Journal of medical Internet research 2018 01 0520(1) e4 doi 10.2196/jmir.8667
Profound vitamin B12 deficiency is a known cause of disease, but the role of low or intermediate levels of B12 in the development of neuropathy and other neuropsychiatric symptoms, as well as the relationship between eating meat and B12 levels, is unclear.
The objective of our study was to investigate the role of low or intermediate levels of B12 in the development of neuropathy and other neuropsychiatric symptoms.
We used food-related Internet search patterns from a sample of 8.5 million people based in the US as a proxy for B12 intake and correlated these searches with Internet searches related to possible effects of B12 deficiency.
Food-related search patterns were highly correlated with known consumption and food-related searches (ρ=.69). Awareness of B12 deficiency was associated with a higher consumption of B12-rich foods and with queries for B12 supplements. Searches for terms related to neurological disorders were correlated with searches for B12-poor foods, in contrast with control terms. Popular medicines, those having fewer indications, and those which are predominantly used to treat pain, were more strongly correlated with the ability to predict neuropathic pain queries using the B12 contents of food.
Our findings show that Internet search patterns are a useful way of investigating health questions in large populations, and suggest that low B12 intake may be associated with a broader spectrum of neurological disorders than previously thought.