Vitamin B12 deficiency can be very debilitating, as I have discovered from my own experience. It is the reason why this is the first post I have written for over a year. I realized that something was wrong in October 2011, when I was unable to remember in the afternoon, what I had done in the morning. I obviously was not being very mindful to have allowed myself to have got to that state before deciding I needed help, but I had put my symptoms down to feeling stressed and lack of sleep.
When I finally realized that something was very wrong, I went to my GP and told him I thought I was depressed. Luckily for me, he did not take that statement at face value but sent me off to get a test for hypothyroidism and B12 levels. My thyroid was fine, my B12 was 127 picograms per millilitre. The normal range for B12 in the blood is 200 – 600 (some say 900) pg per ml.. A naturopath I consulted, told me that she treats anyone with a B12 level below 350 as having a deficiency, as deficiency symptoms can appear at this level, or even at levels of 500 or below in older adults.
The strange thing is that I was taking in what seemed to be an adequate amount of B12. I had given up eating meat, but was taking a multivitamin and was eating other products containing B12 – dairy products, eggs, and fish at least four time a week. But at the same time I was under a lot of stress, and stress can zap B12 levels.
Looking back on it, it seems amazing that I did not realize earlier that something was wrong. Things that had always been easy, like planning and preparing a meal, or putting files up on the web, suddenly became incredibly difficult. Even putting things away seemed impossible because I could not remember where to put them, so I was living in an incredible mess. Finding things in the kitchen, like a plate, meant I had to go through all the cupboards until I found the one I kept the plates in. I forgot the names of people I had known for years, and could not remember how I knew them – were they ex-neighbours or people I had worked with? I impulsively left my financial adviser of many years (rightly as it turned out as he was losing my money hand-over fist) and went to another who was just starting out and would also have been a disaster had I not been rescued by a friend who helped me find a very good financial adviser. I frequently got lost in the city I have lived in for over 30 years. It was a bit like having advanced dementia. My friends knew something was wrong, but did not know how to tell me.
My GP suggested monthly injections of B12 for three months and sub-lingual B12 daily, but even though that raised my blood level to 800 pg my memory was still poor and my balance was badly affected. I then decided to consult a naturopath, and she discovered that I had no vibrational sense in my feet, a neurological symptom due to a degeneration of the myelin sheath that conducts impulses down the nerves. She suggested that I give myself an injection of B12 every week After four months my vibrational sense returned and my balance was somewhat better though still poor. I am now taking IM B12 every two weeks, plus sub-lingual B12 daily. I have also returned to eating meat.
Even now, over a year after the deficiency was diagnosed, I am still having a lot of difficulty. My executive skills are poor so planning and taking action on my plans is difficult. I write everything I have to do each day in my diary and consult it frequently to keep myself organized. To improve my memory, I joined Lumosity on the web and do the games every day (they send me a daily e-mail to remind me) and I started attending Tai Chi classes to improve my balance. I still have difficulty in finding my way to places I have not been for some time, and sometimes don’t recognize them when I get there. I still occasionally have to ask people their names. While my short-term memory is a lot better, some long-term memories are gone. For example a friend was talking about a function we organized in late-2010 to raise money for an orphanage in Burma, and I could not remember it at all.
My experience makes me wonder if some people diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease are instead suffering from a B12 deficiency. I am pretty sure that I don’t have Alzheimer’s as my GP, naturopath and a neurologist I consulted have all told me that I don’t present like someone with Alzheimer’s. The naturopath told me that I have the worst memory loss of anyone she has seen with a B12 deficiency, and she puts it down to the fact that thew deficiency was so long-standing.
The Tufts University Framingham Offspring Study suggest that 40 percent of people between the ages of 26 and 83 have plasma B12 levels in the low normal range – a range at which many experience neurological symptoms. They found that low B12 levels are as common in younger people as in the elderly, and about 40 percent of those over 60 years of age have low B12. This can lead to increased levels of homeocystine which is associated with a higher risk of strokes and of death from stroke.
I now urge all my friends (most of whom are in their 60’s) to get their B12 checked. People with a B12 deficiency may not have memory loss but instead show symptoms of neurological damage which, if left untreated, may be irreversible. So if you are over the age of 55, or have memory loss or neurological symptoms, I suggest that you too get your B12 checked.
You can read more about B12 deficiency here.