A Vitamin B12 deficiency can be life altering

I have never been great at taking my vitamins. I understand the benefits of getting enough vitamins, and tried to get them from natural sources, but I didn’t consider the risks of being deficient. At least not until I experienced a severe B12 deficiency in July 2013. I’m not sure when the deficiency started because I didn’t go to the doctor until I was feeling some of the more severe symptoms (more on that later). So, I’m here to tell you that this isn’t one of those things you “hope will go away” because it won’t get better unless treated. And the longer you wait, the larger a risk of permanent damage to the body. I am grateful I acted when I did.

This is my experience…

I was on vacation visiting a friend in Vancouver when I realized that my head rushes were not only more frequent but more intense then usual (the fact that I often had then should have already been a red flag), but I didn’t think to much of it, being on vacation. Since I was about 3 years old, I didn’t have the best respiratory system, so I didn’t think too much of any shortness of breath I experienced, thought looking back there were times I shouldn’t have been short of breath, being a fit yogi. Still, I didn’t think too much of it. Only when I came back home did things really start to sink in. It started with random headaches. Thinking I was dehydrated, I upped my water intake. It didn’t solve the problem. I had a few sips of a beer once and felt ill within moments but still thought it was just dehydration.

After a week of being back, I was feeling exhausted and no matter how much I slept, I was still tired. Not to mention I had trouble sleeping at times too. I thought maybe it was just the intense summer heat and recovering from vacationing. But when I was trying to work, I couldn’t focus, on anything, even tasks I enjoyed. My appetite wasn’t great, I was too tired to make food and I felt nauseated a lot of the time. I actually thought I was pregnant for about 2 weeks, regardless of how impossible that was. On that topic – my libido tanked, completely. I had absolutely no interest in any act of intimacy. I felt completely asexual. I didn’t even want to be touched, and I’m the queen of hugs.

Next came the moods. Although I’m generally sensitive and feel things deeply, I have never in my life been so mercurial. I was a mess. I started to lose interest in things I loved, things that previously excited me, and though I’m generally a people loving extrovert, I didn’t want to be around people. I’m not talking a healthy amount of alone time. I didn’t want to see anyone and when I forced myself to, because normally that makes me feel better, I would just be annoyed with whomever I was with. I felt sad, confused, very easily frustrated and had little patience for anything; once again very odd feeling since I am known to be quiet patient and calm. In short, I wasn’t myself, I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted in my life. I had no sparkle, no zest for life. I felt lost. It did not feel good.

I went to the doctor and after a blood test to rule out other possible problems, I was diagnosed with a severe B12 deficiency and prescribed to start B12 shots immediately. Shots – every day for a week, every week for a month and every month for…who knows how long. In the mean time I, a bit reluctantly, started eating a bit of meat and now I make sure I eat fish as well as buy products that are fortified. I think it’s time to go for my follow up blood test to see where I’m at.

So what is Vitamin B12 good for and how does a deficiency happen?

Here’s a quick rundown from Wikipedia:

Vitamin B12, vitamin B12 or vitamin B-12, also called cobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin with a key role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system, and for the formation of blood. It is one of the eight B vitamins. It is normally involved in the metabolism of every cell of the human body, especially affecting DNA synthesis and regulation, but also fatty acid synthesis (especially odd chain fatty acids) and energy production.

In addition, because B12 helps with the formation of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the body’s tissue. I think we can agree that a deficiency is serious business, but where can we get it?

The highest sources of B12 are meats, seafood and animal byproducts. This of course means that vegetarians, and especially vegans, have to be extra aware to supplement. Many cereals and non-dairy milks are fortified with B12, so options exist if you, like me, are not good at taking a pill every morning.

Other than this dietary cause, B12 deficiency can happen to many simply because the body isn’t able to absorb B12. In pernicious anemia, there is a lack of a protein called intrinsic factor, which is made in the stomach and absorbs B12. Other common causes are a thinning of the stomach lining, which can happen with age, surgery where parts of the stomach are removed, certain diseases such as Crohn’s, celiac or a parasite, certain autoimmune disorders, excessive alcohol use and long term use of acid-reducing drugs. (source: WebMD)

What are some symptoms to watch for?

As I said earlier, I’m not sure when it all began for me but I could have been experiencing some symptoms for months thinking nothing of them. Here is a list of what to watch for (source WedMD)

weakness, tiredness or light-headedness

rapid heartbeat and breathing

pale skin

sore tongue

easy bruising or bleeding, including bleeding gums

stomach upset and weight loss

diarrhea or constipation

If the deficiency is not corrected, it can damage the nerve cells. If this happens, vitamin B12 deficiency effects may include:

tingling or numbness in fingers and toes

difficulty walking

mood changes or depression

memory loss, disorientation, and dementia

I experienced all the symptoms in one way or another and do not wish this on anyone. If you feel there is a chance you might be deficient, see your doctor right away. Your body, mind and sanity will thank you.