Pernicious Anemia and B12 Deficiency- Historically Fatal, Still Formidable
Vitamin B12 deficiency, Addison-Biermer’s anemia- Pernicious anemia (PA) has been called many things. Though we have a cure in vitamin B12 supplements, symptoms of pernicious anemia remain similar to historical descriptions of this once fatal disease.
“Starvation in the midst of plenty”
In 1849, if a doctor diagnosed you with pernicious anemia, he would have told you to say your prayers. That’s because back then, the survival rate was 1-3 years. Many scientists tried various experiments to find out what caused this fatal disease, which was as dreaded as leukemia is today, causing symptoms like tiredness, painful tingling in the arms and legs, muscular weakness, and finally, death.
Anybody care for a shot of liver juice?
Finally, Dr. William B. Castle made an important scientific breakthrough. He conducted an experiment that involved feeding regurgitated raw hamburger meat to patients of pernicious anemia, and discovered the presence of intrinsic factor, an essential chemical found in gastric juices that is lacking in pernicious anemia patients. Like many medical discoveries, the next one that occurred somewhat by accident. In trying to find a cure for anemia resulting from blood loss, Dr. George Whipple produced the first cure for pernicious anemia- raw liver. Later, in 1926, scientists developed a more concentrated antidote based on the same therapy- raw liver juice, to be swallowed or injected.
Vitamin B12 is born
It wasn’t until two decades later that scientists finally discovered the potent ingredient in raw liver juice. In 1948, two chemists from the US and Britain isolated cobalamin as the health-giving nutrient, and named it vitamin B12. For patients of pernicious anemia, dosages of 1000 to 4000 mcg, prescribed daily, were given orally as vitamin B12 pills or through intramuscular injection, as a vitamin B12 shot. Another method of supplementing vitamin B12 are sublingual B12 tablets.
Pernicious anemia symptoms
Scientists today understand that pernicious anemia is a form of megaloblastic anemia, resulting from weakened DNA synthesis in red blood cells. People with pernicious anemia suffer from an autoimmune condition that inhibits your body’s ability to produce intrinsic factor, thus resulting in vitamin B12 deficiency. Rarely does pernicious anemia ever result in death, since doctors today know how to diagnose the symptoms early on, and confirm diagnosis with a vitamin B12 blood test. Still, many of the symptoms of pernicious anemia are disabling, and often confused with other conditions like clinical depression, thyroid disorder, and diabetes.
Typical symptoms of pernicious anemia are:
- Chronic fatigue
- Pale complexion
- Decreased appetite
- Loss of concentration
- Shortness of breath while exercising
- Painful tingling or numbness in the hands and feet
- Sore, red swollen tongue
- Bleeding gums
- Altered taste perception
- Short-term memory loss
- Frequent stumbling
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