6 Things You May Not Know about B Vitamins and Reproductive Health
Last updated September 14, 2021
1. You may be low on B vitamins if you are on hormonal birth control.
If you've been on birth control, you might be low on Vitamin B6, as well as B12 and folate (among others). For example, because of the way birth control pills alters the liver functions, less vitamin B6 is absorbed from what you eat – and that can mean inadequate Vitamin B6 levels in the body, even if you eat a healthy diet with plenty of B vitamins.
Doctors may not mention this side effect during counseling before contraceptives, but it’s not because this is a recent discovery. Hormonal contraceptives’ effects on B vitamin levels have been known since the 70s, but in doctor’s offices, discussion of more serious side effects like stroke often take priority under the time pressure. It can be a good idea to take a B vitamin supplement when you are on hormonal birth control. If in doubt, ask your doctor.
2. B vitamins don’t look similar, but they all drive metabolism and DNA synthesis.
Aside from Vitamins B6 and B12, folate (B9), biotin (B7), thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2) and niacin (B3) also belong to the B vitamin family. B vitamins don't share a common chemical structure, but are all water-soluble and involved in cell metabolism and production of red blood cells.
- Vitamin B12 fuels the development and healthy functioning of the central nervous system, production of red blood cells and DNA synthesis - particularly important during early fetal development.
- Vitamin B6 is extremely versatile, playing a role in over 100 enzyme reactions, mostly concerning protein metabolism. It's also crucial in cognitive functions through production of neurotransmitters, supporting healthy immune system through lymphocyte production, and formation of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to tissues throughout the body.
- Folate is essential in DNA synthesis and normal neural tube development of a developing fetus, with deficiencies linked to elevated risks of neural tube defects like spina bifida.
- Biotin is indispensable in metabolism of all 3 macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat and protein. Healthy fetal development also requires an adequate level of biotin.
3. B vitamins may support normal ovulation.
While more research is needed to confirm the findings, some studies have suggested that healthy levels of B vitamins may support normal reproductive functions in women, particularly the processes involved in ovulation.
An analysis that followed over 18,000 healthy women without a history of infertility in an 8-year period found a correlation between use of multivitamins containing B vitamins and normal ovulation and conception. In this study, women were more likely to have normal ovulation and pregnancy the more consistent her supplementation habit, and the authors hypothesized that a part of the observed association may be explained by the B vitamins, particularly folate.
4. Recommendation for Vitamin B12 intake varies by country.
The American recommendation for Vitamin B12 is 2.6 mcg/day for pregnant women and 2.8 mcg/day when nursing. Most dietary recommendations from health authorities align across countries, but Vitamin B12 is an exception.
5. There’s a good chance you are low on at least one of the B vitamins.
You may be low on at least one of the B vitamins – even if you aren’t on birth control and you are taking a multivitamin supplement.
Most people in the US have adequate daily intake of Vitamin B12. Still, about 6% of adults are outright deficient. Up to 40% of the Western population also don't have adequate levels of Vitamin B12 in the blood, though they don’t qualify for outright deficiency.
Some of us may need more B vitamins in our diet and nutritional supplement regime than the officially recommended amount. Over half the US adult population takes some form of multivitamins, many including the B vitamins. Still, 11% of those who do take these supplements have low levels of Vitamin B6 in the blood (under 20 nmol/L). Low levels of Vitamin B6 were found even among people who took supplements that exceed the daily recommended amount, suggesting that the current recommendation may not guarantee an adequate levels in the body.
Alarmingly, folate deficiency – with serious consequences in neonatal health – is even more common. Nearly 1 in 5 women in the US don’t have enough folate in the blood, and even among those of us who take a prenatal vitamin product, 10% are deficient.
6. Chickpeas rule when it comes to Vitamin B6.
Good sources of Vitamin B6 tend to be of animal origin, putting vegans and vegetarians - as well as the nursing babies of vegan moms - at risk of inadequate B6 levels. A good news for vegans and vegetarians: chickpeas actually have more Vitamin B6 per serving than beef liver, tuna or chicken breast, covering 65% of the daily recommended amount.
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