B vitamins, where would we be without you? Well, probably very undernourished and ill as these guys do so much within our bodies. It’s hard to keep track!
Like vitamin C, B vitamins are a part of the water-soluble vitamins. Meaning they are excreted once levels are met within the body and aren’t generally stored. The B’s include thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folate (B9) and cyanocobalamin (B12). Luckily, we can unconsciously consume enough B’s through daily diet. Though there are times when consciously ensuring you’re getting adequate amounts of B’s is important.
And when it comes to ensuring optimal B intake, female reproductive health takes the cake!
So, what roles do B vitamins play in female reproductive health? And how do you know if you’re getting enough? Let us break it down.
Pre-menstrual syndrome is a common issue for many menstruating women, where a reduction in B vitamins have been shown. Symptoms include anxiety, irritability, depression, fatigue, increased cravings, headache, breast tenderness and bloating, usually all occurring within the 2 weeks leading up to the bleed. Though naturally subside once menstruation starts.
Many menstruators, especially younger women, are susceptible to B vitamin depletion from oral contraceptive pill use – OCP. This is due to introducing synthetic hormones into the body which put a higher load on the liver meaning it needs greater nutrients to perform metabolism and detoxification. B vitamins particularly at risk are folate, B2, B6 and B12.
B6 is one vitamin that should be prioritised if you experience PMS in the form of irritability or anxiety. B6 is involved in the modulation of the neurotransmitters GABA – our chill out hormone - and serotonin – our happy hormone. Without sufficient B6 production of GABA and serotonin can become impaired causing us to feel on edge and grumpy.
PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome, is defined as having excess androgens (male sex hormones), chronic anovulation, and polycystic ovaries on an ultrasound. Though now, varying signs and symptoms are included in the diagnosis such as blood sugar dysregulation or insulin resistance, trouble falling pregnant, anxiety/high stress, abnormal blood lipids and acne.
In PCOS there is also a risk of B vitamin deficiency from use of the medication metformin as treatment in insulin resistant women, in turn decreasing the absorption of B6, B12 and folate. It is these 3 that are predominantly targeted due to the occurrence of high homocysteine levels, which is inflammatory, playing a role in PCOS development. Homocysteine is an amino acid that occurs during the conversion of other amino acids - methionine and cysteine. And consequently, without adequate B6, B12 and folic acid to perform this conversion, homocysteine levels rise.
B1 may also be useful in PCOS for supporting blood sugar regulation. Studies have shown that in those susceptible to blood sugar dysregulation or insulin resistance, B1 supplementation can support carbohydrate metabolism – the breakdown of carbohydrates into energy.
Normally, women will lose under 80ml of blood over a period of up to 7 days but anything over these amounts are considered ‘heavy periods’, or menorrhagia. A heavier period can be caused by a myriad of factors such as hormone irregularities and stress. But diet is also a driving factor.
When the body is deficient in B vitamins, the liver loses its capacity to deactivate oestrogen causing an excess of oestrogen. This kind of hormone imbalance causes the lining of the uterus (endometrium) to become thicker than normal leading to greater blood loss.
A greater loss in menstrual blood means there is also a loss of blood forming nutrients. The two B vitamins which are a crucial part of blood cells are folate and B12. Without sufficient folate and B12 the cells can become anaemic. Although, this is different to iron deficiency anaemia where the cells appear smaller and fewer. In folate and B12 anaemia the cells appear abnormally large.
Sources of Bs
B vitamins are abundant in most foods, but if you’re looking for rich sources of a particular kind, we’ve listed them below as an easy reference.
B1 – pork, fish, yeast
B2 – eggs, dairy, green vegetables, meat, mushrooms, almonds
B3 – soy, nuts, seeds, legumes, grains
B5 – mushrooms, eggs, fish, avocado, chicken, beef, pork, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, lentils
B6 – beef, poultry, starchy vegetables, noncitric fruit
B7 – organ meats, eggs, fish, seeds, soybeans, nuts
B9 – dark leafy greens, nuts, legumes, dairy, meat, poultry, grains
B12 – animal products, nutritional yeast
At Active Collagen we’ve specially formulated a hot chocolate powder for replenishing the nutrients lost through your cycle – Active Cycle. Containing Panmol Natural B Complex, Active Cycle provides you with all 8 B vitamins helping you boost your nutrient levels for a healthy cycle. Plus it’s chocolate, so it won’t even feel like you’re taking a supplement. Take control of your cycle with the powerful B’s here.
Palmery, M., Saraceno, A., Vaiarelli, A., & Carlomagno, G. (2013). Oral contraceptives and changes in nutritional requirements. European review for medical and pharmacological sciences, 17(13), 1804–1813.
Günalan, E., Yaba, A., & Yılmaz, B. (2018). The effect of nutrient supplementation in the management of polycystic ovary syndrome-associated metabolic dysfunctions: A critical review. Journal of the Turkish German Gynecological Association, 19(4), 220–232.
Livdans-Forret, A. B., Harvey, P. J., & Larkin-Thier, S. M. (2007). Menorrhagia: a synopsis of management focusing on herbal and nutritional supplements, and chiropractic. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, 51(4), 235–246.
Hanna, M., Jaqua, E., Nguyen, V., & Clay, J. (2022). B Vitamins: Functions and Uses in Medicine. The Permanente journal, 26(2), 89–97.