Vitamin B deficiency signs can show up in mouth, eyes


Last week’s column began a discussion on the outward, visible signs of vitamin deficiencies, starting with vitamin A. Today let’s continue with the family of B vitamins, called collectively the B complex vitamins.

First, an understanding of what they are. Separately they are known as:

Vitamin B1 (thiamine)

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)

Vitamin B3 (niacin or niacinamide)

Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine, pyridoxal, or pyridoxamine, or pyridoxine hydrochloride)

Vitamin B7 (biotin)(vitamin H)

Vitamin B9 (folic acid)

Vitamin B12 (various cobalamins; commonly cyanocobalamin in vitamin supplements)

The B vitamins are referred to as “complex” because they mostly work synergistically. What this means is that being in the same family, they usually function together as catalysts called enzymes, one requiring others in order to be effective.

For that reason, even though different references give us different symptoms for specific B vitamin deficiencies, I choose to consider all of the symptoms collectively as simply a general vitamin B deficiency because that is the way we ought to treat the problem.

Some studies indicate that an overdose of one specific B vitamin might even create a deficiency of others. This is the main reason why I recommend only natural B supplements. In nature in virtually every case, the B vitamins are found as the complete complex.

A deficiency in vitamin B can be manifested in several areas of the body but primarily in three: the heart, the gastrointestinal tract and the nervous system.

Psychoneurosis symptoms also have been linked a B vitamin deficiency. Among them are depression, irritability anxiety, forgetfulness, difficulty in orderly thinking, vague fears, uneasiness and feeling of being persecuted.

Before B deficiencies manifest themselves in major health issues, they can be detected in minor, “subclinical” deficiencies and can often be headed off with supplements. One such sign is angular cheilitis or cheilosis, a cracking and redness at the corners of the mouth. You might be surprised when you see how common this is, especially in children and teenagers.

Tongue inflammation on the tip and margins is another sign. To recognize it one would have to do some comparisons in the mirror and with friends and relatives to get some idea of what “normal” is.

Our tongues are literally covered with papillae, or taste buds. Ordinarily, they should be of a specific size. In a vitamin B deficiency, the buds become red, enlarged and inflamed. This can be an indication of an early vitamin B deficiency.

If the deficiency is long lived, the buds atrophy, or shrink. This is recognizable as smooth, shiny marginal areas of the tongue where buds have simply disappeared.

Of course, a B deficient reddened tongue would have to be differentiated from a tongue that has, for example been scalded with a recent cup of hot coffee. To get a more or less second opinion as to whether or not someone has a B vitamin deficiency we can go to the next sign, called “injected sclera.”

This sign is found in the eyes. When looking at the whites of the eyes, they should be clear white — in fact, bluish white.

When injected sclera is present, blood vessels within the whites of the eyes have become enlarged and visible. I describe it as looking like “road maps.”

This is rather easy to spot when you study the eyes of friends and relatives and make comparisons. Of course, there are degrees of the severity of this condition, just like the other signs listed above.

Also, the eyes can become “injected” or reddened from other causes, such as exposure to considerable dust or smoke or wearing hard contact lenses.

Hence, one sign alone will not convince me a person has a B vitamin deficiency. But if you find both the tongue signs as well as the eye signs, you can be rather sure you are dealing with a B vitamin deficiency.

As we did in last week’s column, these outward signs can be seen in pictures I’ve collected on my website. Visit and go the section called “Let’s Talk Health.”

Retired chiropractic doctor Francis Trapani’s background includes 41 years of practice plus doing investigative reporting and fitness programs for broadcast media in Hawaii. He has written three books and is working on a yoga self-help manual “The Doctor Prescribes Yoga.” For more information, go to


Log in to comment