My experience illustrates how a low potassium level looks and feels like an extremely serious nerve disease. I’ll tell you the story because this or something similar could very easily happen to you, or may have already happened.
In my case, a pipe broke, causing mains water to gush into my front room. While I waited for the plumber I swept water out the front door to keep the rest of my house from flooding. When the plumber arrived he said he’d followed water for several blocks as it led to my house. This wasn’t because he was slow, but because there was so much water.
A few days later I was in a huge building with no place to sit down for a rather long distance. Within a few days of the extreme exhaustion caused by the two events, my difficulty walking and standing increased significantly. I ordered a cane, thinking that would help, and then before I even used the cane, I ordered a rolling walker.
I thought I would get better if I used more B12, but in fact I didn’t get better. Instead it became really difficult to lift my feet. I had to give up putting on nylons to go out. I thought that if I lost weight, it would be easier to walk and stand up. It was getting more and more painful to stand up, to walk, to engage in almost any movement, so giving up going to the kitchen for food was far easier than if I’d been healthier.
I lost weight, but that didn’t make it any easier to lift my feet to walk. Also, I’d begun to shake, especially if I went outside for the mail and had to step up the 6 inch rise to come back inside.
Whereas I’d been able to go to the grocery store on and again, it was no longer possible for me to get into my friend’s truck. I just didn’t have the strength.
I thought about going to a doctor, but I felt sure that I’d be told something extremely scary, like that I had MS. Since the consensus is that there’s no cure for MS, I decided there was no point in getting a scary opinion that might make it even harder for me to recover. Low vitamin B12 can be misdiagnosed as MS ~ Read more.
For over a year my health deteriorated. I wondered how long I’d be able to take care of myself. When I tore a muscle and was having a lot more pain on top of the pain I was already having a hard time handling, I began doubling the amount of B12 I used till I was having about the equivalent of two B12 shots a day. That resulted in extremely painful muscle spasms. I was pretty sure that I’d overdone my cobalt intake ~ B12 is the vitamin which contains the heavy metal cobalt. I was tweeting about this when someone replied that using B12 can cause muscle spasms because there isn’t enough potassium in your body to keep up with your blood cells need for potassium when they begin to divide properly again after a period of low vitamin B12.
I read scads of stuff on the internet, both research articles and forum contributions related to potassium. Together they convinced me to try more potassium. Especially given that I had had no idea we need 4700 mg of potassium a day. I mean, I wasn’t getting more than a small fraction of that.
But at the time my meals were being delivered by Kitchen Angels because I couldn’t stand long enough to cook for myself. We were given perfectly wonderful meals, but they included a banana only once ever week or so, and the same was true of potatoes. So, I ordered potassium capsules, failing to work out the maths, that if each capsule was 98 mg I’d need to consume practically the whole bottle in one day.
Since potassium capsules weren’t going to work, I researched foods richest in potassium. I ordered peanut butter to have for breakfast and lunch, and Maca to put in my coffee. Come spring I ordered seed potatoes and grew potatoes that were the most tasty I had ever had. At the same time I was using cilantro capsules to reduce the heavy metals in my body.
Within a few weeks I began to be woken less frequently at night by excruciatingly painful muscle spasms that felt as if my whole torso was going to seize up in a fearfully frozen permanence.
That was great, but even better was that my strength was returning. It had been almost impossible to stand without holding on to my walker, which made it really hard to do things that required one of my hands. To my great joy, as time went on and I continued to consume more potassium rich foods every day, my strength began to return.
Today, months later, I’m so much better than I can imagine being able to once more walk without a walker.
The picture at left illustrates nerve damage in the form of tattered myelin sheath. This kind of nerve damage can cause or lead to intense pain. As long as your nerves are healthy the only pain you associate with them involves their rightful work, like telling you that you’ve hit your thumb with a hammer. Thus, it comes as a shock when your nerves transmit burning feelings as if you have the worst sunburn of your life.
If you don’t know that low vitamin B12 levels can lead to demyelination, that is, the loss of or damage to the protective sheaths on your nerves, you may have a future with years of pain burning away the joy you could otherwise have in your life.
Additionally, when the myelin sheath is damaged it no longer keeps nerve impulses on the straight and narrow, so to speak. They slip out, losing some of their strength. It is not surprising, then, that the most common symptom of motor nerve damage, is weakness.
Other symptoms of which you should be aware are painful cramps, muscle twitching visible under the skin, muscle loss, bone degeneration, and changes in the skin, hair, and nails. In fact, your fingernails are an easy way to check the health of your nerves. Read more.
Sensory nerve damage causes a more complex range of symptoms than motor nerve damage because your sensory nerves have a wider, more highly specialized range of functions. Your sensory nerve fibers register vibration, light touch, and position sense. Damage to your sensory fibers lessens your ability to feel vibrations and touch, resulting in a sense of numbness, especially in your hands and feet. You may feel as if you’re wearing gloves and stockings even when you’re not. You may lose the ability to identify small objects by touch.
Damage to sensory fibers may contribute to loss of your reflexes (as can motor nerve damage). Loss of your sense of position can make it hard to coordinate complex movements like walking, or to keep your balance when your eyes are shut.
Neuropathic pain which follows or accompanies nerve damage is difficult to control and can seriously affect your emotional well-being and overall quality of life. Neuropathic pain is often worse at night, seriously disrupting sleep and adding to the emotional burden of sensory nerve damage.
There are small sensory nerve fibers without myelin sheaths. They transmit pain and temperature sensations. Damage to these nerves can interfere with feeling pain or changes in temperature. For instance, you may fail to sense that you’ve been injured from a cut or that a wound is becoming infected. Or, you may not detect pains that warn of an impending heart attack.
Loss of pain sensation is particularly serious if you have diabetes. If you can’t feel pain you can fail to identify a problem that must be dealt with in order to avoid the need for amputation. Because of the loss of pain sensation there is a high rate of lower limb amputations among people with diabetes.
On the other hand, pain receptors in your skin can become oversensitive so that you may feel severe pain from things that are normally painless, like the weight of a sheet or clothing.