Why It’s Not in Good Taste (Literally) to Not Be Proactive About Pernicious Anemia
By: Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder
Recently, a man’s taste buds went missing!
“When a 64-year-old man stuck out his tongue for a physical exam, doctors could immediately tell something was off: Instead of a typical, textured tongue, his was smooth and shiny. It didn't take long for them to recognize why: The man's taste buds were missing,” according to one report.
According to the report, the man, who lives in Singapore, went to his doctor after suffering for six months from pain and redness in his tongue as well as a burning sensation around his lips.
The man was diagnosed with atrophic glossitis (also known as “bald tongue” or “smooth tongue”) which is inflammation of the tongue. This condition may cause changes in the tongue's color and texture and cause loss of the tongue's papillae (taste buds).
What caused this man’s atrophic glossitis was him having a condition called pernicious anemia.
What is pernicious anemia?
Pernicious anemia is a condition in which a person has low levels of red blood cells due to a deficiency in vitamin B12. (Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues).
Vitamin B12 helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA. This is all important for metabolism, cellular and nervous system functions. You may have also heard of vitamin B12 be referred to as “the happy vitamin,” because having low levels of it may make you depressed.
“In some cases, people develop pernicious anemia because their immune system attacks a protein needed for the absorption of vitamin B12,” according to the report mentioned earlier.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), pernicious anemia may occur in people whose intestines cannot properly absorb vitamin B12.
“A special protein, called intrinsic factor (IF), binds vitamin B12 so that it can be absorbed in the intestines. This protein is released by cells in the stomach. When the stomach does not make enough intrinsic factor, the intestine cannot properly absorb vitamin B12,” reports the NIH.
What causes a person to have pernicious anemia?
We don’t really know what causes a person to develop the condition that causes pernicious anemia, but having a weakened stomach lining (atrophic gastritis) can definitely be a cause.
The NIH reports that in rare cases pernicious anemia can be passed down through families (called congenital pernicious anemia). In addition to this, having certain diseases such as Graves disease, Hashimoto’s disease, celiac disease and type 1 diabetes increases a person’s risk of developing pernicious anemia. A person can also get pernicious anemia after having gastric bypass surgery.
Pernicious anemia is a pretty rare condition, but is reportedly more common in people of Northern European and African descent. It is also more common in older people.
Symptoms of pernicious anemia besides “the bald tongue?”
As mentioned, pernicious anemia is more common in older people. But what’s particularly interesting is that in adults, symptoms of pernicious anemia are usually not seen until after the age of 30. Most people are diagnosed around 60-years-old. Older age just may affect how your body absorbs vitamin B12 as well as other vitamins and minerals.
Some symptoms of pernicious anemia (and it depends on how far it has progressed) may include:
- Fatigue (without enough red blood cells, you will most likely feel very tired)
- Shortness of breath
- Dry skin and brittle nails
- Poor digestion
- Hair loss
- Vision problems
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
Being deficient in vitamin B12 may also cause nerve damage which can cause a tingling and numbness in the hands and feet, the sensation of pins and needles. Furthermore, having this vitamin deficiency and lack of red blood cells causes your heart to have to work harder in order to get oxygen-rich blood pumping through your body. So untreated pernicious anemia may cause heart issues, including irregular heartbeat, an enlarged heart and even heart failure.
The good news is that we can be proactive.
I think what is particularly noteworthy is that symptoms of pernicious anemia are often not seen until after the age of 30. The symptoms also may be attributed to other health issues or stress. So this is why nutritional testing is so critical and something we must do throughout the course of our lives.
If the test reveals that you have a vitamin B12 deficiency despite eating foods rich in B12, then this is a clue that you may have pernicious anemia.
The earlier the diagnosis the better, and pernicious anemia can be treated. Always test, don’t guess or wait for symptoms to appear.
“Doctors treat pernicious anemia by replacing the missing vitamin B12 in the body. People who have pernicious anemia may need lifelong treatment,” reports the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
And a great way to replace the missing B12 is through the utilization of supplement pills or shots (vitamin injections).
In more severe cases of pernicious anemia, a doctor might recommend a B12 injection or IV push. This delivers the B12 directly into the bloodstream. It works more quickly than if you were to take a capsule or tablet (and always seek the advice of a competent healthcare professional before supplementing).
I take advantage of vitamin injections and IV pushes in order to address my inevitable nutrient absorption issues with vitamin C.
At the pH drip lab, we offer all sorts of vitamin “cocktails.” My go-to is the “Pick Me Up Buttercup,” which is an injection of 1,000 mg of vitamin C.
And if you are deficient in B12, you can get our “Pep in Your Step” injection, which delivers B12 directly into the bloodstream. I would also suggest watching your alcohol consumption if you are diagnosed with pernicious anemia, as drinking too much alcohol may deplete the body of essential vitamins and minerals.
And remember that if you have pernicious anemia it may require lifelong treatment, but luckily we have the tools we need to be proactive about this condition and lead a happy, healthy life.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.