Embracing your golden years is a common sentiment women over 50 often hear, but what does that mean when it comes to menopause? Menopause brings about daily symptoms like hot flashes, weight gain, mood swings, and other health conditions, making it hard to enjoy growing older. Fighting these symptoms has a lot to do with the vitamins and nutrients consumed daily; one of these vital vitamins is vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin found naturally in food and added to some foods and supplements. It also contains the mineral cobalt, so it is also referred to as cobalamin. Vitamin B12 is pivotal for cell metabolism, red cell formation, production of DNA, and nerve function.
You can find B-12 naturally in poultry, meat, fish, and dairy products. Fortified breakfast cereals and other fortified foods may have B-12 added to the ingredients. B-12 is also a common supplement that comes as a topical cream, oral supplement, nasal spray, or even an injection. The recommended daily dose is 2.4 micrograms for adults.
Menopause comes in three distinct stages that start and end at different times for women. The first stage is perimenopause, which can begin as early as a woman's 30s or up to her late 40s. During this time, estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate, which can cause menopausal symptoms. Periods can become irregular, lighter, or even heavier.
The next stage is menopause; typically, women go through menopause in their early 50s. Women are thought to be in menopause when they haven't had a period for 12 months or longer. The last stage is post-menopause. Even though you've gone through menopause, you will still experience menopausal symptoms, including:
Every woman experiences these symptoms differently and at different levels, but the most common menopausal symptom is hot flashes. These are a surge of heat, resulting in sweat that consumes your body out of nowhere, making everything uncomfortable.
Vitamin B12 helps convert food into glucose. This conversion results in energy production and potentially combating fatigue common in menopause. If you’re insulin-resistant, you may also have a hard time with glucose and need to monitor your blood sugar. You can order tests to see if this is the case.
Women's bone density decreases as they age, and the missing estrogen from going through menopause results in weaker bones. For this reason, post-menopausal women have an increased risk for osteoporosis. Vitamin B12 helps maintain bone density and may help decrease the possibility of osteoporosis.
The risk of heart disease can increase post-menopause. Vitamin B12 is essential in regulating homocysteine levels, contributing to overall heart health. Homocysteine is an amino acid and vitamin B vitamins help break it down into other chemicals that your body needs.
B vitamins help produce positive brain chemicals that affect function and mood. Low levels of B-12 are also linked to an increased risk of depression. In addition, some studies show a link between low cognitive function and dementia and low B vitamin levels. Some people think supplements with B-12 may help treat or even prevent dementia.
Research and anecdotal evidence show that there may be a connection between B-12 and healthy sleep cycles. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland and regulates sleep cycles. A deficiency in B-12 can lead to neurological and circadian rhythm disturbances, which affects melatonin production.
Some people with low B-12 report insomnia and sleep issues. Low B-12 can also cause light sensitivity. Melatonin production increases as the sun goes down and decreases as the sun comes out. If a person has difficulty with light, this may cause sleep problems.
A B-12 deficiency and menopause are different conditions but do have overlapping symptoms. Both can manifest similar symptoms, like fatigue, poor cognitive function, and sleep disturbances. So it may be hard to differentiate between them. Post-menopausal women have an increased risk for osteoporosis due to low estrogen levels, and low B-12 levels impact calcium absorption, leading to osteoporosis.
As women age, dietary choices may change, leading to low B-12. This can cause feelings of fatigue and depression, similar to menopausal symptoms. B-12 is also vital for brain health, and low levels affect cognitive function and mood, just like menopause does. Since symptoms for low B-12 and menopause overlap, it's imperative to consider both regarding a woman's overall well-being.
The best source of vitamin B12 is through dietary choices that include animal products and fortified foods. Another way to receive B12 is through a supplement. B-12 supplementation can help increase levels right away and reduce symptoms.
Also, if you have a vegan diet, receiving the right amount of B-12 is more challenging and may require a supplement. Older women may find it hard to absorb B12 through diet and need a supplement. Some medications may cause B-12 absorption to become more challenging as well. It's essential for regular testing and monitoring of B12 levels during and after the menopausal transition.
B12 isn't the only vitamin that may be beneficial during menopause. Women can also benefit from Vitamin D, calcium, melatonin, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Also, hormone supplementation with estrogen-progesterone is effective in easing menopause. Estrogen supplements are topical and can be applied daily to boost estrogen levels naturally. Your body doesn't know the difference between the estrogen produced and the one used by your skin.
Having adequate levels of vitamin B12 during menopause and beyond is incredibly important. B12 helps with cognitive function, bone health, sleep patterns, and more. If you suspect a B12 deficiency, speak with your healthcare professional about your concern and overall nutrition during menopause.