The Dangers of a B12 Deficiency and why it could be more serious than you think
(Update: March 2020 – If you think you may have a nutrient deficiency, be sure to read my post about “leaky” gut, which is also known to be present in those with an auto-immune disease.)
I’ve been battling sickness for a while now and wanted to make time to share the importance of B12. I hope you don’t dismiss this post as some boring lecture about vitamins. I feel compelled to share my story after experiencing a B12 deficiency first-hand. Being B12 deficient is often easily reversible, but if left untreated for a long time the symptoms can potentially become irreversible and even lead to death. Yikes!
My goal is to spread awareness so we can reduce suffering from something that is so easily preventable and treatable.
It seems a B12 deficiency can mimic or possibly even have an underlying cause of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Dementia, Autism, Fibromyalgia, Infertility, and Post-partum depression, just to name a few. In fact, knowing what I know now, I think it could have led to my diagnosis with CRPS 6 years ago.
Here’s the deal, B-12 is CRAZY important, in fact, it’s CRITICAL to life, but it’s also the most difficult vitamin to absorb, which is why so many people are deficient and don’t even know it.
The Dangers of a B12 Deficiency
True confession, I’m not a huge fan of hospitals and rarely go unless absolutely necessary. Nothing against Doctors and Nurses, I have so much respect for all healers and my mom and grandmother even worked in a hospital at one point, but I find the sterile environment a little intimidating. Not to mention it seems some doctors care more about treating symptoms vs. finding the root cause.
I believe in self-healing. I believe in integrative medicine. I believe food is medicine. I believe in holistic medicine. And I believe in hospitals. I believe all have a time and a place.
You can judge me on this if you want, but I try to pay attention to my body and let my intuition guide me, and so far it’s never failed. I’m not saying this is right or wrong, it’s just what I’ve always done. Eric knows when I’m really not feeling well because I ask him to take me to the doctor.
I don’t know when or why my fear of hospitals kicked in but I must have been pretty young. My mom told me when I was 5 that it took just about the entire staff of nurses to give me a shot. Sorry, mom!
When I was 6 my brother built us a fort and somehow the corner of his soccer trophy fell on my forehead instead of doing it’s one job, stay on the dresser and hold up the blanket.
I was bleeding and crying and naturally, my brother was freaking out. He told me I’d need to go to the hospital for stitches and grabbed the phone to call our mom, who was at work. I begged him to hang up and tried to convince him I was fine, aside from the obvious gash in my forehead.
No way was I going to a hospital for stitches, I was fine, I promise! I asked for some ice and told him if I didn’t feel better soon he could call mom. I needed to buy myself some time and somehow convinced him (and myself) that I was okay. Before long I was laying on the sofa, watching cartoons, holding a ziplock bag filled with cold pickles against my forehead.
To this day I don’t know why in the world he gave me pickles instead of ice, but it cracks me up every time I think about it and they apparently did the trick, even if a small scar was left behind. Of course, my mom was pissed that we didn’t call her, but at that point, I really was fine. Whew!
Walk it out
In 6th grade, we had a greyhound named Sammy and he was awesome. One day while taking a walk he spotted a squirrel and took off down the street, dragging me along the sidewalk with him. To this day I don’t know why I didn’t just drop the leash.
I hurt my right wrist but my dad said it should be fine. I could move it, but it hurt. He told me to practice using it so it could get better. I remember going Christmas shopping with him the next day and making sure to pick everything up with my right hand.
That didn’t help and my complaining led us to the hospital…only to find out I broke my wrist. My dad felt awful and after that, he took me to the Doctor if he even sensed I may be hurt or not feeling well. He wasn’t about to take any more chances. I know he still beats himself up for that, but I just think it’s funny.
CRPS (Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome)
6 years ago I hurt my wrist after a game of volleyball. Everyone thought I sprained it or just had carpal tunnel so I tried to work through the pain. I knew something was wrong and immediately made a Doctor’s appointment. I thought I had re-injured my wrist in the same spot I broke it as a kid and that’s why it hurt so bad. I didn’t want to “use” my hand like I did back when I was 11, just in case my wrist was broken again.
I got used to hospitals and Doctor’s real quick that year because it took several visits before I was diagnosed with CRPS, a disease that affects the nervous system. I’m still so thankful they diagnosed me early as some cases go on for years or even decades before determining the cause. In fact, of the several doctors I visited, only one even knew what it was!
Looking back, I wish the doctors would have tested me for a B12 deficiency because knowing what I know now, it seems that could have led to issues with my nervous system, or at the very least helped alleviate some of the symptoms.
With that said, there can be discrepancies in the results of B12 tests and multiple types of tests are available including home kits.
It didn’t take long for my CRPS to “go into remission” as the Doctor’s put it, and being diagnosed honestly led to so many wonderful opportunities in my life, including this website.
Something is Off
I’ve been a wreck for the past week and at one point was in bed crying, scared because I knew something was off but didn’t know what was wrong with me. This wasn’t like any sickness I had experienced before.
I was too scared to put my symptoms into Google because we all know how that can go sideways real fast.
I didn’t have a fever but was so weak and the two words that kept popping into my head were “lethargic” and “fatigued”. Those are not words I would use to describe myself.
And this wasn’t a typical kind of “tired”. This was something I’ve never experienced before. As awful as it sounds, part of me was even like “am I dying?”. In fact, that first night Eric was going to get fast food for dinner since I had soup and I said something to him like “I’m over here dying and you’re going to eat crappy food?”. I could barely talk and I’m sure it sounded overly dramatic, but I just felt sooooo off.
I would also get vertigo every time I got out of bed, but it would go away after a couple minutes. My eyes became blurry a few times too, but it only lasted a second.
Trying to rack my brain for an explanation I wondered if there was some sort of chemical or mold inside the RV, but Eric and the pets all seemed fine. I also thought about the wildfires burning north and south of us, and the hazy smoke that had slowly crept into our town. I had recently taken McNally on a couple short hikes so I looked up the Air Quality in our area only to discover it was poor and at some points even severe. Oops.
I then discovered inhaling smoke from fires can cause fatigue, headaches, and nausea. Feeling a sense of relief that this must be the cause, and seeing that McNally was fine, I let myself sleep.
Take Your Supplements!
Disclaimer: I’m no expert in this field and the info in this post is simply based on what I’ve learned and experienced so far. If it helps just one person, it was worth it. If you have any health concerns, please contact a healthcare professional.
A couple days later I still hadn’t shaken off the fatigue, in fact, it got worse despite me staying indoors.
On Sunday I worked on our kitchen post which took all of my strength and then spent the rest of the day in bed. My hands hurt, were ice cold and I shivered underneath 3 blankets. I wrapped the heating pad around my right hand which helped. Eric was concerned but my moodiness wasn’t helping my cause.
To be honest, I felt this fatigue and lack of focus creeping in for the last month or so but had been fighting it off and figured it was allergies. Now I was too exhausted to fight back. I could barely even look at my phone without my eyelids feeling droopy.
I had cleared just about everything from my calendar for the week so I could focus on a book I’m writing, and part of me was trying to determine if I created this sickness to prevent myself from doing what I really wanted. Maybe I still didn’t feel worthy enough to write a book?
Nope, that wasn’t it.
Instead of feeling sorry for myself (okay after 20 minutes of feeling sorry for myself) I tried to focus on being thankful for clearing my schedule so I could focus on healing.
The Universe does work in mysterious ways, after all.
Eric had made a comment that I should research foods that are good for the nervous system since I had been so cold and my hands had been hurting. I got right on it and within a matter of minutes was reading about how important B12 is for the nervous system.
I already knew this, or at least I knew B12 was important. If I knew it was important for the nervous system, I apparently forgot. In my defense, a B12 deficiency can lead to memory loss…
Being a vegetarian most of my life and leaning more vegan over the last year I know the importance of supplementing B12, which is why I’ve always had a bottle on hand but I never dove real deep into the “why”. I eat pretty healthy (although I could certainly eat less and exercise more) and watch tons of documentaries on food and health so it’s embarrassing that I somehow missed out on just how important this vitamin is.
Apparently having the bottle in the medicine cabinet isn’t good enough. You have to actually take them. Whoda thunk?
And I should also say that over the years I’ve had multivitamins and gone in and out of taking those too. I’ve always preferred the powder or capsules you can open and put into smoothies vs. packets of pills, which I would leave in the drawer until they expired. For some reason, I’ve gotten really bad over the last 2 years and think that has definitely made an impact on my health.
Honestly, if I knew then what I know now, I would have taken those pills or at least some form of the B12 supplement.
After a bit of research, I discovered the pills I had were the synthetic version of B-12, Cyanocobalamin, and read that methylcobalamin was more highly recommended (some lean the other way so do your research and choose what’s best for you).
I took one of the pills anyway then raided our kitchen to scarf down anything with B12. First I grabbed our almond milk, only to realize it was bad so I grabbed a piece of bread and sprinkled nutritional yeast all over it. I was desperate.
I rarely eat cereal (which can be fortified with B12) and haven’t been using our Ninja to make smoothies as often lately because I’ve been too lazy to clean it or too concerned with filling our RV grey tank quicker than I want. I know that’s lame but it’s the truth. I do use Nutritional Yeast quite a bit, although not every day. Smoothies and juices will definitely be making a comeback in our tiny home on wheels.
I forced myself to get dressed so I could swing by the natural food store and pick up the liquid form of B-12 made of methylcobalamin.
I then crawled back into bed, too exhausted to go anywhere.
After a little pity party, I found a movie about B-12 called Sally Pacholok, which was slightly cheesy but super informative. It’s about a nurse that self-diagnoses herself with having a B-12 deficiency (despite eating meat) and then tries to educate doctors at her hospital after watching them misdiagnose patients or ignore symptoms of a deficiency that could easily be ruled out by a screening. She eventually wrote a book, Could it be B-12?
By the end of the movie, I was hopeful B12 may be just what my body needed. I was also embarrassed that I could allow myself to get soooo sick from NOT taking my B12 supplement.
I decided I’d swallow my pride to feel better, and hoped that was the case.
It just made sense. For once, everything made sense.
Eric was working at the Fairgrounds office (we’re camp hosting until October 1st) but as soon as he was off he went to the store and picked up an organic B-12 supplement spray.
I decided to give myself a day or two on B-12 supplements and see if it made a difference. If not, I’d head to the Doctor. (I still plan to make a visit for a general checkup).
It’s super yummy, easy to take (I spray it under my tongue), and best of all, it’s made a HUGE difference. When Eric called me from the store I almost told him to hold off so I could buy either this one or this one online, but he wasn’t having any of it. He picked it up and told me I could order a different kind too but he wanted me to start taking this stuff now.
By the way, there are many less expensive options out there, so do your research and choose which is best for you and your family.
I’ve only been taking it for a couple days now and already feel like a different person! It’s kind of insane. After 1 day I could feel the fog starting to clear and my energy coming back. I still took it easy but was able to do a little grocery shopping no problem.
Eric even started taking the B-12 himself after learning more about it. It doesn’t hurt to take the supplement just in case, because your body will remove any excess it doesn’t need.
Here’s the deal, B-12 is CRAZY important, in fact, it’s CRITICAL to life, but it’s also the most difficult vitamin to absorb, which is why so many people are deficient and don’t even know it.
Having a B12 deficiency is often easily reversible, but if left untreated for a long time it can potentially become irreversible and even lead to death.
It’s not just important for Vegans and Vegetarians
And while B-12 is mostly found in animal products, even a meat eater can become deficient. In fact, there are several factors that can affect whether or not your body absorbs this vitamin at all- including medicines you may be taking (even contraceptive), pernicious anemia, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, immune disorders, those who have had weight loss surgery, or are over the age of 50. It can also affect babies whose mother’s are B12 deficient and breastfeeding.
I want to mention that animals do not create B-12, it’s found in dirt/soil and bacteria and can be ingested in animals (or sometimes injected) which is why it’s found in animal-derived foods.
Sources of B-12:
- Fortified Cereals
- Fortified Nutritional Yeast
- Fortified Non-Dairy Milk
- Other fortified foods
There seems to be conflicting information about tempeh, seaweed, and algae containing B-12. While some of these foods contain B-12, it’s apparently variable amounts or inactive forms, and therefore can’t be relied on fully, unless fortified.
Symptoms of B-12 Deficiency
Here are just a few symptoms of a B12 deficiency:
- Numbness or tingling in arms, hands, and feet (paraesthesia)
- Extreme Fatigue
- Balance Problems
- Restless Legs
- Memory Loss
- Shortness of Breath
- Weaker Muscles
- Blurred Vision
- Trouble Focusing
- Shortness of Breath
- Cold hands and feet
- mouth ulcers
- heart palpitations
- Bruises Easily
It seems a B12 deficiency can mimic or possibly even have an underlying cause of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Dementia, Autism, Fibromyalgia, Infertility, and Post-partum depression, just to name a few.
With something so serious, I’m honestly surprised this information isn’t more well known.
I saw the Sign
Sorry if Ace of Base is now ringing in your ears, but there were signs. Lots of signs.
Looking back after learning all this I recalled lots of signs and like a puzzle, all the pieces started to come together.
I don’t like talking about my pain and try not to give it any extra attention, focusing instead on health and healing. Despite speaking to my mom daily I only recently told her that the pain in my hand had slowly returned over the last month or so, making it difficult for me to work consistently on my computer. I kept finding excuses to get away, take random day trips, walks, or browse antique shops.
I blamed it on moving my desk and trying to find a more comfortable sitting position. I blamed it on my mouse, on Eric’s need for blasting the AC, and I even blamed the pain on my mousepad. I wanted to blame it on anything as long as it didn’t mean CRPS was creeping back into my life. At the same time, I knew I had gotten lazy with my self-care routines.
But the truth is that it hurt to type, it hurt to move my mouse, and it hurt to be on my phone. I think we become accustomed to a certain level of pain and learn to work through it to a degree.
Side note: cold temperatures don’t help the pain associated with CRPS and this summer has been HOT so Eric has definitely been blasting the air, which only makes my hands colder. This is where my heating pad comes in handy.
Eric knew my hand was bothering me again because I started requesting more hand massages. He’s such a good husband. Even though he knew my hand was annoying me, I tried not to let on just how much or how often. The scariest part is that my left hand started to tingle more too. (This has already stopped since taking my B12, yay!)
I also started complaining about my knuckles tightening up or feeling like something was crawling up my arms. And one thing I only recently admitted to him is when I’d get out of the car, my legs would feel weak. I don’t know how to explain it other than I almost couldn’t feel them, but they weren’t asleep.
Yeah, I know that’s probably a bad sign and something I should have had checked out but it started maybe 6 months ago, was super rare and went away after 30 seconds or so. I chalked it up to sitting wrong, not exercising enough, and getting older. I pushed any scary thoughts out of my mind and pretty soon I forgot it even happened.
There were random muscle spasms at night or waking up at 3 am with a burst of anxiety, but meditation has made this less common.
I have felt slightly moodier at times, but blamed that on stress or overwhelm. Sorry, Eric! And I’ve certainly struggled with picking up heavier items, including our cast iron skillet, but even smaller items like bowls or heavy utensils will bother me sometimes. I just saw that as my hand being weaker after CRPS. And yes, I’ve been forgetful about important details or how to spell something really simple, but I know that can also be normal from time to time.
What’s crazy is we all experience one or more of these symptoms at one time or another. We all get stressed and exhausted, forgetful and unfocused.
It’s easy to shrug these feelings off due to being so darn busy all the time, or from being overwhelmed, or from getting older. And sometimes, yes that’s all it is. And sometimes it’s due to a B12 deficiency.
I think the biggest obstacle I’ve had over the last year has been my ability to focus for long periods of time. I used to be so driven, so focused and that’s what helped me build this blog and business in the first place.
It’s become much more difficult lately. MUCH more difficult. I do much less now than I did 2 years ago but it’s soooooo much harder! I thought it was because I had gotten burnt out over the years, or was just going through a phase with all of the changes happening since we decided to RV full-time. I believe that may be part of it, but I now understand it’s much more than that.
I can’t tell you how many times I’d respond to emails or do some other task and feel exhausted or overwhelmed, or start writing only to feel confused and frustrated at my lack of focus or ability to write. Sometimes it felt like somebody hit the pause button and it would take me a couple seconds to shake it off. Or I’d want to work on a craft project but feel all over the place and do nothing. And this was more than just an “I don’t feel like it” mentality, it felt more like something I couldn’t do, like more of a struggle.
Something easy all of a sudden became really difficult.
It’s as though this light fog has been following me around.
There were numerous times I told Eric I felt hungover, despite not drinking. I’ve had that feeling from allergies before so I’d pop an allergy pill here or there hoping that would fix it.
I’ve also done A LOT of soul-searching and meditating over the last 2 years trying to get to the bottom of my blocks, assuming they were purely mental.
I’d even try to work on Eric’s laptop in bed but feel so exhausted and unable to focus that I’d just go to sleep.
Looking back, I’ve managed to push through most of my exhaustion.
I may have only done the minimum, maybe a little more than the minimum, but I’m not a minimum kind of gal and I miss my drive, my passion, and my health.
Thankfully, I see that all coming back now and it’s a beautiful thing.
Keep in mind that these symptoms were happening over time, some days were worse than others and it wasn’t until recently that it became much worse. It’s like my body kept trying to give me the signs and finally kicked my ass so I’d pay attention.
Funny how one freakin’ vitamin can have an effect that runs so deep, and yet I see myself as lucky. Some have been affected so much harsher or for so much longer.
None of my doctors ever mentioned B12 back when I was diagnosed with CRPS. Honestly, I’m kind of annoyed that it wasn’t. Not just for me, but for everyone else that has been diagnosed. Then again that was back in 2012 and a lot more information has surfaced since then.
If someone would have mentioned it then I could have been taking it for the last 6 years.
I know it’s ultimately my own fault, but I’m still surprised B12 never showed up in any of my basic searches about what causes CRPS in the first place. I don’t know if there’s a direct correlation on B12 creating, causing, or leading to CRPS, but seeing how a B12 deficiency affects the nervous system and that CRPS is a disease of the central nervous system, it seems very possible.
The truth is, we can’t always rely on someone else for this information. Sometimes, we have to do a little research and dig it up for ourselves.
I’ll admit I haven’t done much research since being diagnosed because reading about it seems to get my imagination going and the temperature in my hand starts to drop. After a recent search, I was able to find some articles about how taking B12 can help alleviate some of the pain caused by CRPS, but it doesn’t seem to be all that well known overall.
As you may have noticed, the symptoms of a B12 deficiency can be similar to many other illnesses, but why not rule out the easiest explanation first? B12 is easy to take, affordable and can reverse the symptoms almost immediately in most cases.
If you’re concerned about having a B12 deficiency you should contact your physician to schedule a screening and can easily begin taking supplements. Be aware that what some doctors consider normal, others consider low. There are also multiple test options available including home kits, like this one that tests your urine.
If your levels are dangerously low your Doctor should be able to administer shots. Some people require shots if their bodies are unable to absorb the B12 naturally, including those with Pernicious Anemia.
Again, I’m no expert and this info is simply based on what I’ve read or experienced first hand.
I encourage you to do your own research on B12 and speak to your healthcare professional if you’re concerned about your own levels.
Holistic: Treatment of the whole person (mind, body, and spirit)
It’s only been a few days but I’ve noticed a huge difference in my energy and most of the symptoms have gone away. My CRPS symptoms still linger, but not nearly as bad as they were, and I believe that will continue to get better over time. I plan to take the next week away from my computer and phone so I can focus on healing. I do believe this has been a wake-up call to carve out more time for self-care and get back into a routine of practicing meditation and yoga while paying close attention to what I’m eating. This way I can heal my mind, body, and spirit.
I’ve become inconsistent lately due to being “too busy” and not making myself important enough. I know we can all fall victim to this, so it’s a good reminder to make time for ourselves and take a more holistic approach to wellness, vs. trying to only fix the symptom.
I know this post was long but hope it was helpful in some way or shined a light on something you may not have known about, or even just reminded you to take your vitamins, haha. If you’re in the mood for an interesting movie that informs and entertains, I recommend watching, Sally Pacholok, which is free to watch on YouTube.
Have you had an experience with a B12 deficiency?
B12 Documentary with Sally Pacholok:
Other B12 Deficiency Stories
Additional B12 Articles:
Update: March 2020 – If you think you may have a nutrient deficiency, be sure to read my post about “leaky” gut, which is also known to be present in those with an auto-immune disease