B12 and Folate (BSH 2014)
Cobalamin Deficiency (B12)
Infection – H. pylori, Giardia, Tapeworm
Malabsorption – Pernicious Anaemia
Co-morbidities – Gastric resection / banding, Coeliac, Tropical Sprue, Crohn’s
Congenital – Transcobalamin deficiency, Imerslund Grasbeck Syndrome
Due to higher requirements
Malabsorption – Achlorhydria 2o to PPI or atrophic gastritis
Neurological presentation in absence of haematological abnormality is common.
Patients with clear clinical signs of deficiency may have serum cobalamin levels seemingly within the normal range, further testing required.
Hx – Anaemia, Dietary history, AI disease (vitiligo, hypothyroid, pernicious anaemia), Glossitis, Paresthesia, peripheral neuropathy, GI malabsorption symptoms (pale stool, abdo pain, nocturnal motions, mouth/anal ulceration), GI surgical history, Neurocognitive symptoms, Alcohol, Drugs (metformin, PPI, COCP), Pregnancy.
FBC – macrocytic anaemia (neuro impairment occurs with a normal MCV in 25% of cases)
Film - >5% neutrophils with ³5 lobes, oval macrocytes, megaloblasts, megametamyelocytes.
Quantifies inactive transcobalamin I and III-bound (holohaptocorrin) and active transcobalamin-II-bound (holotranscobalamin)
Widely available, cheap & automated
Lacks sensitivity and specificity
False normal results occur in presence of high titre anti-intrinsic factor antibodies
No clear ‘normal’ result, but <148 pmol/l used.
Plasma Methylmelonic Acid (MMA)
Increased in cobalamin deficiency (in particular, very high levels of >0.75umol/l)
Also increases in renal disease, bacterial overgrowth and haemoconcentration
Plasma total homocysteine (tHcy)
Increased in cobalamin deficiency, often rises early in deficiency
Also increases in renal disease, folate & B6 deficiency, hypothyroidism
Holotranscobalamin (HoloTc) - <32pmol/l suggest deficiency
Immunoassay for the ‘active’ fraction. More sensitive and specific
Investigating the Cause
Anti-Intrinsic Factor Antibodies (Anti-IFAB)
Automated chemiluminescent assay
95% positive predictive value for pernicious anaemia, ie low false positive rate.
But, anti-IFAB only present in 40-60% of pernicious anaemia cases
False positive may occur following recent cobalamin injection
Anti-Gastric parietal cell Antibodies (Anti-GPC)
Positive in 80% of pernicious anaemia, and 10% of normal population
Schilling test no longer in use.
1mg IM 3x per week for 2 weeks, then every 3 months
1mg IM alt days until Sx stop improving, minimum 3 weeks, then every 2 months
Reticulocyte count should rise within 7-10 days, reassess diagnosis if not
Low dose 50microg PO daily
Transient hypokalaemia, itch, rash, fever, nausea, dizziness, anaphylaxis
Metformin – Mechanism not known. Ix and treat as per all other patients
HRT – Asymptomatic women on OCP or HRT with a level 110-148 pmol/l do not need further Ix
Pregnancy – Levels fall in pregnanct, short course of treatment if symptomatic
Vegetarian – Consider supplements, esp when pregnant or breast feeding
Post-GI surgery – Monitor long term for deficiency and consider low dose replacement
Infancy – Check MMA or tHcy if normal serum levels but deficiency suspected. Consider genetics.
BSH recommended investigation pathways
If strong suspicion of B12 deficiency with objective parameters, e.g. anaemia
B12 <148 pmol/l --> Check Anti-IF Ab and start B12 replacement
B12 >148 pmol/l --> Check Anti-IF AB, MMA, Check MMA, tHcy or HoloTC and start B12 replacement whilst awaiting results.
If B12 has been check for non-specific symptoms in absence of objective parameters
B12 <110 pmol/l --> Management as above
B12 >110 pmol/l --> Repeat level in 1-2 months --> persistent low level, check anti-IF Ab and consider 4 weeks low dose oral B12 with repeat level in 3-4 months --> peristent low level, check MMA, tHcy or HoloTC and consider treating as antibody-negative pernicious anaemia.
Folate = term encompassing all biologically active forms of the vitamin
Folic Acid = the synthetic preparation
Both are absorbed in the small intestine & half of body folate found in the liver.
Folate is required for DNA synthesis and therefore earliest signs of deficiency present in the most rapidly dividing cells – bone marrow and GI tract
False negatives – test performed soon after oral folate intake
False positives – anorexia, acute alcohol intake, pregnancy, anticonvulsant therapy
Chemiluminescent test for folate binding protein
No consensus on normal range
<7nmol/l (3ug/l) often used
7-10nmol/l (3-4.5ug/l) is indeterminate zone
Red cell folate
Assessment of tissue folate status over lifetime of the red cell
Great number of pre-analytical and analytical variables
Plasma total Homocysteine (tHcy)
Increases with folate deficiency
Also rises with B12/B6 def, renal disease, hypothyroidism.
Levels fall with several weeks of folate deprivation but not clear how long have to remain deficient for to cause clinical effects.
Isolated folate deficiency is very rare. Look for other nutrient deficiencies.
Poor diet, alcoholism, GI disease, Increased red cell destruction, Exfoliative skin disorders, Pregnancy, MTHFR gene mutation
Goat’s milk much lower folate content than cow’s milk
>80g of ethanol a day increases risk of defiency (e.g. 8 glasses of wine per day)
In pregnancy, folate requirements increase and preferentially delivered to fetus
5mg daily for 4 months
15mg daily in malabsorptive states
200-500 ug daily prophylaxis in pregnancy
5mg daily as prophylaxis in haemolysis or chronic dialysis