Health

What is vitamin B12 deficiency?

Written by Louise

(This is the second of a series of posts on B12 deficiency. You can read the first post here.)

As soon as I realised I was deficient in vitamin B12, I ordered some supplements, and started taking them a few days later. I thought that would be the end of it – I would just take the supplements and my symptoms would gradually resolve themselves – until I got talking to someone on FaceBook who suffers from Pernicious Anaemia, and she introduced me to a group specifically for sufferers of B12 deficiency.

(Pernicious Anaemia is an auto-immune condition that makes the suffer unable to convert the B12 in food to a form that’s usable by the body. If you suffer from PA, it doesn’t matter how much B12 you get in your diet; you are always going to be deficient.

I soon learned that there are other causes of B12 deficiency, and I listed the ones that affect me personally in this post. There are other causes, and the most common ones include:

  • An inability to absorb B12 (due to various different causes)
  • A diet deficient in B12 (such as the diets of many vegetarians and most vegans)
  • An autoimmune disorder (Pernicious Anaemia is one, but there are others)
  • A genetic defect
  • Medications that hinder the body’s ability to use B12 (my asthma medication is just one example)
  • Deficiency in childhood, caused by the mother being deficient while pregnant or breastfeeding.

There is a more detailed list here.

As I spent more time in the FaceBook group, I learned B12 deficiency causes a lot more problems than just anaemia. It can also cause a range of neurological, psychiatric, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal symptoms, as well as a range of other things that seem to be unrelated. I soon discovered that my persistent headaches (which I’ve been suffering from for years), my strange eyesight problems (blurring of my peripheral vision and loss of depth perception that I’d put down to aging), as well as inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, dizziness (and fear I was going to fall in the swimming pool every time I clean it), and apathy (otherwise known – in my world – as inability to give a shit) could also be caused by B12 deficiency.

Once again, there’s a more detailed list of symptoms here (and the whole site is very useful, by the way).

B12 deficiency is often not diagnosed because doctors mistake it for another condition, like chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia, and sufferers are often left to struggle on untreated for want of a simple vitamin. When treatment is given, it’s often inadequate, and not continued long enough to relieve symptoms. An illness that has spent many years developing doesn’t tend to go away quickly.

I soon discovered that my supplements were woefully inadequate to treat my own deficiency, and bought some stronger ones that are more easily absorbed. I’ve taken to cutting them in half and spreading them over the day in the hope that more B12 will get into my system. But I’m still one of the lucky ones because my deficiency is mainly due to diet. My body is capable to absorbing and processing B12, as long as I give it enough to work with. For many people with B12 deficiency (including PA sufferers), the only option is a lifetime of injections, and dependence on medical professionals to correctly diagnose and treat their condition. Some turn to self-injecting with supplies bought from a local pharmacy … or via the internet if they’re unlucky enough to live in one of the many countries where injectable B12 is only available on prescription.

After 10 days or so of taking supplements, I noticed some of my symptoms were starting to improve. I was less tired, and no longer feeling the need to sleep for a couple of hours in the afternoon, and the “brain fog” that so many sufferers of B12 deficiency complain of was beginning to lift. My research had turned up a few things that I thought would be interesting to my friends and family, so I decided to share what I had discovered.

Continued …

About the author

Louise

Animal lover, asexual, blogger, cyclist, daughter, dreamer, entrepreneur, expat, optimist, procrastinator, reader, realist, rescuer, runner, sister, writer ... Hate labels? Me too. Just read my blog.

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