It Happened to Me: I Had a B-12 Deficiency

My vitamin deficiency nearly ruined my relationship!

Mar 30, 2012 at 2:00pm | Leave a comment

You know that weird crunchy friend you have who carries avocados in her purse and refuses to wear deodorant because she SWEARS she “doesn’t smell?” OK, well that friend is me.

Raised by a super-earthy mama, I have been on a health kick since birth -- aside from all of the drinking and smoking I did when I was younger, but whatever I ate enough Swiss chard to cancel that shit out.

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I have already talked about using natural methods to handle my depression. Veganism, which I began my senior year of college, also makes me feel super glowy and energetic. Which is why I became really flummoxed when my hair started falling out, I was having heart palpitations, my hands and feet were always numb and oh yeah, I felt drunk when sober. Wait what? Let’s back-track

In February of this year, I was out for a run when my hands and feet went numb. I wobbled back to my house, whined to my then-boyfriend, and waited the 20 or so minutes until I regained feeling before forgetting about it. Until it happened again. And again. And again.

Within two weeks, my hands and feet were going numb at least once a day, and with the numb phalanges came heart palpitations that made me feel like I was running or all hopped up on Adderall -- another dumb thing I did when I was younger. 

Then I noticed that my hair was falling out. Not in chunks out of my head or anything -- I have so much hair it would take a monumental loss to notice baldness -- but in the shower. In big hairy clumps that I would grossly make my boyfriend put on the sink outside our claw-foot tub where is sat like a Rogainey Tarantula until shower-time was over. It was actually my boyfriend who noticed that the hair-balls were getting bigger. And bigger. And bigger.

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Around the same time I was losing hair and the feeling in my fingers, I was seriously depressed. More depressed than I had been since I was an angsty 15-year-old chain smoking Newports and pining over her gay best friend.

My mood swings were horrendous, I never wanted to leave the house, I cried all the time and I constantly snarled at my poor boyfriend who would ask me heartbreaking questions like “Do you even want me here?” and “Isn’t there anything I can do to make you happy?” only to be answered with a slamming door to the face.

But still, I did nothing. I was in denial. I was healthy, dammit! Duh, I was a vegan. I could practically bleed carrot-ginger juice.

Then, one Saturday evening I felt so drunk I could barely walk room-to-room. This might be normal, if it weren’t for the fact I had spent the whole night drinking tea and watching crappy movies with my old college roommates, no booze involved.

I was disoriented and confused, my vision blurry, appendages numb and my heart racing. It was as if I could feel my brain trying to think. I hunkered down in bed and waited for my boyfriend to get home from work, when he convinced me to go to the doctor. 

But, of course, before I went to the doctor I Googled my symptoms and came up with a b12 deficiency. I fit the description perfectly: 

  • Mental confusion
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Impulse Control
  • Pins and needles in the extremities
  • Balance issues
  • Hair loss

But I was confused because, like a good vegan, I had been taking a b12 supplement! Plus, when I got my blood tests taken the next day, my b12 levels seemed fine. 

Over the next three weeks, I visited a bunch of doctors in the area who had no suggestions whatsoever. While I was seeing these doctors, I was also looking around for a naturopath -- I was in the South, y’all! Unable to find one close, I was able to set up a phone consultation with a lovely woman who is both an MD and an ND. After telling her my symptoms and self-diagnosis, she asked what medications I am taking.

“Just birth control…”

Which is when she told me that birth control -- which by the way, is NOT vegan -- blocks your b12 receptors. So the supplements I was popping were showing up in my blood, but they weren’t being absorbed. Double fail.

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The doctors I saw before speaking with the naturopath had charts stating that I am vegan, and also on the pill, and no one made the connection. It’s a bummer, but the moral of this story is yes, go to the doctor, but also do your own medical research.

Had I Googled “vegan” and “birth control” I would have learned that there is no vegan oral contraceptive (whoops!), and had I dug further I would have found the link between birth control and b12 deficiencies.

The second moral of the story is when your hair starts falling out like that girl from "The Craft" and you can’t feel your feet, you should probably go to the doctor sooner rather than later. 

I am no longer on the pill, and take b12 supplements on the reg, and I am feeling just fine -- and still very hairy.