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Hi! I'm Jessica

I'm a writer, podcaster and mentor empowering others to live and thrive with endometriosis.

A Little Bit of B12

A Little Bit of B12

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So I'm pretty sure you all know by now that I spend most of my life TIRED. Seriously freaking tired (I wanted to use another word, but hey, don't want to offend). Quite naturally, I have been putting this down to endometriosis and I still believe that plays a big part, as it's such a common and persistent symptom for many women.

But recently (I say recently, but I actually mean for 12 months), I've been getting dizzy. Sometimes I'll go a few days without going dizzy, sometimes I'll go dizzy once and other days I'll think I'm falling over a few times in an hour. I did mention this to my doctor, but endo has been so predominant in our discussions that it's been overlooked for quite sometime and he put it down to my anxiety and wasn't really concerned. I have carried on being concerned, but I've been more worried about my endo, so kinda shrugged it off until the next spell.

Then much more recently, the past few months, I've been getting numbness and pins and needles in my feet and ankles out of nowhere. I'll be walking and suddenly feel like I'm walking on ice blocks, except my feet aren't cold. You know when it's winter and suddenly you can't feel your feet and they just feel like this chunky solid mass and you can't really tell where you're stepping? It's like that, but minus the temp change. I've been putting this down to poor circulation, but admittedly, I've been a bit worried.

And then there's the depression. Lately (excluding the past few weeks) I've been getting deeper into my hole. It's hard to explain it now, as today I feel relatively sane. It wasn't that these feelings surprised me, I'd seen them all before - but they felt intensified and were spiraling quite rapidly, in a way that felt uncontrolled by my thinking. It wasn't like I was grumpy and was egging myself on to be grumpier (you know, like sometimes you just want to stay in your mood for a while). It was more like someone had put my brain in a bucket of thick heavy black water and like a sponge, I'd soaked it up, and now my brain was dripping, sagging, unable to hold its weight. It felt physiological.

In addition to the depression, my brain was slow and struggling to function. I'd noticed for a good while my inability to finish sentences because I couldn't remember what I was saying or because I'd forgotten a word and genuinely, genuinely couldn't get it back. I have noticed my incredible lack of concentration and a constant battle to just be able to think - not just clearly, but almost at all. I have had frequent occasions where I've been struggling to form words in my mouth, I even asked my psychologist about this and she concluded this was all the symptoms of a panic attack. I found this strange because I usually know when I'm having one and I'd never really noticed it affect my speech, but she was the expert and besides, I didn't trust my mind or body anymore, who knows what it was doing to me?

So there was that going on. And the tiredness, the tingly legs and the dizziness. On top of that, my skin was DRY. I mean seriously dry. Like cracked hard barren dessert dry - think the scene in the Lion King when Simba is alone and is about to be eaten by vultures before Timon and Pumbaa wade in. It was almost growing in patches, like a rash and I had it specifically at the corners of my mouth. On top of everything else, this had been really really getting to me. I'd moisturise and by midday my skin was flaking again and it was pretty much impossible to cover up.

So of course, I had been feeling like my body was falling apart. My endo was worse and I had all of the above symptoms, which were doing their best to take me down. I had an inkling it was probably to do with not having enough of something, but I also felt it was heavily linked to endometriosis and how that affects the body. I also know my stomach issues mean I'm likely to not be digesting my food properly and therefore not absorbing all the nutrients I need. So basically I didn't look into it that much.

Then a few Saturdays ago, when the weight of all this was pushing down on my mind, I suddenly had the strongest desire to google 'dizziness deficiency'. I hadn't used those two words on the occasions I had googled my dizziness. I had searched dizziness and endometriosis, dizziness and depression, dizziness and anxiety, dizziness and fatigue, etc etc etc. And then guess what?

B12 Deficiency Symptoms:

  • a pale yellow tinge to your skin
  • Extreme tiredness/fatigue - like, all the time
  • a sore and red tongue (glossitis) - so that's why!
  • mouth ulcers
  • pins and needles (paraesthesia) - yep
  • changes in the way that you walk and move around - yes!!
  • disturbed vision - yep
  • irritability - hell yes
  • depression - well, obviously
  • changes in the way you think, feel and behave - yup
  • a decline in your mental abilities, such as memory, understanding and judgement - omg yes!
  • numbness and tingling in the feet and hands - yup
  • muscle weakness - that explains a lot
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus) - this has been driving me crazy
  • Cracks at the corners of the mouth - no way, this is ridiculous
  • Skin rash - yay, there's hope for my skin!

Did you ever have that moment when you read the symptoms list of endometriosis and your whole body sang in harmony "That's me"? Like it wasn't just a mental response, you could feel it in your cells - your whole body trying to tell you "Yes. That, is what we have"? If no, then I probably seem a little odd to you right now, but when I first saw that list, that is the reaction I had - my whole body felt like it had stumbled upon a treasure chest, after digging up an entire island whilst following a useless map. I completely knew, then and there, that I had endometriosis. When I read this about B12, I had the same response. That is the only other time in my life that I have felt that, so I trusted it. And to be honest, it's completely logical.

The main sources of B12 are:

  • meat
  • salmon
  • cod
  • milk
  • cheese
  • eggs
  • some fortified breakfast cereals

I eat none of those. Zero. Zilt. The last time I ate meat and fish was about 4 years ago, even then, I didn't eat much of it. I've been a fully fledged vegan since Jan 1st 2016, and all last year I avoided eggs and dairy like the plague - only ever eating them if I was in an awkward situation when someone has served it up for me or the only option on the menu for a veggie was gluten or dairy. And I gave up breakfast cereals years ago, probably around the same time as I gave up meat - I didn't want all the extra sugar and additives and was quite happy with oats or a smoothie for breakfast.

Of course, I'd known about B12 deficiency and had bought some vegan supplements a while back, but I had only been taking them intermittently and this year I've continuously forgotten to take them, sometimes for weeks on end. I know this was pretty stupid, but I think I'd allowed myself to slip because a) I discovered the brand wasn't very good (sorry Holland and Barret's), so had been waiting on my nutrition plan from my nutritionist to really get stuck in with the good supplements and b) because I knew my body was struggling to absorb things anyway, so I wasn't even sure that the shit vitamins were even partly getting into my body. So I guess I sort of slacked off a bit. 

This would also explain, why when I started taking chlorella a few weeks back, which is a source of plant based B12, that I suddenly started feeling a bit more alive then I have in say, about 2 years? I even had a conversation with my boyfriend about it. I had been nervous to bring it up, in case I jinxed it or something and this new found tiny spark of energy died out, or my new sense of occasional lightness in my brain once again returned to the weight of the world. So tentatively,  whilst walking back from an exceptionally terrible meal, I said "I don't want to jinx this, but recently - and this might just be a fluke, who knows - I've kind of felt a bit... better." I even used the same description about my brain being a sponge for depression, for this new sensation. It almost felt like my brain was tingling. In fact, now I think more about it, originally I had described it like my brain had been dipped in a liquid, a fizzy liquid full of goodness that was now making its way around my brain - slowly, yes, but it was definitely there. But actually, now I think about it, it feels more like a current, like a little electric charge is pulsing across my brain, bringing it back to life, bit by bit, feeding my grey matter and nursing it back to health. I cannot describe how good this feels to notice this new sensation. Notice something I had not felt in such a long time. Notice something that I hadn't experienced in so long, that I had forgotten it was a feeling.

I put it down to now doing a three day work week - which although was stressful as hell, was giving me more time to recuperate. I also put it down to chlorella, because it's an amazing super food which I had felt I'd been needing for quite some time, and my changes in mood and energy began within a day or two of adding it to my smoothies. However, I didn't take the time to read up on all the minerals and nutrients in the powder and try to work out what was making me respond so well to it. I think I just wanted to watch it for a while, because I still didn't really believe it was real.

And then I found out about B12. Once I knew, I was hooked and excited. I did lots of reading about it. My heart had sank a little, because in an effort to remove inflammatories and hormone disruptors, like meat and dairy, and also in an attempt to be someone who tries to follow a more ethical and sustainable diet, I had potentially yet unintentionally been making myself unwell in other ways. So I really wanted to understand and rectify this as soon as possible. Now for the vegans out there who are suddenly panicking that perhaps veganism isn't the right thing to do, if our body is rejecting it so much - please have a read of this great article. This guys debates the sources of B12 in a much better way than I could, and it put my heart to rest, that at least for me, I am doing this the right way and taking supplements is good enough.

There are much better resources out there on B12 deficiency than the information I can provide, but what I do want to explain, because it had so much of an affect on me, is how B12 supports our cognitive functions and moods. B12 helps our body to create myelin sheaths - these are protective coatings that surrounds all the cells in our nervous system and transmits the electrical signals between nerve cells, which are the messages our brain sends out to our body and to other parts of the brain, in order for us to function. But without B12, this sheath is reduced leading to an inefficiency in the messages sent between cells and resulting in issues that I have encountered, like not being able to feel my feet and where I step, to disorders like depression. In addition, B12 is also partly responsible for releasing chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, which are essential for keeping our moods balanced. Without the normal production and distribution of these, mental health problems like depression and anxiety are known to appear or worsen. To find out more about B12 and specifically, its affect on mood and cognitive function, I really like this article by Wellness Mama.

Finally, the B vitamin group plays an important role in converting the fatty acid GLA - GLA helps reduce pain levels and inflammation, as it supports the body's anti-inflammatory process. In addition, and as a side note, B6 is essential to women with endometriosis as it has been shown to reduce the severity and length of periods, as well as aids the removal and regulation of oestrogen. So basically, the B family are not a family to mess with and we quite simply need them around.

So, where am I at now? The following morning after making my discovery, I rushed down to my lovely local health shop (waited for them to open as I had forgotten it was Sunday) and bombarded them with questions around the best supplements for a B12 deficient vegan. They suggested, and quite rightly so, that I probably need all of the B vits if I was low on B12 and recommended me a vegan and reliable brand, Solgar, who unfortunately, at the time, I couldn't really afford. However, I found a vegan liquid version, BioCare - Vitasorb B, which worked well for me as I'm not sure how easily my stomach will digest tablets anyway and the idea of a liquid is that it's easier to absorb. It was cheap, at just over a fiver, and though I'd like to eventually try the more recommended brand, I wanted to get something to test my theory without breaking the bank. The recommended dose is 10 drops a day, under the tongue or in water - FYI, don't do it under the tongue, it's disgusting. I suggest 5 drops in two glasses of water, with lots and lots of mint.

The results? Well for a start, those cracks around my lips are gone and the rash is no more - my skin is still dryer than normal, but no way near what it was (I could literally run my finger across my face and my skin would come off) - I am also taking lots of Omega 3, but that's for another post. My mood is continuing to improve and stabilise, I feel now that my good days are beginning to outweigh my bad and on the bad days, I have enough clarity and mental strength to create coping solutions or counteract the thoughts, or at least, try.  I've started having enough energy and a desire to exercise (I haven't worked out for the duration of 2016, I am not exaggerating) - I have now worked out three times in the past two weeks. This is a big deal for me, it has only ranged from 10 - 30 minutes of Pilates, but still, it has felt good. I've started wanting to spend time with people more, instead of only wanting to be with my bed and the birds and I've managed to make plans and not cancel because I'm too tired. I've also felt more alert, more excited, more interested, more inspired, generally - more alive. I don't recall feeling dizzy or having lost sensation in my feet for at least the last week or two and I've not had any spots across my vision recently either.

Now, I know, this could all be a coincidence. I really don't think it is, but I am aware that some of you might think I am being a bit too over excited about all this. But listen, I know my body and I feel different. I feel better. I feel much better than I have in a really really long time. Whether this is the impact of B12 or the belief that it's the impact of B12, I guess what matters here is that I am feeling some positive results. Another thing I know, is that I have self-diagnosed, but I have endometriosis, we girls self-diagnose a lot - "I think it's growing back" "It feels like there's a cyst on my left ovary" "It feels like there's an adhesion between my pelvis and my right ovary" - generally, we are right. But I have booked a doctors appointment and am waiting on that, to discuss it with my doctor and hopefully have it tested - I have not ruled out the idea that some of these symptoms are something else, or are endo or are all related, so I am open to that and take it seriously. But I wanted to make a start - because the fact is, I am seriously missing sources of B12 in my diet, so whether or not I am deficient, I still need it, so why not begin making those changes?

I am not saying B12 is the miracle life changer - I don't think it's my soul source of depression or fatigue, I think endometriosis still plays a huge part in these issues. But it is essential to our wellbeing and physiological functioning, so I do think it needs to be seen as just that - essential. I felt it so important to talk about as I know so many of us are cutting out food groups in order to minimise our symptoms, and I would hate for others to arise in their place! But, as with all my posts - I am not a doctor, so please do seek the advice of a professional if you have noticed any of these symptoms. B12 deficiency can cause permanent neurological damage, so it's not to be taken lightly and it is wise to speak to a doctor so they can establish how severe it is - if you are deficient - and what it the best way to treat it.

I really hope this is helpful and bring back some energy to your life - I know how much us endosisters need it!

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Endo Awareness Month Series: The Highs and Lows of Sugar