What’s the Crack with B12?

So we all know we are supposed to have a varied amount of vitamins to keep ourselves healthy and allow our bodies to run optimally – or as best as those of us with chronic illnesses can! But I don’t know a single person including myself that really knows the correct intake and where we get a balanced amount from rather than popping more pills as many of us (thankfully no longer me) shake rattle and roll as we take that many. Since my stoma was formed over 2 years ago I have heard and seen a lot about the importance of vitamin B12 so I thought I would look into it.

So what actually is the vitamin and what does it do?

Well it helps with making red blood cells and keeping the nervous system healthy, releasing energy from food and using folic acid. Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA. It also helps prevent a type of anaemia called megaloblastic anaemia (basically means the red blood cells are under developed/ larger than normal) which makes people tired and weak.

Who is at risk?
  • People that suffer from pernicious anaemia which affects a protein in your stomach called intrinsic factor – the intrinsic factor allows the B12 to be absorbed into the distal ileum which is part of your small intestine (often those with an end ileostomy like myself don’t have this part)
  • Vegetarians/vegans or meat eaters with a poor diet – most sources of this vitamin come from animal products
  • Some people who have stomach conditions or have had surgery on their stomach
  • Conditions that affect the small intestine such as Crohns
  • Some medications can affect it but your GP would be monitoring you if that was the case

I had been asking my GP’s for awhile if they would check my B12 levels but nobody understood why I would want them checking so I think it was missed off the list as they were doing checks for other things like arthritis which I don’t have but I do have Hypermobility. So when I saw my Rhuematologist in July I asked since he was checking for a ton of things did he mind adding it to the list. He didn’t see a problem with this and I was then tested to see where my B12 levels were at.

A couple of months later I was back at the GP’s suffering with tacchicardia which I only ever used to suffer with as a side effect from being on strong doses of various medications. I was also getting what I was told to be pre fainting – which is basically I would go tingly, heavy, my vision would fade to black and I would hit the deck but I was conscious throughout. My GP had witnessed both the increased heart rate (laid down for an ECG and my HR was over 95) and the pre fainting; she couldn’t really offer much to help me which is fair enough as she isn’t a specialist but she rang round some cardiologists who suggested the compression stockings. I have decided against wearing these as they said it was to keep the fluid from staying in my legs; now I have chicken legs there is no swelling or pain in them so that is my reasoning not to wear them.

I went back to my Rhuematologist and told him about the fact that my B12 came back low and that nobody was taking ownership and about my heart rate and blood pressure fluctuating. So he said to go to the doctor’s surgery and request the B12 injections and he would book me in for a tilt table test. That test compromises of being strapped down to table and the table be inverted from horizontal to vertical for up to 45 mins or you faint/heart rate changes or so Google says.

I had been patiently waiting for this letter to arrive but had been getting increasingly worse and not only do I have 2 young children but I work with vulnerable adults; I needed this sorting out asap. So I started looking into B12 rich foods that were suitable for my diet baring in mind I eat very little meat. I found that cottage cheese and eggs were good sources along with nutritional yeast, these are thing I enjoy eating and I have started to include more into my diet alongside a supplement.

Also within this time I googled vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms and they surprised me so I have added a mark to the ones I get; here are general deficiency/anaemia symptoms:

  • extreme tiredness (fatigue) ⊗
  • lack of energy (lethargy) ⊗
  • breathlessness ⊗
  • feeling faint ⊗
  • headaches
  • pale skin ⊗
  • noticeable heartbeats (palpitations) ⊗
  • hearing sounds coming from inside the body, rather than from an outside source (tinnitus)
  • loss of appetite and weight loss

So I am for a change not anaemic with iron but anaemia is generally fewer red blood cells; but if you have anaemia caused by a B12 deficiency the symptoms are:

  • a pale yellow tinge to your skin
  • a sore and red tongue (glossitis)
  • mouth ulcers
  • pins and needles (paraesthesia)
  • changes in the way that you walk and move around
  • disturbed vision
  • irritability ⊗
  • depression (⊗ My mental health has declined but I wouldn’t say depression)
  • changes in the way you think, feel and behave ⊗
  • a decline in your mental abilities, such as memory, understanding and judgement (dementia) ⊗

Some of these symptoms can also occur in people who have a vitamin B12 deficiency, but have not developed anaemia according to the NHS website detailing B12 symptoms.

So I saw a GP who is relatively new either to the job or our surgery but either way he was a nice enough chap, he looked at my levels and couldn’t find any letter on the system from rhuematology but rather than fob me off he said I ill take your word for it and gave me a prescription for the injections. He also said he hadn’t much experience around B12 so he would rather err on the side of caution and just give me a prescription. As it turns out I didn’t need the prescription as the surgery keep them in stock but they will be used on me anyway just kept there so no dramas.

The injection was 1 of 6 that is spread out over 2 weeks which is classed as the loading dose to I presume bring the levels safely up to a normal dose then it is one injection every 12 weeks for a year. The injection stung a fair bit but not for long and if you have ever had the depo injection (contraception in your bum cheek) it isn’t as bad as that! I’m not sure if it is the injection or the placebo effect but I, a day later feel so much better than I had been and do you know what? It’ll do for me regardless. I was also booked in for my next 5 appointments and I’m even having my smear too – which is about 4 months late and to find out why I should keep on top of this read this post!

Hopefully that has cleared up some of the mist around B12 and it makes more sense.

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