Rob Hobson, Healthspan Head of Nutrition and author of ‘The Detox Kitchen Bible’ takes a look at how B vitamins can play a crucial role in helping women through the menopause.
Eating a healthy diet is important for all stages of life but choosing the right foods to eat during the menopause may help to ease the symptoms commonly experienced by some women. Overall diet is key and choosing mostly plants is very beneficial for women during the menopause, but certain nutrients such as the B vitamins may be particularly helpful.
The B complex is made up of eight vitamins which are thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7) and cobalamin (B12). What they all share in common is their role in the production of energy in the body although each also has their own unique function. For example, vitamin B12 is involved in the production of healthy red blood cells.
The B vitamins must be replenished regularly as they are not stored in the body. This group of vitamins are also more rapidly depleted during times of stress or anxiety. Vitamin B12 is the exception as this particular member of the family is stored in substantial amounts in the liver.
Given the number of B vitamins, they can be found in many different foods which is why they are easily gleaned from the diet. Deficiencies in these nutrients are not that common unless someone’s diet is particularly compromised in some way. Vitamin B12 may be more of an issue for those who do not eat any foods derived from animals as it is found mainly in meat and dairy products. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey has shown that amongst women up the age of 64 years, fourteen per cent have inadequate intakes of vitamin B2 and 6% do not get enough folate in their diet.
During the menopause, women can experience a number of different symptoms and some of these may be helped by insuring you have an adequate intake of B vitamins.
Mood swings and anxiety are common amongst women during the menopause. One reason for this may be fluctuating levels of the hormone serotonin, which is responsible for transmitting brain signals. Vitamin B6 helps to convert the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin and is often used as a way of easing mood swings.
Poor sleep and anxiety are also common in women during the menopause and diet may have a role to play, in particular nutrients such as vitamin B6. This nutrient is involved in the regulation of the sleep hormone melatonin which controls the sleep/wake cycle. The richest sources of vitamin B6 can be found in foods including meat, oily fish, wholegrains (brown rice, oats, rye bread), eggs, beans and pulses.
Vitamin B12 is also required for good bone health as it helps to keep homocysteine levels from rising and weakening bones. Ensuring good bone health is very important for women during the menopause as up to 10% of bone density can be lost as oestrogen levels drop. This is even more relevant for women who are at higher risk of osteoporosis.
As we age absorption can also become an issue impairing our ability to glean adequate nutrients from the diet and this includes the B vitamins. A reduced production of stomach acid in the gut can result in low levels of acidity, which particularly affects B12 absorption. Low levels of vitamin B12 are associated with tiredness and fatigue which can exacerbate symptoms of the menopause. The body also needs a substance called intrinsic factor to absorb vitamin B12 which is also reduced with age.
Despite the amount of vitamin B12 in the diet, even if there is enough, poor absorption could limit the amount available. Vitamin B12 can be found in foods such as meat, offal, poultry, oily fish, dairy foods, eggs and fortified foods. Supplements designed for women over the age of 50 do contain a higher amount of B vitamins to account for absorption and B12 sprays are useful as they are absorbed straight into the bloodstream – try Healthspan Vitamin B12 Blackcurrant Oral Spray* 15ml £8.95.
The role of diet during the menopause is important for both the relief of symptoms and the future health of women. Eating a varied and balanced diet will help to ensure an adequate intake of micronutrients, including the B vitamins, which appear to help with the menopause in specific ways. There are supplements such as Healthspan Vitamin B Complex* 180 tablets £7.95 which are also suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
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