Are You B12 Deficient? Why It Matters So Much
By Neenah Payne
Emergency room nurse Sally Pacholok says in her book Could It Be B12?: An Epidemic of Misdiagnoses, “Very rarely in medicine can such a severely debilitating and potentially life-threatening disorder be so easily diagnosed, and so easily and inexpensively treated.”
The article B12 deficiency: a silent epidemic with serious consequences points out, “B12 deficiency isn’t a bizarre, mysterious disease. It’s written about in every medical textbook and its causes and effects are well-established in the scientific literature. However, B12 deficiency is far more common than most health care practitioners and the general public realize.”
Data from 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. 9 percent had outright deficiency, and 16 percent exhibited “near deficiency”.
Most surprising to the researchers was the fact that low B12 levels were as common in younger people as they were in the elderly….It’s entirely possible that at least some of the symptoms we attribute to “normal” aging – such as memory loss, cognitive decline, decreased mobility, etc. – are at least in part caused by B12 deficiency.”
B12 Deficiency Mimics Many Illnesses
The page Dangers of Vitamin B12 Deficiency of my Urban Gardens Revolution site links to two video interviews with Sally Pacholok that show how catastrophic B12 deficiency can be. Yet, the symptoms are completely reversible — if treated in time. Pregnant women should be tested for B12 deficiency because the folate often prescribed for them can mask the problem. B12 deficiency in a mother can cause major neurological problems for her child.
Pacholok points out that B12 deficiency mimics many degenerative diseases for people of all ages – including ADHD, Diabetes, MS, ALS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, postpartum depression, psychosis, heart disease, mental retardation, etc. Symptoms such as poor memory, seizures, balance problems, nerve pain, numbness or tingling, stroke-like symptoms, etc. can also be caused by a lack of B12.
If illnesses or symptoms are due to B12 deficiency, they can be completely reversed inexpensively and easily – if caught in time. So, people who have been diagnosed with these illnesses or have symptoms like these need to be tested for B12 deficiency and start treatments as quickly as possible.
In the article The Meat of B12 Deficiency: Interview with Sally M. Pacholok, R.N., B.S.N., Pacholok explains why B12 deficiency is often misdiagnosed and untreated:
First and foremost, there is a severe knowledge deficit in health practitioners. They have incomplete information about B12, they are using old guidelines, and they are treating lab reports instead of patients. Additionally, the “normal range” on blood reports is outdated — it is much too low. Furthermore, when treatment is given, it is usually too little too late…. If you wait for the blood test to show a deficiency, there will already be neurological damage….
Another reason is because there is very little training in nutrition in medical schools. Many times a patient presenting with depression will automatically be treated with antidepressants instead of being tested for B12 deficiency. Additionally, B12 screenings are not included for older adults who fall or are at risk of falling, older adults who have cognitive changes or dementia, patients presenting with mental illness or depression, or patients who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Risk For Vegetarians and Vegans
Lacto-ovo vegetarians can get protein (and B12) from eggs. However, strict vegetarians and vegans, and people who follow a macrobiotic diet have no sources of B12.
The article 16 Million People in the US are Now Vegan or Vegetarian! reports,
In 2009, a tiny one percent of the US population reported eating vegetarian or vegan. Now, 5% of the United States population is vegetarian and half of those people are vegan. The rates have skyrocketed over the last five years and studies show the rates are climbing….
Celebrities also make up a significant portion of those who are vegan or vegetarian. Athletes, talk show hosts, millionaires, and even political figures are now turning to a veggie-based diet or a completely vegan diet. Restaurants are also changing by either offering a vegan or vegetarian entrée…. Supermarkets now….offer more vegan or vegetarian products…. In fact, it’s now estimated that by 2050, America may be a “vegan country”, at least by a large percentage!
No longer is veganism the diet for hippies and health nuts; according to statistics, it’s now just a smart way to live that can help decrease our ecological footprint and works our compassion muscles.”
John Robbins’ 8-day online Food Revolution Summit in May was participated in by over 200,000 people in over 140 countries. Robbins is the author of The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World which has been read by 20 million people worldwide. The Summit advocates a plant-based diet – as do a growing number of well-respected, high-profile doctors like Dr. Dean Ornish who are integrating nutrition into their practices. A video with Dr. Ornish is linked to on the Revolution In Medicine page in my Urban Gardens Revolution site.
Dr. Garth Davis, renowned bariatric surgeon and advocate of plant-based eating, partnered with Memorial Hermann Medical Center and the Rawfully Organic Co-Op to open Houston’s first hospital-based organic produce stand. The project is an extension of Dr. Davis’ “Farmacy” program launched in 2012. Dr. Davis said, “I write all of my patients a prescription for more fruits and vegetables.” A video with Dr. Davis is linked to on the Farmacy page of my site.
The article What Everyone (Especially Vegetarians) Should Know About B12 explains:
A common myth amongst vegetarians and vegans is that it’s possible to get B12 from plant sources like seaweed, fermented soy, spirulina and brewers yeast. But plant foods said to contain B12 actually contain B12 analogs called cobamides that block intake of and increase the need for true B12….
This is why it’s crucial for those that abstain from animal products to understand that there are no plant sources of B12 and that all vegans and most vegetarians should supplement. This is especially important for vegetarian or vegan children or pregnant women, whose need for B12 is even greater than adults. In addition, omnivores that are low in B12 despite eating a diet rich in animal foods that contain B12 should also supplement.
Get Tested Before Taking B12 Supplements!
In her book Could It Be B12?: An Epidemic of Misdiagnoses, Sally Pacholok encourages people to become informed and insist on being tested for B12 deficiency even if their doctors are reluctant. Pacholok points out that it is ESSENTIAL that people get tested BEFORE taking supplements to establish a baseline that can be used to establish the degree of deficiency and later the efficacy of treatments. Once a person takes supplements, the baseline test is no longer possible even if s/he stops taking supplements.
The page Vitamin B12 Smart Phone Apps on my site links to the B12 iPhone and Android App that provide an easy way to determine your level of risk. That page also links to the article Laughing Gas Use which warns of the dangers of dentists using nitrous oxide with patients who are B12 deficient.
It points out:
Laughing gas inactivates B12 and could quickly bring on all of our usual deficiency symptoms. Most of the literature on this subject relates to long term abuse of nitrous oxide, rather than one-time administration, but, as is mentioned in the Lancet article I’ve linked to above, there are cases where one dose does cause problems.
The DVD Sally Pacholok is available on Amazon and the film can be seen Vimeo. The film documents Pacholok’s long struggle to convince the medical profession of the urgent need to test for B12 deficiency in anyone who is symptomatic or in a high-risk group. Sally’s husband, Jeffrey Stuart, DO, co-author of the book, is a board-certified physician and a member of the American Osteopathic Association, the American College of Osteopathic Emergency Physicians, the Macomb County Osteopathic Society, and the Michigan Osteopathic Association.
The film shows that when Jeffrey met Sally, he was as uninformed as many doctors about how common B12 deficiency is. However, he later discovered that four members of his family were deficient!
Next Steps: B12 Awareness Week or Month
Pacholok discusses their goals now:
We are trying to make a B12 Awareness Week or Month through the legislative process. Congress needs to recognize the critical nature of B12 deficiency with an annual day or week. If they did recognize it, we would organize educational seminars in schools and hospitals. We would give interviews on radio, television, and blogs. This is a worldwide problem we need to get the media involved in. But so far the medical community as well as the media have been very resistant.
Pacholok’s website is at: http://b12awareness.org.