Following a vegan diet can have a plethora of health boons. If done correctly, these benefits can include lowered cholesterol, lowered risks for certain cancers and diseases like cardiovascular disease, prostate cancer and diabetes. The diet can aid weight loss, bolster energy levels and sex drive and reduce depression. Eating a vegan diet and following a vegan lifestyle (supporting nothing that has come from or been tested on animals) is environmentally friendly and can reduce your carbon footprint. Of course, there will always be opposing viewpoints to any lifestyle, and if not done correctly, a vegan diet — like any diet— can have some serious tolls on the body and mind.
A vegetarian for the past 7 years, and a vegan for going on 1 1/2, I considered myself to be pretty healthy. I love vegetables and pile
my plate high with greens, whole grains and protein daily. I thought I was doing pretty good. I had a bottle of b12 supplements, but I only took them when I remembered, which sometimes was less than once a week. An avid runner who likes to practice yoga and eat endless amounts of swiss chard, I felt like I was pretty healthy.
A few months ago my right hand began occasionally going numb. The first time it occurred I happened to be running, and ended up attributing it to that. No biggie. When my feet started tingling and going numb occasionally throughout the day, I blamed it on the fact that my job requires me to sit at a desk 6-8 hours a day. Could be worse. It wasn’t until a scare I had last weekend that I would admit something was seriously wrong.
On a Saturday night I had a few friends I hadn’t seen in a while over, and before they arrived I noticed my heart was feeling a bit fluttery, and my hands and feet were tingling. I continued to feel weird throughout the evening, and by the time my friends left I was completely disoriented. Dizzy, numb and confused, I felt as if we had spent the evening pounding shots of Jose instead of cuddling on the couch catching up. Completely disoriented, I was having trouble focusing and my brain seemed to be moving extremely slow.
I had my boyfriend drive me to the walk-in clinic first thing in the morning, but not before I spent a very dizzy half-hour researching on the web. Low and behold, when I looked up my symptoms, the first thing that surfaced was a b12 deficiency. Oh, shit.
b12 deficiency anemia symptoms can include:
- Feeling light-headed, weak or tired
- Having very pale skin
- Intestinal problems such as nausea, constipation or diarrhea
However, if ignored for a long period, brain and/or nerve damage can occur. These symptoms can include:
- Numbness or tingling in limbs
- A poor sense of balance
- Depression and a loss of mental abilities
Resorting to any type of diet or lifestyle change is not a good idea without sufficient research and planning. As veganism is becoming trendier than emo glasses and jeggings, I worry people will plunge into it headfirst without doing their research. While I thought I had it covered, it is clear that I did not, and as a result may have caused damage to my brain and nervous system. Luckily, the human body is an amazing thing and this damage is not irreversible, although I will need to begin getting regular b12 shots to get my b12 levels back to where they should be. Simple b12 pills will not be sufficient.
So, to any vegheads reading this, make sure you are getting enough b12! Don’t just assume you are because you eat buckets of kale and chew on tempeh like its Bubble Yum. Get a blood test and check out your b12 levels. Take a supplement if you need it. Veganism is meant to bolster the health of the body and planet, not hinder it!