Of all the vitamins necessary to sustain life, those from the B complex play some of the most important roles in the body. Vitamin B12 is a critical member of this complex, affecting an incredible variety of bodily functions, from neural activity to hormonal influence. Vitamin B12 is one of the thirteen essential vitamins that the body needs in order to stay alive, and due to the prevalence of vitamin B12 deficiencies, it’s important to understand what B12 is, the effect it has on the body, and how it relates to hormonal health.
What is Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, plays a critical role in many bodily functions, including DNA synthesis, the development of red blood cells, and the workings of the nervous system and the brain. Absorption of B12 takes place in the gastric lining of the stomach, which means that conditions affecting gastrointestinal health can result in a deficiency of this critical vitamin.
The body cannot synthesize B12, and there is no evidence that the active form humans need exists in plants. The best food sources of vitamin B12 include organic meats, fish, eggs, and dairy products. High-quality dietary supplements can be very beneficial as well.
Vitamin B12 deficiencies can cause a host problems, some mild but some severe. In the past, prior to physicians knowing about myelin conversions, B12 deficiencies were even misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis because of the vitamin’s crucial role in the nervous system. A deficiency in vitamin B12 can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, tingling in the extremities, depression, trouble concentrating or focusing, and weakness.
In addition to those with gastrointestinal problems, the elderly are at risk for developing a B12 deficiency because the GI tract becomes less efficient at absorption later in adulthood. Other at-risk groups include individuals with anemia and those who follow vegetarian or vegan diets.
Hormones and B12
Hormonal chains of cause and effect in the body are complex and interrelated, and with the widespread function of B12 in the body, it’s not surprising that hormones and B12 are linked. For example, vitamin B12 deficiencies can either cause or result in hormonal imbalances in women, affecting reproductive health and more. Increased estrogen levels may lead to decreased absorption of B12, which means that birth control and hormonal replacement therapy can have an effect on B12 levels in the body.
For those taking hormonal birth control or hormonal replacement therapy, B12 levels should be monitored carefully. A 2012 study showed that oral birth control usage may lead to a decrease in vitamin B12, which was corroborated by earlier investigations of the effect of birth control on serum (blood) B12 levels. And while animal studies have demonstrated links between ovarian activities such as irregular reproductive cycles and B12 deficiencies, human studies have also reflected possible changes in ovulation or defective implantation arising from B12 deficiencies that could result in difficulty conceiving or infertility.
Adequate levels of vitamin B12 are critical for myriad bodily functions for both women and men, and are often closely related to hormonal activities. Understanding how B12 and hormones interrelate to one another is critical for those undergoing hormone therapies. Choosing a specially trained practitioner who can help strike a balance between vitamins and hormones is an important step towards achieving improved health and wellbeing.