Two years ago, I decided to become vegetarian. As well as improving my overall diet, I was motivated by the environmental benefits of becoming vegetarian. I enjoyed trying innovative new recipes, found a love for tofu and felt my diet had dramatically improved. This was all apparent for the first 8 months, however I noticed a gradual decline in my energy levels. Want to know what happens when you suffer from a lack of vitamin B12? Then read on for Vitamin B12 Deficiency: My Story & How to Avoid it in 5 Minutes!
To continue then, I would sometimes find it difficult to follow conversations and whenever I tried to exercise, I would get extreme pins and needles in my hands and feet. I was studying at the time, so I associated it with sleep deprivation from studying, but eventually I went to the doctor to see if there was something more sinister occurring. They asked me questions about my family’s medical history, whether I felt exam stress was causing these symptoms and if I had changed anything in my life recently. I felt I was clutching at straws when the only thing that popped into my head was my new diet.
Thankfully the doctor put two and two together and sent me off for some blood tests, within two days I was called by my doctor’s surgery stating that I must immediately come in for some B12 supplement injections as my numbers were so low. I had never heard of this deficiency, so I realised it was time to investigate.
What is Vitamin B12 Deficiency?
B12 is an essential vitamin, however it does not occur naturally in the body and must be ingested via food supplements or through diet. Lacking this vital vitamin causes B12-triggered anaemia creating misshaped and large red blood cells. This significantly disrupts the ease of passage for these red blood cells, disrupting the transportation of oxygen around the body. The deficiency happens gradually and often (ironically) happens when people change their diets to improve their overall health by turning vegetarian or vegan. It can also be caused by the auto immune disease Pernicious Anaemia and medicines.
Symptoms Vitamin B12 Deficiency
B12 deficiency has a variety of symptoms that can lead to difficulties in diagnosis, so it is advisable to inform the physician that you have changed your diet to vegetarian or vegan (even if it was 4 years ago) as this will likely trigger the consideration of B12 deficiency. Symptoms include:
- Pins and needles in hands and feet
- Extreme fatigue
- Cognitive impairments (difficulty following conversations or memory impairments)
- Visual impairment
Early detection is vital as long-term deficiency can lead to permanent neurological issues.
Recommended B12 Foods
- Shitake mushrooms
- Various breakfast cereals
- Nutritional yeast (according to Healthline you can get your recommended daily intake of B12 in one tablespoon!)
Thankfully, treatment is simple and effective. Depending on the severity of the B12 deficiency and its original cause, a daily tablet or a frequent injection (I have mine every three months) should resolve the issue.
B12 deficiency is detrimental to overall health and my ignorance to consider vital vitamins led to me feeling unwell for an unnecessary period. My advice is to read up on vitamins before making any diet changes, as although switching from a flexitarian to a vegetarian may seem like a trivial change, it can lead to serious consequences. Fundamentally B12 deficiency caused by diet is completely escapable, and I could’ve avoided this journey if I had spent 5 minutes researching vital vitamins online.
Have you transitioned to a vegetarian or vegan diet and suffered from a lack of energy due to a decreased amount of B12 in your diet? How did you resolve the issue? Let us know in the comments below and join in the conversation on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram!
Skerrett, J. P. (2019) ‘Vitamin B12 deficiency can be sneaky, harmful’ Available at https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/vitamin-b12-deficiency-can-be-sneaky-harmful-201301105780 (Accessed 25/08/2020)
NHS (2020) ‘Vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia’ Available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamin-b12-or-folate-deficiency-anaemia/ (Accessed 26/08/2020)
Silver, N. (2020) ‘Vitamin B12 foods for vegetarians’ Available at https://www.healthline.com/health/vitamin-b12-foods-for-vegetarians (Accessed 26/08/2020)