Life Challenges

I don’t really have a proper section for a post of this nature but it is so important that I decided to put it under the Presently Living heading.  This information is directed at my own family and also many others who are interested in living the healthiest life possible.

Recently, I haven’t been feeling all that great and I haven’t been to a doctor in many years, so I decided that it was time to see if I could shed some light on what was causing my varying symptoms.  Since I don’t have a family physician, I went to the hospital where they took me in and ran a bunch of tests, including blood tests.

At first, the doctor was stymied and admitted that she had no idea of what the problem was, since all my vitals looked normal.  I stayed in the hospital for about six hours, waiting for blood tests to come back.  That’s the one good thing about going to the emergency department, they get the blood tests done right away.

Anyway, when the blood tests came back, the doctor came in again and, again, looked a bit puzzled.  She said to me, “Do you want the good news or the bad news first”?  Not exactly something you want to hear from an emergency room doctor.  I said, “Just give me all the news”.  Then she explained that all my blood work had come back pretty normal.  The only thing she could see that was a bit out of line was my vitamin B12 level.

At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of this.  It seemed odd to me that I would be low in vitamin B12 because I do watch the things that I eat and I make sure that I include all the vitamins that I need.  I’m not one for taking supplements of any kind.  I’d rather get my nutrition naturally, from the food I eat.

When I got home I checked the foods that I was eating regularly and, indeed, they did include adequate B12 levels.  So, why were my blood tests showing low levels?  That’s when I started to do some research, and I was just amazed at what I found.

Doctors don’t normally test for vitamin B12 levels in anyone younger than 60 years old.  This is why I was checked, because I am now over 60.  I’ve had blood tests in the past and there was never a mention of low B12 levels.  That’s because they never tested for it.  Our medical system does not recognize low B12 levels as a problem that can affect younger people as well as older people.  For all I know, my B12 levels could have been low for many years, it was just never tested for.

I was about to find out that this could, and many times does, have serious consequences.  You see, B12 is the most complex vitamin in our bodies, although we only need very small quantities of it.  Our bodies can store enough B12 for up to 3 years before it needs to be replenished by eating foods which contain B12.

There are many foods that do contain vitamin B12, so I’m not going to list them here.  Healthy people, who eat a healthy diet will usually get enough to keep them well supplied.  However, if, for some reason, you are not getting enough B12 in your diet, and you don’t know it, then you could be in trouble.

So, how would that happen?  What would cause you not to get enough vitamin B12?  Well, it turns out that our stomachs secrete a protein called intrinsic factor.  This intrinsic factor is vital in order to absorb vitamin B12.  If the intrinsic factor is not available, or impeded in any way, then vitamin B12 cannot be absorbed from the foods we eat, no matter how much vitamin B12 rich food we eat.

So, the bottom line is, many people could be, and probably are, low in vitamin B12 and don’t even know it because they’ve never been tested unless they are over the age of 60.  Again, most doctors do not see the need to test anyone younger unless the test is demanded by the patient.

The big problem here is that damage resulting from the lack of vitamin B12 happens over a long period of time and it may not be reversible.  In other words, once you get a B12 test when you reach 60 years old, it may already be too late.

Vitamin B12 is vital in support of the human brain and nervous system.  Without it we can expect to experience many varying health problems that might not seem serious at the time but will get worse the longer B12 is missing and, like I’ve already said, once the damage is done it may not be reversible.

This is of particular interest to my immediate family since one of results of low vitamin B12 is dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, which our father is now suffering from.  Could it be that he was low in vitamin B12 for years without being diagnosed?  Well, they couldn’t diagnose him because blood tests for vitamin B12 levels aren’t routinely done on anyone under 60.  Even if they did test him after he turned 60, it may have been too late by then.

Once it is found that someone does not have enough intrinsic factor in their stomachs, resulting in low vitamin B12 levels, it is imperative that they start either B12 shots, or more preferably B12 supplements in the form of pills.  You can’t expect to eat better and then everything will be all right.  Your body cannot absorb vitamin B12 from any amount of the right kinds of food you eat.  It ain’t gonna happen.

Vitamin B12 pills are very small and inexpensive.  It’s not a hard thing to take one small vitamin supplement every day in order to avoid severe damage to your nervous system and brain.  I now have a good supply but I don’t know how much of the damage that has already been done will be reversible.  It will have a lot to do with how long I’ve been low in vitamin B12.

Oh, another important note here.  Not all vitamin B12’s are the same.  You must get Methyl B12 to ensure your body absorbs the vitamin.  It may be a little more difficult to find this type but it must be Methyl B12 or the longer term Methylcobalamin.  The other types of vitamin B12 require your body to make chemical conversions which increases the chances that you will not get the vitamin B12 that you need.

Another point I would like to make here is how blood tests measure your B12 level.  There is, what is called, a normal range for healthy people.  If you fall within the normal range, then it will likely not be mentioned by the physician.  You must ask what the level is.  If it is low normal, in other words, if it falls closer to the low side of the range, rather than the high side, you may very well be at risk.  If you are at risk, then it certainly doesn’t hurt to take the pill supplements because too much B12 has no affect, it will just pass through your body, but too little can be life changing, or ending, whichever comes first.

Here is some important information for those who would like to know more about this condition;

http://chriskresser.com/b12-deficiency-a-silent-epidemic-with-serious-consequences

http://www.health-boundaries-bite.com/Fingernails.html

Vitamin B12 Deficiency Update

Just thought I would post some more research notes and my progress on vitamin B12 deficiency.  It was interesting to find that this deficiency is more prevalent among English and Irish descendents.  My guess is that my parents were also vitamin  B12 deficient and never knew it.

Now that I know that I am vitamin B12 deficient, I can look back on health issues I’ve had and clearly see how this deficiency works.  All the hallmark symptoms of B12 deficiency were there but were never noticed.  However, I’m not looking back and wondering what life would have been like if I had only known.  That doesn’t matter now.  All that matters is that I know now and I can do something about it, which I am doing.

Turning around a B12 deficiency is somewhat like turning around a huge cruise ship, it doesn’t happen fast.  It took a while, maybe many years, to become deficient, and it will take however long it takes to bring things back into balance.  But, already I can feel the difference taking place.  I started off just taking two 1000mcg pills a day but I began to feel that this was just not enough.  It will certainly depend on how low and for how long a person is deficient but, in my case, I felt that I needed to up the game a bit.  So, I started taking around 5000mcg per day.  Keep in mind that there is no known toxic level for vitamin B12.  In other words, you can take as much as you want and it won’t do you any harm.  If your body does not need it, it will just be eliminated naturally.

Also, there is the option of getting B12 injections.  This will put the vitamin B12 right into your blood stream, which may be required for those who have very low levels.  When my second set of blood tests come back, the doctor may suggest injections just to bring my initial B12 level up high enough so that the pills can maintain it.  However, from all the research I have done, it is clear that most experts on the subject believe that oral B12 supplements are just as effective as the injections, with the only possible exception being the initial surge to bring levels up to a point where supplements can take over.

It is unclear whether these supplements would have to be taken for life and, for those with the extreme form of B12 deficiency, which is known as Pernicious Anemia, it very well may have to be.  Still, it’s a small price to pay for the huge return of feeling good.   Right now I’m taking the small pill supplements that you put underneath your tongue and let them dissolve there.  Soon, I will be switching to the lozenge type, which are probably a bit larger, but I feel that more of the B12 will get into my system by actively rubbing it in, so to speak.

You see, studies have shown that typically only about 1% of the available B12 in a supplement will enter your system.  So, this means that if I’m taking a 1000mcg pill or lozenge, I will absorb about 10mcg of B12.  Multiply that by the number of pills or lozenges you take per day.  However little this might seem, the recommended daily intake of vitamin B12 is only about 2.4mcg, so if I’m taking in 10mcg from one pill, or 50mcg from five pills, then you can see that it is well enough for good health.

This is why the supplements are good for maintaining B12 levels and can even be used for the initial surge back up to healthy levels if the starting level is not too low.  It’s certainly more convenient than going to the doctors office for an injection and it’s cheaper too.

While I’m talking about healthy B12 levels, it is most important to note here that you must have access to the exact figures for your own B12 level.  It is not enough to just accept it when the lab or the doctor tells you that your level is normal.  The, so called, normal range goes from around 200pg/ml to about 900pg/ml.  But, the latest thinking is that the lower limit is too low, which means that you can still fall within normal limits and be vitamin B12 deficient.

Some experts on B12 deficiency are calling on the government and the medical industry to raise the lowest level up to around 500pg/ml, which is the case in other parts of the world, such as Japan, where the incidence of vitamin B12 deficiency and it’s complications is very low.  If your level is lower than 400pg/ml, you should be concerned.  If your level is lower than 300pg/ml, you might want to start taking supplements.

It is also interesting to note that a person with a B12 level of 2000pg/ml is still a healthy person.  The upper limit of around 900pg/ml is not meant to be adhered to, it is only a normal parameter and exceeding it does no harm.

Unlike other vitamins, which have to be taken in daily, vitamin B12 is stored in organs, such as the liver, and can be drawn upon when daily intake does not meet requirements.  So it is important for a deficient person to build up those stores by taking in larger doses until, eventually, the dose can be dropped back to a maintenance dose.  Typically, a maintenance dose will be one 1000mcg pill per day, of which you will absorb around 10mcg.

Lastly, I cannot overstate the importance of the role that vitamin B12 plays in our general health, and how deficiencies in B12 can have devastating consequences that may not appear until years after the deficiency first started.  The sad part is that it’s so easy to avoid this by just knowing your levels and even your children’s levels so that you can ensure that a deficiency will not go unnoticed, or be blamed on some other common ailment, therefore paving the way for more health problems to arise.

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