Vitamin B Deficiencies

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General Information

DEFINITION – Diseases caused by inadequate or absent B vitamins: B-1 (thiamine); B-2, (riboflavin); niacin; B-6 (pyridoxine); B-12 (cyanocobalamin). Vitamins are organic chemicals that occur in many natural foods. They are necessary for normal body function. B vitamins are water soluble and excess amounts cannot be stored by the body.

BODY PARTS INVOLVED – Central nervous system; heart; skin; eyes; blood.

SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED – Both sexes; all ages.


One or several of the following deficiencies may exist at the same time:

  • B-1 deficiency (beriberi). Tingling or loss of sensation in the legs. Weakness. Congestive heart failure. Mental changes, including poor memory or psychosis. Lack of urinary control. Abdominal pain.
  • B-2 deficiency. Cracked lips. Pallor. Sore tongue.
  • Niacin deficiency (pellagra). Fatigue and weakness. Poor appetite. Inflamed skin that may blister, weep and split. Sore, burning mouth and tongue. Indigestion, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Mental changes, including confusion and psychosis.
  • B-6 deficiency. Dermatitis. Sore mouth and tongue. Abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Convulsions.
  • B-12 deficiency.


  • Malnutrition, including malnutrition incurred from fad diets or malnutrition present in infants born to malnourished mothers.
  • Alcoholism.
  • Gastrointestinal diseases with poor absorption.
  • Stomach surgery (B-12 deficiency only).
  • Use of some medications, such as isoniazid or oral contraceptives, which inactivate vitamin B-6.


  • Adults over 60.
  • Improper diet.
  • Prolonged illness.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Smoking (maybe). This decreases absorption of vitamin C and may affect other vitamins.


  • Eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet.
  • Take multiple-vitamin supplements if you cannot eat well.

What To Expect


  • Your own observation of symptoms.
  • Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.
  • Laboratory blood studies of vitamin levels.


  • Self-care after diagnosis.
  • Doctor’s treatment.
  • Hospitalization for severe malnutrition of alcoholism.


  • Permanent brain or nerve damage.
  • Severe heart disease.

PROBABLE OUTCOME – Prompt recovery if vitamin B deficiency is treated with proper nutrition and oral supplements in the early stages. Without treatment, severe malnutrition can cause permanent disability or death.

How To Treat

GENERAL MEASURES – No specific instructions except those listed under other headings.

MEDICATION – Your doctor may prescribe vitamin supplements, depending on the type of deficiency. Don’t take more than the prescribed amount. Excessive doses of vitamin B-6 can cause the same symptoms produced by deficiency.

ACTIVITY – No restrictions.

DIET – No special diet. Prepare well-balanced meals. Don’t overcook food or expose it to the air for prolonged periods – these destroy vitamins. Use fresh fruits, vegetables and meats rather than processed foods, if possible.

Call Your Doctor If

  • You have symptoms of vitamin B deficiency.

From the Complete Guide to Symptoms, Illness & Surgery by H. Winter Griffith, M.D. © 1995 The Putnam Berkley Group, Inc.; electronic rights by Medical Data Exchange.

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