In Greek, the word ‘anaemia’ means “no blood”. But that’s a bit of an exaggeration. You have plenty of blood whether you are anaemic or not. However, whether you are in peri- or post-menopause, how well you are making blood cells is key to your successful, symptom-free menopause journey. And to make beautiful blood cells, you need a body that is absorbing Vitamin B12 (known as Cobalamin).
It’s often said that vitamins are ‘vital to life’ and when it comes to our nutritional needs in mid-life, that’s a statement I want you to remember, especially when it comes to Vitamin B12. Whilst all vitamins are indeed ‘vital for life’, if you are experiencing worsening hot flushes, dizziness, tingling and numbness, a sore tongue or visual disturbances, then don’t put them in the “oh, it’s just menopause compartment”, go to your Doctor and get your B12, folate, iron and ferritin (stored iron) tested. You may well be deficient in Vitamin B12 or any of these nutrients that your body needs. All of these nutrients are utilised in energy-production, nervous system conduction and in supporting brain health. Without enough Vitamin B12, you can feel tired, weak and lethargic. Furthermore, low B12 may cause worsening hot flushes as your heart works harder to move oxygen around your body.
Without enough B12 absorption, your red blood cells don’t divide normally and can’t carry out their job of delivering enough oxygen to tissues and cells to help you with your energy levels.
The discovery of Vitamin B12 was worthy of two separate Nobel prizes. The valuable contribution of clinical reports and studies of patients with a condition called ‘Pernicious Anaemia’ throughout the 19th Century, resulted in the discovery of this vital vitamin. Pernicious anaemia is caused by an auto-immune condition, or digestive problems or from not getting enough Vitamin B12 in the diet and/or not being able to absorb this properly. If you are vegan or vegetarian and you are a regular exerciser, then please make a note to monitor your B12 levels every few months. If you are a heavy drinker, then do the same. Alcohol consumption is known to affect your absorption of Vitamin B12.
Although there are numerous reasons for Vitamin B12 deficiency, relatively new research conducted on women during their menopause transition, shows that malabsorption of Vitamin B12 is mainly caused by:
- digestive disorders,
- an inadequate intake from foods, and,
- the taking of medications which interfere with absorption. [ Milart et al, 2018].
If you develop Vitamin B12 deficiency and then go on to develop Pernicious Anaemia, then this is an indication that a stomach protein called Intrinsic Factor may be insufficient. You see, you need this Intrinsic Factor to enable your body to absorb Vitamin B12 from your diet.
Over the past few decades, scientists have been doing a great job unlocking the secrets of ageing. Not only are they discovering how our bodies break down but also how to better manage our health so that we improve our health-span. In general, women outlive men when it comes to longevity research, but I can’t emphasise enough, that our menopause transition matters to how well we age.
How do I get enough Vitamin B12 from my diet?
Most people absorb Vitamin B12 from animal foods including fish, eggs, poultry, dairy and meat. The best sources are liver, mackerel and herring. For those of you who are vegan or vegetarian, then Vitamin B12 is not usually present in plant foods but many healthy breakfast cereals are fortified (added to) with Vitamin B12 which, for vegetarians, is readily absorbed. There are some soy, rice, and nut milks that have B12 added. These are a readily available source of B12 for vegans and those who eat minimal animal products. Supplementation may be something to consider after you get your blood levels tested.
Whilst all of the B-vitamins are vital to us as we age, the B-group of vitamins need to be taken seriously by busy, active women going through their menopause transition. When oestrogen levels decline, our immune system is affected too. Women have a higher incidence and prevalence of autoimmune diseases than men, and 85% or more patients of multiple autoimmune diseases are female [Desi & Brinton, 2019]. Women undergo important endocrinological changes at least twice during their lifetime, puberty and menopause, with many women undergoing an additional transition: pregnancy. All these stages of hormonal havoc, leave us vulnerable to immune system disorders and changing health as we age. That’s the purpose of My Menopause Transformation – to take the guess-work out of this stage of life. Whether you are just starting out, or you are already in your post-menopause years, I hope you can join me for my evidenced-based 12 week programme. It might just change your life too.
Cocker, J. P. (2016). Vitamin B12: A secondary analysis of status, biomarkers and other determinants in young and elderly women. (Thesis, Master of Dietetics). University of Otago. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10523/6297
Desai, M. K., & Brinton, R. D. (2019). Autoimmune Disease in Women: Endocrine Transition and Risk Across the Lifespan. Frontiers in endocrinology, 10, 265. https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2019.00265
Health Navigator, New Zealand. Healthy Living Series, Vitamin B12
Milart, P., Woźniakowska, E., & Wrona, W. (2018). Selected vitamins and quality of life in menopausal women. Przeglad menopauzalny = Menopause review, 17(4), 175–179.