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Why is Vitamin B so important for nerve health and diabetes?

We all know that vitamins and minerals are important for our health – even more when we’re balancing diabetes and blood sugar all day long… But did you know that Vitamin B is essential for your nerve health?

vitamin b, nerve health and diabetes

How nerve health and Vitamin B are related

Sufficient levels of B vitamins work together to improve blood sugar control, promote nerve repair, and help limit diabetic damage. On the flip side, if you’re vitamin B deficient, it can cause blood sugar spikes and lead to nerve damage over time. 

Certain B vitamins help to build and maintain a protective nerve covering, called the myelin sheath, and when this deteriorates, nerves are prevented from sending and receiving messages. As a result, a range of health problems can develop – from muscle weakness to loss of vision and neurological disease. 

According to the US Department of Health and Human Sciences, up to 50% of people with diabetes are affected by nerve damage. 

How to improve nerve health

If you want to boost your Vitamin B12 intake – and improve your nerve health – the first place to start is through a healthy diet. Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products are excellent sources of Vitamin B. Some foods are also fortified with Vitamin B, including nutritional yeast, certain cereals, bread, and tofu. 

But your body must be able to absorb these nutrients.

Some common Type 2 diabetes medications, like metformin, can impact your Vitamin B12 levels. 

Metformin can play a key role in Vitamin B12 deficiencies in people with Type 2 diabetes – and that it’s been shown to inhibit its absorption (according to the National Center for Biotechnical Information (NCBI) in the US).

This is when supplements can be very useful and help people with diabetes to prevent becoming Vitamin B deficient – or return their levels to normal. If you’re vegetarian or follow a vegan diet, chances are good that you’re running low too, and may need supplements to increase your intake.

Your doctor will be able to recommend whether a supplement is required, and also guide you on which Vitamin B format, such as tablets or an injection, is best suited to you. 

Why people with diabetes are more likely to be Vitamin B deficient 

The B vitamins are 8 different vitamins that convert food into energy for the body. Each of them plays a different role and together they help keep you healthy and strong. High blood sugar can damage various areas of the body – like the kidneys and stomach – and make you deficient in everything from Vitamin B1 to B12 over time.

Many people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are deficient in Vitamin B12 particularly. Symptoms include tiredness, weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss and constipation – as well as diabetic neuropathy.

diabetic neuropathy and vitamin b

Diabetic neuropathy in a nutshell:

  • It’s the most common complication of diabetes.
  • It develops slowly and damages the small blood vessels that supply nerves. It also breaks down the protective nerve coverings due to a lack of Vitamin B.  
  • Symptoms include numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, erectile dysfunction, dizziness, muscle weakness, and vision problems. 

Peripheral neuropathy mostly affects the hands and feet, and signs include numbness, tingling, or weakness – as well as sharp, jabbing pains that may get worse at night. It is especially dangerous if you can’t feel pain and an ulcer develops on your foot. 

Diabetic neuropathy cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be treated. Good blood sugar control is the best line of defence and will prevent it from getting worse. Healthy levels of Vitamin B12 are vital, and can help to reduce the damage. 

Find out if you’re Vitamin B deficient 

So how do you find out if you’re Vitamin B deficient?

You can check out this handy symptom checker to start. (By clicking this link, you will be redirected away from Sweet Life and to the Neurobion website.) It features the first signs of Vitamin B levels dipping below normal. The symptoms could apply to other conditions too, so if you’re experiencing symptoms and you suspect a deficiency, see your doctor straight away. 

Blood tests can confirm a deficiency, and whether you can take Vitamin B tablets or if an injection is a better solution for you.

References – read these articles to find out more!

  • Journal of Diabetes & Metabolic Disorders: Vitamin B12 deficiency among patients with
    diabetes mellitus: is routine screening and supplementation justified? –
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23651730/
  • Healthline: What You Need to Know About Diabetes and B-12 –
    https://www.healthline.com/health/diabetes/b12-what-you-need-to-know
  • National Library of Medicine: B Vitamins in the nervous system: Current knowledge of the
    biochemical modes of action and synergies of thiamine, pyridoxine, and cobalamin –
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6930825/
  • National Library of Medicine: Vitamin B12 deficiency and diabetic neuropathy in patients
    taking metformin: : a cross-sectional study –
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6790897/
  • Healthline: 9 Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency –
    https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-b12-deficiency-symptoms

Photo by camilo jimenez and averey on Unsplash

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.