My B12 is Too Low

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It’s been four years this month since I became vegan. Since I was already vegetarian for several years, it wasn’t a hard transition to make. My doctors knew about my diet change so they added B12 to my list of blood work “issues” to watch out for. About two years ago my oncologist noticed my B12 levels dropping, so every month since then I get a B12 shot.

I never really gave much thought of how important this vitamin is or even what it actually does; that is until my last checkup a few days ago. My oncologist said my blood work looked great (yay!) except my B12 was much too low, so starting next week I will get a shot every day and then once a week for a month and then back to monthly.

For the last several weeks I have been feeling sleepy around 7pm everyday; I just thought I was having a hard time adjusting to the time change (even though that happened four months ago) but maybe it is my lack of B12. I decided to learn more about the importance of this vitamin and here is what I found: Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Vitamin B12 deficiency causes tiredness, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, and megaloblastic anemia. Nerve problems, such as numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, can also occur. Other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include problems with balance, depression, confusion, dementia, poor memory, and soreness of the mouth or tongue. Vitamin B12 deficiency can damage the nervous system even in people who don’t have anemia, so it is important to treat a deficiency as soon as possible.

It went on to explain that people over the age of fifty can be deficient because their bodies might not absorb vitamins as well and since I am barely fifty (ahem), that could be another reason why I’m “low.”

I don’t eat meat (which is where most people get their B12; from the animal protein) but I thought I was getting enough protein from other sources; like nut butters and beans– apparently my blood disagrees. There is so much information floating around the Web it can be mind-boggling when it comes to which information I can believe. Some say all foods contain protein, even vegetables, so I went along with that theory. The majority of foods I eat are 70% raw, consisting of vegetables and fruits. I purposely stayed away from soy products because I read that too much soy isn’t good for me. Yesterday I read that vegans can get B12 from eating foods “fortified with vitamins”, but in my mind, fortified meant “made in a lab” and that doesn’t sound healthy to me. In fact, I believe eating foods made with artificial ingredients (chemicals) gave me cancer in the first place. Why would I take a chance on getting that again! But in order to heal myself, I decided to be open to the idea.

burgerSeveral months ago I was at a “Green Fair” and tried some samples of different soy products; one of them was from a company called Gardein, which makes a healthy GMO free vegan burger, that tasted pretty good. I even bought a package and made some delicious dinners from them, but after they were gone I went back to eating only “greens.” After reading the nutrient contents on some of the soy products at the grocery store yesterday, I decided to expand my food repertoire. Eating organic soy protein a few times a week and adding soy milk to my smoothies shouldn’t hurt. I also found a B complex that is vegan.

I will remain vegan because the diet works for me but I learned to be more flexible and add more soy protein. I think the key to health is balance and that includes eating a balanced diet. Hopefully adding soy protein and taking a B complex daily will eventually lead to me not having to have a B12 shot.

I will keep you posted to my progress.

Be well!

Ingebird

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14 thoughts on “My B12 is Too Low

  1. I take sublingual B12 (under the tongue) maybe a few times a week, and that’s been enough. Fortified foods are good, and Gardein makes some wonder meat alternatives!

    I know how B12 “from a lab” might sound terrible, but look at it like this: B12 “from a lab” is produced cleanly using very specific bacteria. It’s safe, environmentally sustainable and reliable.

    Be well!

    Eric

      • In addition to B12, I also take vegan d3 (during the winter months in Canada) and sometimes vegan DHA.

        I sometimes take a multivitamin, but that’s more because I already have them and don’t want them going to waste. I use to take iron because mmy Crohn’s Disease caused a lot of bleeding.

        Crohn’s Disease has played a role in any deficiencies I’ve had,partly due to malabsorption, but also because I wasn’t able to eat for years. But having been vegan now over 15 (half that time with Crohn’s), my blood tests are quite good. I am still working on improving my nutrition through food.

        Look into nutritional yeast for b vitamins. It’s naturally high, and can be sprinkled on food. Some are fortified with B12, but not the brand I get.

  2. I don’t mean any disrespect whatsoever, but I would have to ask myself if the diet is really “working” for you if you have to add synthetic vitamins and questionable soy products to achieve normal blood chemistry values. Some people are vegan for ethical reasons, and I totally respect that choice, but when it comes to survival and prevention, a few humanely and cleanly raised animal products could be what your body is craving. I’m a fellow survivor, and I totally agree with getting your veggie quota, but listening to your body is important.

    By the way, if you are going to go with supplements, those made “cleanly in a lab” contain all sorts of ingredients that work against health. B vitamins are notorious for being sourced from coal tar. All of the studies showing increased risk of health problems and death from vitamins use the synthetic forms. Go with a whole food source from a reputable company.

    • I feel that a few points need to be clarified.

      As Inge pointed out, people over 50 will need to supplement anyway as their ability to absorb B12 is deminished. It’s estimated that up to 30% of older people can’t absorb B12: http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309065542&page=306#page_middle

      B12 “from a lab” is manufactured similar to how fermented foods like sauerkraut or Kefir is made – bacterial fermentation creates B12 in a controlled environment. It’s not a synthetic vitamin.

      Here is a product that I’d recommend as a sublingual supplement, since fortified foods won’t help if the problem is absorption:
      http://www.devanutrition.com/vitamin_b12-2500mcg.html

      “Other Ingredients: Xylitol, Mannitol, Lemon Flavor, Crospovidone, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Vegetable Magnesium Stearate, Silica. (All of the ingredients are from non-animal sources)”

      None of these ingredients are harmful, especially in the tiny dose required. A single egg is more harmful.

      I do agree that there are fully synthetic vitamins that are harmful (mostly fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, Vitamin E), including calcium, but B12 is one of the most harmless vitamins you can get – there is no upper limit as you simply urinate anything excess.

      Soy, has been shown to be highly beneficial, especially in the prevention or relapse of cancer.

      http://www.dietitians.ca/Nutrition-Resources-A-Z/Factsheets/Miscellaneous/Health-Benefits-of-Soy.aspx

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22648714

      What most people should be worried about are the natural hormones found in animal products, along with the fact that all animal products increase IGF-1, which is known to stimulate cancer cells.

    • Hello Lisa, I appreciate your response. I am always open to hear all points of view.

      My B12 is not dangerously low but I obviously need some help. As for eating any meat or dairy, I have to decline. I am alive and healthy (except for the B12 levels) and I am the only survivor from all other stage IV rectal cancer patients who were seen by the same medical team as me, before and after I was diagnosed. My doctors are not alarmed, only proactive. I research all supplements and herbs thoroughly before putting them in my body. You are correct, there is a lot of garbage sold as health supplements. All of us are bombarded with toxins daily so taking a supplement can’t hurt. I take vitamin d3, calcium/magnesium, and soon a B complex to round out my health regimen. I completely agree, listening to one’s body is essential and getting a second opinion when your doctor’s diagnosis doesn’t seem right.

      I decided to write about my experience because I read many posts and comments from vegans who never have an issue with getting their vitamins, but there might be someone reading my post and think, “I have been feeling sluggish lately. I will get my blood checked out.” Information is knowledge and the more we share our experiences (good and bad) the better. We are each unique and our bodies require and respond to different food choices and life styles. I believe there is no “right way,” we must find what works for each of us.

      When it comes to cancer treatments, I believe the same way. The patients choose which way to go, but again — knowledge is power. Patients should be given all choices, but western medicine is not geared that way. I believe we can thank pharmaceutical companies for that. I know people who were cured using chemo/radiation/surgery and others who chose alternative. I decided on integrative and it worked for me. It depends on the person (do they have pre-existing conditions? Like diabetes? heart disease? their age) ; what type of cancer and what stage they are in. There are so many variables to consider.

      I will continue to do what works for me and do the necessary adjustments when they come up and share my experience with you dear reader…knowledge is power.

      • I know diet is a touchy subject for everyone, let alone cancer survivors. Definitely not judging your lifestyle here. I just think it’s important for people to know that what makes their body feel energized and healthy is the right choice for them. Many survivors say that the vegan lifestyle is the only one that is beneficial for lessening the odds of recurrence. That doesn’t work for me; leaves me hungry and fatigued. We’re all built differently; the key is in honoring what your body needs and making the healthiest choices no matter what the food.

        As for toxicity, you probably know this, but your readers may not. You can go to the Environmental Working Group website and type in any ingredient you want. It will tell you the toxicity rating by category, i.e. cosmetics, cleaning products, and food. It will also allow you to click on a lower (better) rating and see comparable products. For example, the Gardein product came up 4.5. Not bad, but it let me choose lower scores to see the alternatives.

        In the end, we have a common goal, kicking cancer’s ass!

      • The EWG’s Food scores are a nice starting point to investigate food, but I would urge anyone who uses those scores to look further into the methodology.

        For example, in the worst Gargein product (5/10 score), with “processing concerns” being listed as the worst offender, but when you realize that herbs and spices negatively impact that score, it becomes less reliable. Certainly, there are many herbs/spices that are not only harmless, but may actually be beneficial to health – so why is the score being lowered because of their inclusion?

        The product also gets points lost for not being certified-organic, but the company does state that they use organic and certified non-gmo ingredients whenever possible. I’ve got local apple growers who are not certified organic, but they most certainly would fit the criteria.

        Still, I’m glad to hear that you’re taking responsibility for your health by looking into these product ingredients. That’s something that I wish more people were doing!

  3. After 20 years vegan, I find a rotation works well for me with supplements. I have a super naturopath and she changes vitamins seasonally for me. For soy… Try getting organic fresh beans and growing your own! It’s fun and they grow easily. You only need a sunny window, 🙂 hope your b12 is tip top in no time

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