Vitamin B12 deficiency causes pernicious anemia, which creates horrible symptoms like painful tingling in your hands and feet, numbness, chronic fatigue, memory loss, depression, and even chronic clumsiness. What’s really behind all these debilitating symptoms, you wonder? Deranged DNA…
You’re mad, I tell you- Mad!
Pernicious anemia (PA) tends to creep up on you, like a scary monster in a B movie. You might not even realize you have B12 deficiency until you start noticing weird symptoms. Your hands and feet fall asleep on you while you sit at your computer. It feels like thousands of fire ants are crawling up your legs. Sometimes, you could swear that your mouth was on fire, like you ate a red chili pepper.
Only you didn’t…
Then PA attacks your brain, causing brain fog. You struggle to find the right words in conversation, left hanging while you awkwardly try to remember what you were trying to say. You walk into a room and immediately forget what you came in for. You forget to buy things on your mental shopping list. You wake up feeling drugged, exhausted, even though you had plenty of sleep the night before.
If you didn’t have your name printed clearly for you on your driver’s license, you just might forget it…
Pernicious anemia is Abby-normal
Pernicious anemia is an autoimmune disorder in which your body interferes with production of a very necessary protein- intrinsic factor. Intrinsic factor is produced in your stomach, and you need it to digest vitamin B12 (cobalamin). Without intrinsic factor, your body cannot extract vitamin B12 from food sources like beef, chicken, fish, and eggs. Instead, the vitamin B12 just passes through your intestines, without ever entering the blood stream.
Say goodbye to B12…
DNA production goes awry
If pernicious anemia sounds frightening, it’s because it does wicked things to your body. You need vitamin B12 for many important bodily functions, like protecting the nervous system, enhancing cognitive development, and maintaining adequate supplies of energy.
Most importantly, your red blood cells need vitamin B12 for DNA synthesis. With pernicious anemia, DNA synthesis in the red blood cells comes to a standstill, while RNA synthesis keeps chugging along.
And then, things get really weird…
Franken-DNA is born
The result is microcytic anemia, a type of megaloblastic anemia causing enlarged red blood cells. Not only are your blood cells too big to function normally, but they are also deformed. Your poor large red blood cells remain trapped inside your bone marrow, unable to leave because they have grown enormous in size.
Remember Alice, trapped in the White Rabbit’s house? Yeah, it’s kind of like that.
Hey, where’re all the red blood cells at?
Trapped in your bone marrow! And your body needs red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body. But with vitamin B12 deficiency, very few red blood cells manage to escape their “prison” in your bones, because they are too big to exit. Your red blood cell levels go way down, and you start to feel tired, anxious, and wiry.
It’s because you are not getting enough oxygen.
Treating macrocytic anemia
Managing macrocytic anemia is simple enough if you know what’s causing it. Pernicious anemia from low B12 levels is just one cause. Other causes of enlarged red blood cells are alcoholism and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), among others. With alcoholism, B12 deficiency symptoms can still be the underlying cause of macrocytic anemia.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can be treated with vitamin B12 supplements. However, if your body can’t digest vitamin B12 because of lack of intrinsic factor, then you will have to use vitamin B12 supplements that bypass the digestive system and go directly into the bloodstream.
Examples of vitamin B12 supplementation used for pernicious anemia are routine B12 shots and sublingual B12 pills. The B12 shots require a doctor’s prescription, and can be painful, as they have to be inserted into thick muscular tissue. B12 pills are readily available over-the-counter (OTC). Many patients have reported a burning sensation while using sublingual B12 tablets that dissolve under the tongue.
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