Evidence from web-based dietary search patterns to the role of B12 deficiency in chronic pain

Eitan Giat, Elad Yom-Tov

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 of eating meat and B12 levels is unclear. Here we use food-related internet search patterns from a sample of 8.5 million US-based people as a proxy to B12 intake and correlate these searches with internet searches related to possible effects of B12 deficiency. Food-related search patterns are highly correlated with known consumption and food-related searches (Spearman 0.69). 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 are more strongly correlated with the ability to predict neuropathic pain queries using the B12 contents of food. Our findings provide evidence for the utility of using Internet search patterns to investigate health questions in large populations and suggest that low B12 intake may be associated with a broader spectrum of neurological disorders than currently appreciated.

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