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I’m Not Superwoman

December 5, 2012

Hello, long time no post. I didn’t mean to go missing and I really did want to post some recaps of my time in America. I even wrote the first post, but never got around to putting it up … it’s on my to-do list for this week because I want a record for myself as much as for anyone else.

I lost my blogging mojo I suppose, along with my fitness mojo and most of my energy just generally. I’ve been low in energy for some time and I’m written about it here a few times. About a year or so ago I was diagnosed with an iron deficiency. I was prescribed iron supplements which I took for a month and then my iron levels returned back to normal. Everyone told me that I’d feel so much better, but I still felt tired and lethargic. I didn’t think too much of it and just accepted that I’m quite a low-energy person, I’ve never been one to be bouncing off the walls.

I managed to have a full-time job, travel at the weekends to see Peter and my family and workout 5-6 days a week without too many problems, although I found that I lacked concentration some of the time and needed naps in the afternoon.

However, over the past couple of months things have got worse. I moaned at length about how broken I felt after Bridlington Half Marathon and I haven’t really run since. I did a couple of short runs on the treadmill which were pretty grim and a couple of runs outside which were pleasant enough due to the bright sunny weather. In fact any sort of exercise has felt like a drag.

What finally made me go to see the doctor was the aching joints in my hands, wrists and elbows. It’s probably repetitive strain injury, but I’m glad I’m went because the blood tests picked up a vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 is needed to make red blood cells and to keep nerves healthy. The deficiency explains a lot of the symptoms that I’ve been suffering from over the past couple of years that I’d just disregarded as normal for me, including:

  • feeling tired
  • looking pale (I’m pale anyway, so it’s kind of hard to tell)
  • heart palpitations
  • tinnitus
  • poor concentration – “brain fog”
  • tingling in my hands and feet
  • sore mouth and tongue

Vitamin B12 is found in meat and other animal products and the only people who become deficient due to diet are long-term vegans who don’t supplement. I’m definitely not vegan, so there is another cause of the deficiency. The most common cause is pernicious anaemia, which is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks the protein that enables the body to absorb B12. I tested negative for pernicious anaemia, but about 40% of people that have it test negative, so it’s still possible that I have it. Other causes include stomach surgery, some medicines and inflammatory bowel conditions.

In any case, the treatment is the same. I’m having B12 injections every other day for two weeks. I will then need to have injections once every three months for life. I’ve just had my second injection and I’m looking forward to starting to feel more like myself again. I’m lucky that it’s been found fairly early as it can make you very poorly and before a treatment was discovered about 100 years ago it was a fatal condition.

Anyway, the point of this post is that I have realised that I’m not superwoman and I don’t have to bust a gut working out every night, for some people that’s not what being healthy means. I’ve been practicing yoga or pilates most mornings, walking every lunchtime and taking lower impact classes like Urban Funk and Zumba a couple of times a week. This is much reduced from what I was doing, but it’s right for me now.

I’ve refocused my diet on including more iron and folic acid and they interact with B12. I’m also eating bananas until they’re coming out of my ears because potassium levels can drop after having the injections.

I’ve got loads of great information and advice from the Pernicious Anaemia Society website if you want to find out more information. B12 deficiency is fairy rare in younger people (1 in 10,000 across the general population of Northern Europe, but that includes 1 in 10 people over 75). It is under-diagnosed, especially in older people where it can lead to dementia and MS-like symptoms. It’s more likely if your a woman with pale skin, blue eyes and blood group A – hello, that’s me!

Hopefully in the New Year I can start rebuilding my exercise routine and I would love to keep running, but it might have to be at a more sedate pace.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. runningcupcake permalink
    December 5, 2012 7:49 pm

    Oh poor you, that sounds horrible (and as someone who is rather needle-phobic, not ideal treatment either!)- but like you say at least you know what it is now, and can treat it instead of it getting worse and worse.
    Hopefully you will be feeling more like yourself soon enough.

  2. December 5, 2012 8:44 pm

    It never ceases to amaze me how something so small that we live with day to day can in fact, once diagnosed, be treated with great success; and yet a lot of people choose to ignore it and “think it’s normal” as you did for so many years. I for one may seek medical advice sooner rather than later for any “niggles” after reading your post.

    • December 6, 2012 9:54 am

      Indeed! Also keep going back if you don’t feel right. It took 10 yrs for my uncle to be diagnosed with a b12 deficiency!

  3. December 6, 2012 9:00 am

    I was borderline vitamin b12 deficient a few years back when I first went vegan, I had to have a repeat blood test, but it came back fine. I make sure I use lots of nutritional yeast, and algaes like spirulina and chlorella which are great vegan sources of b12. I’ve been feeling a bit run down like this for the last week or so, so I have been taking it easy with my workouts, taking rest days and hoping this will help! Hope you feel back to your old self soon!

    • December 6, 2012 9:52 am

      Thanks Lauren for the vegan sources of b12. Having suffered the consequences of a deficiency I wouldn’t like anyone else to unnecessarily. Look after yourself & take plenty of rest. Do the exercise you enjoy & don’t worry if it’s less intense for a while.

  4. December 6, 2012 12:14 pm

    On the contrary, I think you ARE Superwoman.

    Think about it: who else would manage to exercise the way that you did with your condition (and you’re downplaying how serious it is to an extent – not intentionally I know, but you are such a humble person!) Who else would put in the cracking paces you did for your races having not been running for very long and also having to deal with your foot injury? I’m so glad you discovered this because when I was first vegan (back when I was 14 and didn’t know what I was doing) for a year my B12 levels went very wonky indeed and I struggled to even get through P.E at school!

    I really hope the injections help you.

    *huge hugs*

    • December 6, 2012 3:47 pm

      Thanks Jess, that’s really sweet. I haven’t really suffered badly until the past couple of months, but I suspect my b12 level has been going down gradually for a while

  5. December 6, 2012 8:17 pm

    You haven’t convinced me yet. When you say “B12 deficiency” I’m understanding that to mean “was poked with kryptonite”.

  6. December 6, 2012 8:37 pm

    Well what a relief you found it! Thanks for that information too, its very useful and I’ll be keeping that in mind if I’m ever coaching anyone with those symptoms and that personal profile. Hope that the injections do the trick and you feel back to full super hero strength very soon!

    • December 6, 2012 8:47 pm

      Thanks Laura. From what I understand it’s underdiagnosed & GPs often miss it. It’s often mistaken for depression, ME or CFS

  7. December 6, 2012 9:28 pm

    Bless you, it sounds like you have been having a terrible time. I hope you feel better soon!.

  8. December 7, 2012 3:52 pm

    Sorry to hear you’ve not been well, but at least you now know what is wrong. I hope those injections help and that you are on the mend!

  9. Jo Crawford permalink
    December 7, 2012 8:09 pm

    Sarah I ‘suffered’ with tingling hands and feet for a few months earlier in the year. I was told by a triage Dr that it was probably the start of Ranaulds disease but I didn’t think it was so after a miserable holiday in Menorca I went to another doctor who knew my history with Iron deficiency and took me seriously. We found very low B12 and I took a high dose of tablets and felt better very quickly. He also found that my vitamin D level was nearly defficient also which is strange considering how much time I spend outside. You might want to have this test too as you may have a body that doesn’t absorb iron and other vitamins (magnesium). One of my syptoms was extreme irritability which has ceased too – hooray. You’ll feel a million dollars soon I’m certain. Jo C

    • December 7, 2012 10:35 pm

      Thanks Jo! I’ve been iron deficient before so keeping an eye on that. I’ll ask my doctor about vit D because I know some people have both deficiencies.

  10. December 9, 2012 6:40 pm

    oh that is so poop, but I’m really pleased that it’s been picked up so quickly for you. Hoe you feel better soon 🙂

  11. December 13, 2012 6:17 pm

    So sorry to hear that you’ve been feeling so poorly this past few months. I really hope the B12 injections do the trick for you. They don’t sound very pleasant, but if they work then it’ll be worth it. As you said, B12 deficiencies can have a seriously negative impact on our health. Since I’m pretty much vegan, maybe I should get my B12 levels checked out. I don’t take supplements, but I do have fortified milks, yeast extracts, etc. I guess it depends how efficient my body is at absorbing B12 in this way.

    • December 13, 2012 6:45 pm

      From the limited research I’ve done, you don’t need too much B12, so if you don’t have trouble absorbing it then you should yet enough from fortified foods. If you suffer from any of the symptoms of deficiency it’s definitely worth getting checked out though.

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