Vitamin deficiency linked to a ‘fivefold’ increase in ‘stomach cancer’

Dr Dawn Harper on signs of vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency

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Stomach cancer is a common malignancy that is often picked up in the later stages when it’s become resistant to treatment. A great number of patients present with weight loss and abdominal pain, but the ill-defined nature of these characteristics makes them hard to spot. Among the disease’s modifiable risk factors is a deficiency in vitamin B12, which affects one in 10 people in the UK.

The health journal Cureus explains that “primary gastric cancer is a fatal malignancy with a poor prognosis as patients remain asymptotic until late-stage progression”.

Though there is no certain way to prevent the disease, many of its risk factors can easily be avoided.

According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the prevalence of B12 deficiency is around six percent in people aged less than 60.

In people aged over 60, however, the prevalence rises significantly to 20 percent.

This is because people of older age are more likely to have insufficient stomach acids, which the body requires for absorption of B12.

This shortfall of stomach acids may also be the root cause of stomach cancer. But not only the elderly are at risk.

The MSD Manual explains: “Younger adults who have pernicious anaemia (due to lack of intrinsic factor) are more likely to develop stomach and other gastrointestinal cancers.”

The International Journal of Cancer, adds: “As vitamin B12 absorption requires intact gastric mucosa to produce acid and intrinsic factor, our findings suggest vitamin B12 as a possible […] marker for the […] gastritis that precedes [gastric cancer].”

In fact, according to scientific findings published in the same journal, “low circulating vitamin B12” may be associated with a “fivefold increase in risk of non-cardiac gastric adenocarcinoma”.

Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency

Most vitamin B12 is stored in the liver, where it upholds the body’s needs for years.

Because the signs of pernicious anaemia tend to develop gradually, the MSD Manual warns this can allow the body to adapt.

Subsequently, the body may only produce mild symptoms, even when anaemia is severe.

The most common signs to look out for are:

  • Paleness
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue.

“If severe, anaemia causes shortness of breath, dizziness, and rapid heart rate,” adds the health body.

Vitamin B12 occurs naturally in animal products such as eggs, dairy and meat, which bind to intrinsic factors in the stomach when ingested before being absorbed into the small intestine.

Once diagnosed, management of vitamin B12 deficiency will be guided by the extent of the condition.

An inability to absorb vitamin B12 may call for regular injections or supplementation.

Neither of the above treatments, however, should be considered without the supervision of a qualified healthcare provider.

Most people with adequate levels of intrinsic factor can avoid a deficiency by emphasising animal food products in their diet.

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