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"People assume that non-vegans are getting enough B12 in their diet, simply because they aren’t vegan..."
By
Sunita*, Presented by
Yasmin Noone

17 Feb 2020 - 1:57 PM  UPDATED 17 Feb 2020 - 2:31 PM

I was born in the UK but my parents are first-generation Indian and my family are Hindu. So as part of our culture and religion, I didn’t grow up eating a lot of meat. We used to have a little bit of chicken, perhaps once a week, but we mostly ate vegetarian meals. 

When I was 18 years old, I decided to become remove red meat and poultry from my diet. Instead, following a diet that included fish, vegetables, eggs and dairy.

Around five years later, I started to develop some subtle health symptoms. I experienced fatigue and muscle aches and had a general feeling of burnout. The symptoms soon became extreme and I felt like I was dying.

I went to a GP who told me I had low iron levels, which I have always had even when I was younger. But I knew something else was going on. He also said my B vitamin levels were off but that was all. He didn’t tell me I needed to do anything about it.

I eventually took my blood test results to a naturopath who told me that I had a B12 deficiency, even though I was eating fish, eggs and dairy – two major sources of B12. I started on B12 supplements but stopped taking them [years later] when I felt better.

 I experienced fatigue and muscle aches, and had a general feeling of burnout. The symptoms soon became extreme and I felt like I was dying.

How it felt to have a B12 deficiency, the second time around

A few years later, I moved to Australia where I continued to maintain this diet but decided to incorporate a little bit more fish but I soon realised I was eating more fish than I was comfortable with, for animal rights reasons.

So five years ago, I became a vegan. Everything continued as normal health-wise until a few months ago when I started noticing that my balance was off. I became clumsy and I didn’t feel clear in my head. I also had muscle aches.

At the time, I thought it was just a cold. Then I thought the fatigue was a result of my iron being low or because I had done too many yoga classes during the week. I palmed everything off saying that there was always a reason for feeling like that. But eventually, the symptoms started feeling very familiar.

Eventually, I went to see my GP. A few weeks ago, I was diagnosed as having a B12 deficiency again. It’s the first time my levels have been so low in five years so I’ve started taking supplements.

I’ve been on the supplements for several weeks now and my energy levels feel stronger and my muscles are aching less. But I still haven’t returned to my usual self and do feel some brain fog. I’m told it could take up to six weeks for my levels to be ‘normal’ again.

My advice: go get your levels checked

This time around, it seemed my GP was aware of the issue, especially as it is often associated with veganism. But given I first became deficient in B12 when I was eating fish, eggs and dairy, I think medical professionals, vegetarians and meat-eaters should understand that anyone can develop a B12 deficiency.

People wrongly assume that non-vegans are getting enough B12 in their diet, simply because they aren’t vegan. But how does your GP know how much you’re consuming? Everybody’s diet and health is different so you may not be getting enough no matter what your eating pattern is.

Can you make great croissants without butter? This Melbourne vegan bakery does
Weirdoughs serves croissants with "ham and cheese", rainbow-coloured almonds and strawberry and tomato ketchup ice-cream.

However, as veganism goes more mainstream and more people become vegans for different reasons, I would advise all vegans to see a GP and get a blood test. If you’re making any changes to your diet, you need to be careful. It’s important to know your general state of health and to have benchmark results to refer to in the future.

If you start to feel unwell, don’t dismiss it and don’t blame everything on stress. If you feel that you have symptoms like fatigue, a lack of balance or brain fog, tell your doctor that you want your B12 levels checked.

When you start to lack health, health becomes a big thing. It becomes your main priority in life. So don’t wait until the last minute to have your levels checked. Listen to your body. You have one life, so live it as optimally as you can.

*Surname omitted. 

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