Monday, December 10, 2012

Science trumps magic

I've written here before about my battles with restless leg syndrome and how I was persuaded to sleep with a bar of soap as a magical(?) cure for the problem. Much to my surprise, it actually worked. My twitchy legs stopped twitching at night and keeping me awake. I was able to sleep soundly.

I still don't know why it worked. Psychological palliative? Placebo effect? Who knows? Who cares, really, as long as it worked. But then it stopped working. By this past summer, the problem had returned with a vengeance. My legs were no longer just restless at night - they ached. I spent my nights tossing and turning and my days frowning and snapping at people. Finally, I got so desperate that I actually discussed the problem with my doctor. "Well, duh," you might say, and you would be right.

My doctor asked me several questions about my symptoms and then explained that there might be several causes. It could be a nerve problem which could be treated with a very low dosage of a drug that is used to treat Parkinson's Disease. Or it could be that I was deficient in some dietary elements needed for good health. She sent me to the lab to have a workup done on my levels of folic acid, folate, and vitamin B-12. She explained that deficiencies in any one of these could potentially result in the symptoms I was experiencing.

Well, long story short, my folic acid and folate levels were fine, but my B-12 levels were seriously low. As in practically non-existent. My doctor prescribed an immediate series of weekly injections to get my levels higher and a long-term regimen of monthly injections. I also started taking over-the-counter B-12 supplements. Since my first day of taking those supplements, I have slept like a baby every night and have learned to smile again.

I share this personal story of my health with you because of the previous post I had written about "My magic bar of soap." I don't want to leave you with the impression that the magic endured. Indeed, science trumps magic and knowledge trumps ignorance. I never understood how that soap could actually work, even though it seemed to for a while, but I do understand - at least nominally - why the B-12 works.

And why was my body so low in B-12? Well, the major source of B-12 in the diet is animal products. I eat very little of those. I can't claim to be a true or strict vegetarian, but I eat practically no red meat. I eat poultry and fish in very limited amounts, also. I do eat eggs and cheese and milk, but, obviously, not enough to provide my body with what it needs to be healthy.

Let this be a cautionary tale then for others who are vegetarian or vegan or who, like me, limit their intake of animal products. You might need to take those B-12 supplements.

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