Vitamin B-12, like all of the B vitamins, helps your body convert the food you eat into energy, builds red blood cells, synthesizes DNA and keeps your neurological system running smoothly. As you age, however, your body’s ability to extract vitamin B-12 from the foods you eat may be compromised, making you more at risk for vitamin B-12 deficiency. This might contribute to symptoms of anemia and an increased risk for heart disease, which are common concerns for menopausal women.
Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin B-12
The average adult, whether male or female, needs about 2.4 mcg of vitamin B-12 daily, according to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, or ODS. Vitamin B-12 is found in animal-based foods, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products. Since it isn’t found in plants, vegetarians and vegans have to seek other sources for this essential nutrient. One common source of vitamin B-12 is fortified breakfast cereals.
Vitamin B-12 Deficiency Causes
According to the CDC, about 1 in every 31 Americans over the age of 51 is deficient in vitamin B12. This may be because you don’t find animal-based foods as tasty or as easy to digest as they were when you were younger. The Linus Pauling Institute says that about 10 to 30 percent of people older than 60 have a condition called atrophic gastritis, making it difficult for them to absorb dietary vitamin B-12. Pernicious anemia, irritable bowel syndromes and some types of stomach or intestinal surgeries are also risk factors for vitamin B-12 deficiency. Some prescription drugs can affect B-12 absorption, too, according to the ODS.
Symptoms of Vitamin B-12 Deficiency
Poor nutrition, and especially iron, folate and vitamin B-12 deficiency, has been associated with a more than 20 percent increase in the risk for persistent anemia in post-menopausal women, according to the American Dietetic Association. Other symptoms of B-12 deficiency include numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, balance difficulties, confusion and depression. A blood test is necessary to confirm a diagnosis of vitamin B-12 deficiency. This test will likely also determine if you have a deficiency of folate, another essential B vitamin.
Vitamin B-12 Deficiency and Menopause
If you don't have enough vitamin B-12 to build the red blood cells that carry iron and oxygen throughout your body, you may experience the fatigue, weakness and pale skin that indicate anemia. You may also feel faint or short of breath or have heart palpitations. Insomnia is another complaint of women in the midst of menopause. Some early research suggested a specific type of vitamin B-12 supplement could help regulate the sleep-wake cycle, though more recent studies have questioned this, according to MayoClinic.com. Vitamin B-12 won't a difference if your insomnia is related to hot flashes.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the level of homocysteine, an amino acid, rises in women after menopause. A high level of homocysteine is associated with increased risk for heart disease and stroke. Vitamins B-6, B-12 and folate have been found to help lower homocysteine levels in your blood.
Treatment for Vitamin B-12 Deficiency
Although the Western diet usually provides adequate sources of vitamin B-12, many nutritionists now recommend supplemental vitamin B-12 for people over the age of 50. These supplements come in oral or injectable forms. The injectable forms are more often prescribed for people with vitamin B-12 deficiency due to malabsorption disorders. The Linus Pauling Institute recommends 100 to 400 mcg per day of supplemental vitamin B-12 orally if you’re older than 50, an age that includes many menopausal women.