3 Vitamins That Cause Weight Gain

by Rakib Sarwar, RPh on January 2, 2020
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The majority of publications regarding weight control tend to focus on people who are overweight and obese. The information provided would usually explain how weight can be lost, offering diets, supplement recommendations, and exercise plans that focuses on burning excess fat in the body. While there has been a decrease in the number of people who are underweight over the last couple of decades, an estimated 1.4% of adults and 3.8% of children are still underweight (1). 

For underweight individuals, gaining some extra weight becomes essential. It is, however, not those who are underweight that might want to gain a few extra pounds – think about individuals who are looking to gain muscle mass. In these cases, weight gain is usually the goal, especially if the person is at a healthy weight at the start of their program. In this post, we consider a couple of important vitamins that might aid in weight gain. 

  1. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is part of the B vitamins family and is crucial for the production of red blood cells in the body. In addition to helping the body make red blood cells, vitamin B12 also plays a role in DNA and nerve production. There are many other important functions that the vitamin contributes to as well. 

A vitamin B12 deficiency means the functions that rely on the presence of the nutrient will all become impaired. Studies have shown that age is one particularly significant factor that plays a role in the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, with an estimated 6% of the population aged 60 and older being affected (2). Among individuals who are treated for anemia, up to 2% suffers from a severe vitamin B12 deficiency. One study (3) found that up to 20% of individuals who present symptoms of clinical macrocytosis are also affected by a significant deficiency of this particular vitamin. 

The reason why vitamin B12 could be a possible option when it comes to vitamins that may lead to weight gain is due to the complications that a deficiency of the nutrient has in the body. 

According to a publication by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (4), two crucial symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency that we want to note here includes:

  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite

The weight loss is primarily caused by a significant reduction in the patient’s appetite. When the appetite is suppressed due to a deficiency of vitamin B12, it means daily caloric intake is likely to become reduced as well. In turn, the person may start to lose weight if they go into a calorie deficit – which means they consume fewer calories than they use each day. 

Signs And Symptoms Of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Apart from a reduction in appetite and possibly losing weight, there are other signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency that people should be wary of as well. The presence of weight loss and no appetite for food, combined with these symptoms, may indicate a serious deficiency of the vitamin – and would certainly be a reason for the individual to see a doctor. 

Signs to look out for include (5):

  • Balance problems
  • Staggering while walking
  • Tingling sensation in the legs, feet, or hands
  • Numbness in the legs, feet, or hands
  • Inflamed tongue
  • Cognitive impairment, such as problems with reasoning and thinking
  • Memory loss
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness

Since vitamin B12 is essential for the production of red blood cells, it is also important that patients are aware of symptoms associated with anemia. This condition can become life-threatening if it is not treated before severe complications developed. 

Some of the symptoms associated with anemia are similar to those caused by a deficiency in vitamin B12, but there are some additional symptoms that may further signal the development of this particular complication. 

Patients who suspect that they might be suffering from a vitamin B12 deficiency should lookout for the following symptoms that are linked to anemia (6):

  • Energy runs out quickly
  • Fatigue comes on easily without much exertion 
  • Heartbeat would be unusually rapid
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Leg cramps
  • Insomnia
  • Pale skin
  • Dizziness
  • Concentration difficulties

A person with anemia is likely to find that exercise, and physical activity causes shortness of breath, headaches, and the unusual heartbeat to become worse. 

Diagnosing Vitamin B12 Deficiency

While there are experienced physicians who can identify B12 deficiency from a physical examination, these symptoms can be caused by other conditions and underlying diseases as well. For this reason, a person who shows signs of vitamin B12 deficiency is also not advised to start taking supplements that contain this vitamin simply. 

A blood test is needed to confirm a diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency. The patient needs to arrange a consultation with their physician and advise them of the symptoms experienced. A blood sample will be collected from the patient and sent off to a laboratory to test for vitamin B12 levels. If levels of the vitamin are low, then the physician may advise on the appropriate medication, such as a Cobalamin injection that helps to increase the vitamin levels in the patient’s bloodstream. 

Increasing Intake Of Vitamin B12

While it is possible to obtain an injection in order to increase the levels of vitamin B12 in the blood, many patients would prefer to opt for home-based options first. This would help them possibly restore levels of the vitamin without the need for undergoing treatment with synthetic chemicals. 

It is possible to take a vitamin supplement that contains this nutrient, but in such a case, this would also be a synthetic chemical that the patient is placing into their body. 

This is not a vitamin than the body makes itself, and it is crucial to understand that vitamin B12 is not found in plant-based foods. Thus, vegans and vegetarians might need to consider supplements or injection if they have a deficiency of the nutrient. 

Excellent sources of vitamin B12 that a person can consume include:

  • Eggs
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Liver
  • Shellfish
  • Fish
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Low-fat milk
  1. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is probably one of the most well-known nutrients. It is often advised to take vitamin C to help boost the immune system, especially as flu season comes closer. This vitamin, however, has several other important functions to contribute to the human body. In fact, tissue throughout the entire body depends on the presence of vitamin C for growth. The nutrient also helps to repair damaged tissue. 

Some of the most critical functions that the vitamin plays in the body include (7):

  • To assist in the formation of collagen and other proteins that are used in the production of skin tissue, ligaments, blood vessels, and tendons
  • To help scar tissue form and wounds heal
  • To ensure teeth, bones, and cartilage can be maintained
  • To assist in the repairing process of teeth, bones, and cartilage

Vitamin C is also essential for the absorption of a mineral known as iron. This vitamin is classified as an antioxidant, which helps to protect the body against free radicals. Free radicals build up in the body and have been linked to arthritis, heart disease, cancer, and many other severe health conditions. 

Similar to the case with vitamin B12, when a person suffers a deficiency of vitamin C, complications can develop that may lead to weight loss. A serious complication caused by vitamin C deficiency is known as scurvy. While relatively rare in modern-day, the consequences of developing scurvy can be disastrous. 

As vitamin C levels in the body start to deplete, weakness and other problems can develop. The physiological impact of a vitamin C deficiency can also lead to weight loss in a person. 

Signs And Symptoms Of Vitamin C Deficiency

There are several complications and symptoms that can develop when a person is deficient of vitamin C. While weight loss is one of these potential issues that a person can run into, there are accompanying symptoms that may also develop. 

Patients who might be at risk of vitamin C deficiency should lookout for the following signs (8):

  • Vague myalgias
  • Arthralgias
  • Irritability
  • Weakness
  • Lassitude

When the deficiency becomes more severe, to the level where scurvy starts to develop, symptoms may become more serious. The following symptoms have been associated with scurvy:

  • Swollen gums that are spongy and purple
  • Gums bleed easily, and teeth may become loose
  • Coiled hair
  • Perifollicular hemorrhages
  • Follicular hyperkeratosis

A vitamin C deficiency also causes a delay in wound healing. Some people may experience the spontaneous development of hemorrhages. 

Diagnosing Vitamin C Deficiency

The diagnosis of a vitamin C deficiency can also only be made through a blood test. The physician will need to collect blood from the patient, which then needs to be submitted to a laboratory for the appropriate testing procedures. The patient will then be notified when the test results have been returned, providing them with details on whether or not they do have low vitamin C levels. 

Increasing Intake Of Vitamin C

Vitamin C is found in a relatively large number of foods. While supplements are available, it is often advised to aim for including more whole foods that contain the vitamin. Oranges are most commonly associated with vitamin C, but many people do not realize that there are many other fruits and vegetables that contain a much more significant amount of this nutrient. 

To increase the intake of vitamin C, a patient should aim to eat more of the following foods:

  • Green peppers
  • Red peppers
  • Sweet potatoes
  • White potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Winter squash
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Spinach
  • Turnips
  • Cabbage
  1. Folate

Folate, also known as folic acid, is another important vitamin that helps the body produce red blood cells, similar to vitamin B12. The nutrient also has other roles to play in the body and can lead to a condition known as folate-deficiency anemia when levels of the vitamin become too low in the bloodstream. 

Folate-deficiency anemia means there is an insufficient volume of blood running through the circulatory system. This reduces oxygen and nutrient delivery through the body as well, affecting organs and all tissues within the body. 

People who have a deficiency of folate tend to experience a decrease in their appetite. When the person is not hungry, then they are less likely to ensure they consume an adequate amount of calories each day. In turn, this can lead to weight loss. 

Signs And Symptoms Of A Folate Deficiency

When folic acid levels in the body become low, poor appetite and weight loss are not the only symptoms to look out for. Patients should also be wary of these symptoms (9):

  • Pale skin
  • Irritability
  • A lack of energy
  • Becoming tired very easily
  • Diarrhea
  • The tongue may be tender 

Diagnosing Folate Deficiency

If a patient is suspected of suffering from a deficiency in this vitamin, then there are multiple blood tests that a physician may order. These blood tests will provide data on folate levels in the body, as well as help the physician determine if the patient is at risk of folate-deficiency anemia. 

Increasing Intake Of Folate

The body requires folate from several food sources, as it does not produce this vitamin itself. Fortunately, there is a relatively large number of foods, including both fruits and vegetables, that are high in folate. Individuals who may be experiencing symptoms of a folate deficiency should aim to include more of the following foods in their diet:

  • Eggs
  • Leafy greens
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Citrus fruit
  • Beets
  • Legumes
  • Asparagus

Conclusion

Weight gain is often a goal for an underweight person, or for those who wish to put on extra pounds in the form of muscle mass. Many strategies can be used to gain weight in a healthy way. Addressing potential nutrient deficiencies associated with weight loss is one of the most important starting points. We shared some of these important vitamins, as well as specific nutrients that may further contribute to weight gain. 

References

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5800307/

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19116323

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441923/

(4) https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/pernicious-anemia

(5) https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/vitamin-b12-deficiency-can-be-sneaky-harmful-201301105780

(6) https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/understanding-anemia-symptoms#1

(7) https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002404.htm

(8) https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/nutritional-disorders/vitamin-deficiency,-dependency,-and-toxicity/vitamin-c

(9) https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/folate-deficiency-anemia


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