I’m Vitamin B12 Deficient: Now What?

Sometime around July, when I first started getting sick, feeling exhausted all the time and experiencing weird twinges in my legs that then traveled up to my arms, wrists and groin, I knew something had to be wrong. I scheduled my first doctor’s appointment with a general physician since college nearly 4 years ago, and then continued to scan the Web for an answer to all my achy woes.

That, of course, was a bad idea.

(They should really add a disclaimer to their logo: “Not for the easily alarmed.”)

After convincing myself that I was plagued with a number of terrible muscle, bone, joint, nerve and neurological diseases, I banned myself from WebMD altogether and decided to wait it out. On the day of my appointment last Thursday, I unloaded all of my fears to my new physician — one of which, in addition to a host of terrible physical dysfunctions — was a simple vitamin B12 deficiency.

How’d I first hear of this? Twitter — the most reliable source on the Internet. Naturally, when a fellow runner (I can’t remember who anymore) told me that she had heard these strange shooting pains could be caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency, I resolved to ignore the comment. But with a strong need to know why my body was failing me — and this was totally apart from the fact that my shins were preventing me from running — I began to research it.

As it turns out, although vitamin B12 deficiencies are typically characterized by a loss of feeling or tingling in the fingers and toes, as opposed to shooting pains around the body, the rest of the symptoms seemed all too familiar — fatigue being at the forefront of this laundry list.

When the day finally arrived for my much-anticipated check-up, I showed up to the doctor’s office prepared for the worst.

“I have bad news for you,” he reported after a thorough intake, physical and blood-work. “Chances are, you’re probably fine.” My doctor went on to tell me that the aches were likely the cause of an old, lingering virus, and that to be vitamin B12 deficient, you have to basically subsist on a diet of bread (non-fortified, that is) and water.

Translation: the biggest problem I was dealing with was a serious case of hypochondria.

(Me? Hypochondriac?)

Point taken.

The fatigue continued. The discomfort subsided temporarily. Yet while I was somewhat 1:2, I still wasn’t satisfied. Instead, I was convinced there had to be another answer for those shooting pains in my body.

The following week, I called my doctor’s office to obtain my blood test results. As it turns out, I have hereditary anemia and, you guessed it, a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Stacy, 1; Doctor, 0.

A few things you should know about why vitamin B12 is so important.

  1. Vitamin B12 is water-soluble and found both in food and supplement form. It is naturally present in animal products, including fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk and milk products. It is not present in plant sources, though it can be found in fortified cereals and grains.
  2. Vitamin B12 is required for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function and metabolic function.
  3. A deficiency of vitamin B12 can lead to anemia, fatigue, weakness, constipation, numbness, tingling, confusion and poor memory.

Check, check and check.

To be clear, I wasn’t technically deficient at the time of my appointment. As my new doc explained, it’s recommended that our bodies’ levels of B12 fall somewhere between 200 and 1,100 mcg. I rang in at 211 (and this was only days after a hangover that resulted in a massive craving for meat and the rapid consumption of a towering plate of deli meat; a very non-vegetarian act that could have significantly spiked my levels).

(Raves like this sometimes result in a need for turkey meat. Little did I know it was actually making me healthier. Conclusion: partying is good.)

Still, it is in no way surprising that I’ve allowed myself (is it bad that I see it as something I’ve done to my body?) to become deficient in a vitamin that seems so important to our very being. Consuming a largely vegetarian, sometimes vegan, diet after years and years and years of consuming every part of the farm has been incredibly beneficial in some ways and incredibly challenging in others. The most important part of this process, I suppose, is to now listen to my body and heed those challenges that arise.

The good news is that step 1 is to simply stock up on vitamin B12 supplements. Easy. Last week, I popped in to my local CVS and scanned my different options, choosing a natural-sounding brand of swallowable 1,000 mcg vitamin B12 pills over the cherry flavored chewable generic kind. The last thing I needed was a reason not to take my daily vitamin, and cherry chewables would have been more than enough.

I can’t say that I’ve felt a tremendous difference since beginning my new vitamin regimen a week ago, but while the shooting pains still materialize every now and then, they have become less frequent. I hope to be able to say that they continue to do so.

As for the fatigue, running around from New York to Pennsylvania and back again in 24 hours while completing a half marathon somewhere in between doesn’t quite give me the proper environmental factors to gauge my energy reserves. I’m sore, I’m tired, and I’m incredibly grateful that today, the day after the race, is Rosh Hashana — the Jewish New Year — meaning that I’ll be doing whatever work that needs to be done from the comfort of my parents’ house while resting up and resetting.

At the end of the day, I’m relieved to finally know what was causing all these mysterious physical concerns. I’m even more relieved that, on top of getting my body back to where it needs to be, I’ve completed my fourth half marathon (recap to come) and can finally get back to shorter, more body-conscious runs.

As I told my new doctor at the start of my appointment, August wasn’t exactly my month. Midway through September now, I truly feel as though I’m turning a new leaf; I just hope that the wheel continues to spin in my direction.

To a happy and healthy new year, whether you’re Jewish or not. Because, we really shouldn’t need an excuse to press “restart” in our lives; but often, we look for one anyway.

  • Have you ever been physically affected by a severe vitamin deficiency?
  • Has your diet ever directly affected your running?
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11 thoughts on “I’m Vitamin B12 Deficient: Now What?

  1. This was definitely interesting to read. As a vegetarian, I always worry that my iron and b12 levels are low, and while I’ve never been officially diagnosed with a deficiency, I do think some of the fatigue I’ve been feeling over the last few months has something to do with it. Its awesome that your supplement has helped you improve a bit. Do you have any info on picking a quality supplement?

    • I don’t really think there is anything important to think about. My doctor said anything between a 500 and 1,000 mcg supplement. Generic is totally fine too. I just went with the fancy brand because the generics I was finding had to be chewed, and I’d rather just pop a pill with water.

  2. You may have Pernicious anemia, my big sisters got it and has b12 injections every month. Google it. Pernicious anemia is a decrease in red blood cells that occurs when your intestines cannot properly absorb vitamin B12.

    • Just what I need; more reasons to diagnose myself! I’m going to stick to the vitamins for now – we’ll see how that works. Thanks for the heads up though! If this doesn’t work, I’ll have to return to this.

  3. I think I was the one who mentioned Vitamin B12 deficiency haha, I’m a hypochondriac when I get sick and I don’t eat much meat (which is a better form of B12) so I’ve thought I’ve had a deficiency in the past.

    I haven’t had any Vit deficiencies to date, but sometimes have on the low end of Iron and the doctor told me I need to increase my intake of iodized salt. I’ve always thought of salt with a negative connotation so I wasn’t in the habit of using it AT ALL (unless already supplied in my food), but apparently it’s important for athletes to get a lot of sodium to absorb fluids, keep BP up, etc.

    Glad you’re starting to feel better!!!

    • Yes, it was! You’re so right, I couldn’t place my finger on it. You turned out to be so, so right; who would have known? Glad I was able to be as informed as possible before my doctor’s appointment. Thanks for the advice.

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  6. B12 capsules are not really an option. If you have deficiency as an american, while nearly every single food is fortified including all crops, meat and milk products, biscuits and sweet drinks, that means that you have malabsorbtion. If you take any other drugs like ibuprofen, aspirin or other painkiller, drink alcohol or anything else what disturbes your stomach lining, again you have malabsorbtion.

    B12 shots are easy to administer for yourself and they are bypassing your stomach. That is the best way to get your levels up, and you can buy it anywhere for cheap, and do it for yourself at home.

    The other option is nasal spray, what is not as good, but still 10times more absorbable then the capsules.

    I hope it helped.

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  8. I recently heard about a new oral prescription alternative to the injections called Eligen B12. I recently read that it works even if you don’t have intrinsic factor (so even if you don’t have normal gut absorption). Apparently it came out a month or two ago. Has anyone heard of it or tried it??

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