Someone asked a question in the PA/B12 Deficiency Group on FaceBook last night, and it inspired me to write this post because it’s important and it’s something that a lot of people clearly don’t know. I can’t find the original post to quote here, so I’ll paraphrase.
Can someone help me? I was injecting B12 every other day, but I stopped because I had a bad reaction to it. After a few months, all my symptoms started to come back, so I started the injections again, but now I think I’m getting too much B12 again, so I’ve had to stop them. I’m still getting symptoms. What can I do?
The poster was asked all the usual questions:
- What were your blood test results? Did you get copies from your doctor? Can you post them here?
- What other supplements are you taking?
- What kind of ‘reaction’ was it?
People also pointed out, quite correctly, that there’s no such thing as ‘too much’ B12. It’s a water soluble vitamin. If you have more of it than your body needs, it will simply be excreted in your urine.
The poster’s answers to the questions about supplements were the most revealing, however. She said she had started out taking a folic acid supplement, but stopped after a while, and just continued with the B12 injections.
This – along with some other things she wasn’t aware of – was the likely cause of her problems.
Most people aren’t aware that vitamins and minerals don’t work like drugs. Most drugs work either by suppressing the symptoms of a disease or by killing off whatever has invaded the body. They often have side effects that we either have to live with if we want the benefits of the drug, or sometimes we can take another drug to suppress the side effects of the first drug!
Vitamin and mineral supplements work by keeping the body in balance, and preventing the symptoms of disease from occurring in the first place, and this requires a different kind of approach.
When a doctor prescribes a drug, he – or she (let’s not be sexist here) – looks at the symptoms and decides which drug is most appropriate to treat those symptoms. Unfortunately, many doctors take the same approach when prescribing vitamins, and those of us who aren’t educated in medicine simply copy this medical approach. If you have the symptoms of a B12 deficiency, just take some B12, either as injections or oral supplements, and you’ll get better. Right?
Wrong, as it happens.
Keeping the body in balance is a delicate act, and each of the processes in the body typically requires more than one vitamin or mineral. For example, vitamin B12 works with vitamin B9 (folate, or folic acid) and vitamin B6 to perform the processes that lower homostyceine levels and reduce the risk of cardio vascular (heart) disease. It works with iron to create healthy blood cells. It also works with minerals, such as potassium and magnesium.
If you try to ‘fix’ a vitamin B12 deficiency by just supplementing B12, you are going to create a whole lot of other problems, as your body gratefully takes the B12 its given and uses it to repair the damage the deficiency has caused … and uses up your stores of B9 and iron, and a range of other vitamins and minerals at the same time.
This is what happened to the person who posted in the group last night and said she was struggling. Her body had plenty of B12 to work with, but she was now suffering from other deficiencies that caused some very similar symptoms – because those new deficiencies were preventing exactly the same processes in the body that the B12 deficiency prevented. On top of that, most of the B12 she was putting in her body was – literally – going to waste because the body can only hold on to so much B12 and the rest was being excreted in her urine.
Doctors don’t have much training in vitamin deficiencies (although this is starting to change, and many younger doctors are more knowledgeable), so unless you are lucky, and have a doctor who has made the effort to educate himself, your doctor is probably not the best person to rely on for help. (Although doctors are useful for arranging tests and writing prescriptions, and this is especially beneficial if you get free medical care or are relying on insurance to pay for your treatment.) A nutritionist is likely to have better knowledge of vitamin and mineral deficiencies and what you need to do to keep your body in balance while treating them, so it’s often a good idea to request a referral. Or ask people who have been where you are and have acquired the knowledge you need.
FaceBook is an amazing resource of knowledge and experience in all kinds of medical conditions, including vitamin and mineral deficiencies. If you are – or believe you might be – B12 deficient, I highly recommend the FaceBook group, Pernicious Anaemia/B12 Deficiency – Support Group. It’s run by a team of knowledgeable and dedicated people whose only goal is to help people suffering from this horrible, and potentially life-threatening, deficiency.