In this blog I want to speak a bit about something that over the past few years has been experienced by my family members and I. It is also something that a lot of people suffer with, but they often do not even realise.
Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps our bodies nerves and blood cells keep healthy. Our bodies cannot make B12 so we have to get it from the food we eat. It can be found naturally in a wide range of foods. Plant foods do not have any vitamin B12, but you can increase your intake by eating foods like beef, liver, fish and some breakfast cereals. A lot of vegetarians and vegans suffer from a B12 deficiency because they are not eating foods that provide them with a healthy source of the nutrient, so they therefore have to take supplements. However, some people’s bodies have trouble in absorbing the vitamin, even when they are eating all kinds of foods, so taking tablets will not help and instead the vitamin needs to be injected.
Those with a vitamin B12 deficiency can suffer from tiredness, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite and weight loss. Some even suffer from numbness and tingling in the hands and feet. Depression, confusion, dementia, poor memory and soreness of the mouth or tongue can also occur. If left untreated these symptoms can cause damage to the nervous system, so it is important that treatment is given.
Often when people go to the doctors and describe these problems, they are told that they may be depressed because the symptoms are very similar. However, it is extremely important that you insist on having a full blood test so you can see if there is a deficiency present. When asking for a blood test you should also ask to have your active B12 measured as sometimes you can have the nutrient but it just does not actively work.
My family’s journey with having B12 deficiencies started in 2014, when my mum felt very tired and very weak – leading to her going to the doctor. Her blood test revealed that she was just below the borderline and did have a B12 deficiency. At first, she was given some tablets that a lot of vegetarians would take because they do not consume enough B12 through their diet. However, these did not help and made no difference at all. My mum looked into her symptoms further online and read up about B12 deficiencies and realised that a lot of her symptoms were similar and this was confirmed by another doctor who agreed she should have been given B12 injections from the start.
This then led to my mum receiving some B12 injections every other day for two weeks and then from there on once every 3 months. Other members of my close family also receive B12 injections. My sister is an athlete and she noticed she was suffering, so had a blood test to confirm she was also B12 deficient. The fact that she trains regularly also highlighted the issue because it made her even more tired. My brother too is also deficient.
It was quite a while after that I decided to have a blood test. It was in 2018 when I was in sixth form doing my performing arts diploma that I noticed that I was suffering from the deficiency. I was quite active due to the physical aspects of my course and felt very tired and fatigued. Every day when I came home from school I would go straight to sleep and have a two-hour nap, before waking up, having dinner and doing some work and then going straight back to sleep again. I found that I was struggling to get my work done and while at school I felt really low.
When I had my blood test the results showed that my B12 levels were extremely low, and this was obviously the reason why I was struggling. The main symptoms I have found that I struggle with is tiredness, weakness, fatigue and also tingling sensations in my hands. I do also get dizzy spells and sometimes have muscle spasms.
I had the same course of injections as my mum and sister and now I have one every few months. At first when I had the injections, I thought that I would have a sudden burst of energy and feel instantly better, but that definitely was not the case. Even now I am not sure that I feel a massive difference, but I definitely do not nap as much as I used to, so that is a bonus! I will say as well that these injections do hurt more than regular ones where the needle is inserted into the vein. These injections are in the muscle so it can feel very sore, but I am pretty used to them by now.
A lot of people are surprised to hear that all four family members are B12 deficient, and we often get hit with the question about whether we have a poor diet. But this is simply not the case, we do not know why we all suffer from this and not a lot of research has been done to see if there is an underlying genetic cause. At one point we were told that our family was going to be looked further into by a haematologist but this never happened as the condition is often overlooked.
I have found that now I know these symptoms and quite a lot about the deficiency, it is a good thing for me to write about because others may be suffering from these symptoms and think it is completely normal to feel tired all the time.
If you are feeling low, you should arrange an appointment with your GP and ask for a blood test. Even if you feel okay it is a good idea to have a test done anyways, as it is good to double check and know that everything is as it should be.
The video below is extremely informative and shows just how difficult it can be for some people who suffer with this deficiency.