of vitamin B12. Dr. Sadanand Naik, the head of bio-chemistry at KEM Hospital, Pune, conducted a study among middle-class men in Pune which showed that 81 percent had low levels of vitamin B12. The study also showed that urban middle class residents were in the highest risk group. Even if your diet contains plenty of vitamin B12 foods, you could still suffer from this vitamin deficiency. Several health conditions, medications, and lifestyle choices can make it difficult for your body to absorb vitamin B12 and so you might land up with a vitaminB12 deficiency.

Celiac Disease And Vitamin B12 Deficiency In India

We often think of celiac disease as a “western problem”, but several studies show that celiac disease is as prevalent in some parts of India as compared to western countries. Celiac disease affects about 1 percent of the Indian population but it is more common in northern India. Celiac disease is caused by an allergy to gluten and this condition causes damage to the lower part of the small intestine which is the area responsible for vitamin B12 absorption. This is why celiac disease can lead to low vitamin B12 levels and is one of the causes of vitamin B12 deficiency.

Can Junk Food Cause Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

Healthy gut bacteria are needed to synthesize vitamin B12 so an overgrowth of bad bacteria will increase the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Research shows that the food you eat determines your gut microbiota – while junk food has been closely linked to bad gut bacteria, foods like yogurt can help to promote good gut bacteria. The increasing popularity of junk food in urban areas could be one of the causes of vitamin B12 deficiency in our cities.

Are There Any Medications That Can Cause Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

Acid-reflux drugs such as proton pump inhibitors and medications to treat/prevent stomach ulcers that contain ranitidine hydrochloride are just a few of the medications that reduce vitamin B12 absorption, especially with prolonged use. Many of these medications also affect the absorption of minerals such as iron, calcium, and magnesium and so they can also cause bone damage which is why it is essential that you talk to your doctor about the possible side effects of medication on vitamin B12 absorption. Metaformin, a common PCOS and diabetes medication has also been linked to an increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Many of these drugs are part of a regular medication plan which is why they are a rather common vitamin B12 deficiency cause.

Does Alcoholism Cause Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

While the occasional Friday night drink will not really affect your vitamin B12 levels, drinking on a regular basis can increase your risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Alcoholics are likely to experience a severe depletion of bodily stores of vitamin B12. Furthermore, chronic alcoholism damages the lining of the stomach and intestines, which impairs the absorption of vitamin B12 and drastically increases the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency.

Apart from these causes of vitamin B12 deficiency, chronic atrophic gastritis, fish tapeworm, and certain types of bariatric surgery can increase a person’s risk for this type of nutritional deficiency. If you fall into any of these risk groups and experience symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, you should be concerned. However, these are not common causes and so you should talk to your doctor, who will suggest tests to determine the cause of your vitamin B12 deficiency and appropriate treatment.

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