The Benefits of B-Vitamins
“Can’t I just take two Vitamin B6 supplements instead of one Vitamin B12?”
This was a customer question that really drove home the point of just how confusing the B-vitamins can be as a whole! It is important to understand exactly what each B-vitamin does in order to get a better overall picture of why the B-Complex is so important for your health and well-being.
1. Vitamin B1 / Thiamine. This B-vitamin is considered an essential nutrient for humans, because the body cannot make it on its own – it must be consumed through the diet. Thiamine is made by bacteria, fungi and plants. For example, foods naturally rich in thiamine are oatmeal, flax, and sunflower seeds, brown rice, whole grain rye, asparagus, kale, cauliflower, potatoes, oranges, liver and eggs. This is important because in the Standard American Diet (SAD), there is often a deficiency of these foods. Thiamine is important because it is used to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, as well as GABA.(1) Signs of a thiamine deficiency include: weight loss, irritability, nerve damage, feeling generally unwell, heart damage, mental confusion, edema, and convulsions. Well-known diseases associated with low thiamine include beriberi, Korsakoff psychosis, and Wernicke Korsakoff.
Deficiency may be caused by eating a diet of polished rice and refined-wheat. Other risk factors include alcoholism, low magnesium intake, digestive disorders and chronic diseases such as HIV.
Additionally, low intake causes low thiamine.(2) Thiamine is usually taken in the form of a B complex, a vitamin supplement containing all the essential B vitamins, including B12. InVite Health adds 50 mg of thiamine to all multivitamin formulas as well. In addition InVite offers two forms of a B complex, a 50 mg and a 100 mg. Speak to an InVite Nutritionist to determine the formula that's perfect for your needs.
2. Vitamin B2 / Riboflavin: This is another essential B-vitamin, and it works to convert folic acid into its active form. This B-vitamin is found in organ meat, eggs, milk, nuts, enriched flour, soybean, yogurt, yeast, Brussels sprouts and green leafy veggies. Signs of a deficiency include fatigue, slowed growth, digestive problems, cracks and sores around the corners of the mouth, swollen or magenta-colored tongue, eye fatigue, swelling and soreness of the throat, and sensitivity to light. This vitamin is used to treat numerous conditions including cervical cancer, migraines, acne, muscle cramps, carpal tunnel, eye fatigue, cataracts, glaucoma, high homocysteine levels and more. Additionally, B2 helps increase immune function, increase memory, treat digestive disorders and help those with sickle cell disease (3) Deficiency of riboflavin can be caused by alcoholism, medications, digestive disorders and a poor diet. Once again, riboflavin can be found in a B-complex vitamin (4)
3. Vitamin B3 / Niacin: This is a very well-known B-vitamin that is used for cholesterol. Made using tryptophan, the chemical in turkey that makes us tired, B3 is another important nutrient that’s known for causing the unpleasant feeling called “flushing”. However, there is more to this vitamin than just those tryptophan-induced itchy, red lips. Niacin is found in organ meats, chicken, beef, fish, eggs, venison, avocados, dates, tomatoes, vegetables, nuts, fungi, carrots and sweet potatoes and whole grains (5)
Signs of a deficiency of niacin include pellagra which is known as the 4Ds - diarrhea, dementia, dermatitis and death. This disease killed 10,000 people between 1910 and 1940! Other signs of deficiency include nauseous, skin and mouth lesions, anemia, head-aches, fatigue, lowered metabolism, and hyper-pigmention. B3 / Niacin is used to treat high cholesterol, CVD, adrenal fatigue and pellagra. Deficiency can be caused by diets that are mostly corn-based due to the low niacin content of corn. Deficiency can also be caused by alcoholism, digestive complaints, Hartnup disease and some medications.(6) Ironically, too much niacin can cause gout and flushing. (7)
Since fortification of B3 into cereal grains, deficiency is not common in the US but prevalence remains high, up to 6.5% in refugees, India, and in parts of Africa and China, especially where populations are dependent on maize-based diets may have pellagra.
4. Vitamin B5 / Pantothenic Acid: Vitamin B5 is found in almost all foods. In fact, when researchers tried to research the side effects of deficiency, it was near impossible to create a diet with low levels of this nutrient. The true major cause of B5 deficiency is extreme malnutrition. The most common uses for Pantothenic acid include: adrenal fatigue, acne, diabetic ulcers, to lower cholesterol and to help metabolize fats and carbs. (12)
Pantothenic acid deficiency has not been thoroughly studied and the prevalence is unknown though expected to be rare. In the few cases where deficiency has been seen nearly all symptoms can be reversed with the return of pantothenic acid.
5. Vitamin B6 / Pyridoxine: B6 deficiency is caused by poor diet, oral contraceptive use, steroid use, antibiotic use or overuse, and poor nutrient absorption, especially in the elderly. This vitamin is found in fish, beef, chicken, nuts, seeds and veggies. Deficiency can cause depression, metabolism problems, nerve issues and worsened PMS symptoms. B6 is used to make GABA, dopamine, and serotonin in the body. Supplementation of this vitamin may be used to treat PMS, morning sickness, fibrosistic breasts, ADHD, depression, diabetes, epilepsy, and carpal tunnel, as well as to help lower homocysteine levels and boost immune function. (8)
Vitamin B6 status has only rarely been assessed at the population level but low intakes among the children in Indonesia, surveyed about 10% of those from urban areas and 40% of those from rural areas exhibited biochemical signs of deficiency.
4. Vitamin B7 / Biotin: This B vitamin is easily found in most foods. It is also produced by the bacteria in the gut. Foods that are especially high in biotin include egg yolks, peanut butter, Swiss chard and other green leafy veggies. Deficiency can be caused by malnutrition, pregnancy, diabetes, dialysis, and malnutrition. Signs of low biotin include hair loss/color change, scaly rash, depression, exhaustion, hallucinations, and tingling. In summary, Biotin supplementation may be used for hair loss, diabetes, nerve pain, brittle nails, and skin disorders. (11)
5. Vitamin B9 / Folic Acid: This B-Vitamin is found in whole grains. Signs of deficiency include diarrhea, macrocytic anemia with weakness or shortness of breath, nerve damage with weakness and peripheral neuropath, pregnancy complications, mental confusion, forgetfulness or other cognitive deficits, mental depression, sore or swollen tongue, peptic or mouth ulcers, headaches, heart palpitations, irritability, and behavioral disorders. Folic acid’s number one use is to prevent neural tube defects in pregnancy because it used to make and repair and methylate DNA, which contributes to healthy cell replication. It can also be useful for infertility. It is also important for red blood cell production and may be used to help prevent heart disease and in diabetics.
Worldwide prevalence of deficiency is unknown, but prior to 1998, about 15% of adult women in the US were believed to have low blood levels of folate. In fact, because Folic acid deficiency is so common in the US, in 1990 the US government implemented the folate fortification program to combat this issue. (9)
6. Vitamin B12: This B vitamin is only found in animal products. It's is very common for vegans to become deficient in this vitamin unless they take supplements or use nutritional yeast. In addition to animal products, B12 can be found in chlorella, Spirulina and fermented foods. In general, deficiencies are caused by poor diet, obesity surgery (this reduces the enzymes needed to absorb it), digestive disorders and a genetic disease called Imerslund Grasbeck disease. Other causes of low B12 include alcoholism, smoking, oral contraceptives, immune system disorders such as Graves’ disease, and many medications. This vitamin is important for red blood cell formation, and a lack of B12 leads to a type of anemia called pernicious anemia. Other signs of low B12 include psychosis, weakness, paleness, sore tongue, bleeding, weight loss, changes in bowel movement, and nerve damage (10) High homocysteine levels are a good indicator of low B12 status.
In countries where vitamin B12 deficiency has been assessed at the national level, low serum vitamin B12 concentrations were prevalent. The prevalence was lower in the US (0–3% in preschool and school-aged children, adults and the elderly) but up to 31% in the United Kingdom.
Overall, the B-Complex vitamins work together to help your body to perform at an optimal level. Speak to an InVite Health nutritionist to determine which B-Complex supplement is best for you!
- Mahan, L. K.; Escott-Stump, S., eds. (2000). Krause's food, nutrition, & diet therapy (10th ed.). Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company. ISBN 0-7216-7904-8
- Combs, G. F. Jr. (2008). The vitamins: Fundamental Aspects in Nutrition and Health (3rd ed.). Ithaca, NY: Elsevier Academic Press. ISBN 978-0-12-183493-7.
- Bruno EJ Jr, Ziegenfuss TN. Water-soluble vitamins: research update. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2005 Aug;4(4):207-13.
- Maraini G, Williams SL, Sperduto RD, Ferris FL, Milton RC, Clemons TE, Rosmini F, Ferrigno L. Effects of multivitamin/mineral supplementation on plasma levels of nutrients. Report No. 4 of the Italian-American clinical trial of nutritional supplements and age-related cataract. Ann Ist Super Sanita. 2009;45(2):119-27.
- "Niacin". DrugBank: a knowledgebase for drugs, drug actions and drug targets. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
- Ishii N, Nishihara Y (1981). "Pellagra among chronic alcoholics: Clinical and pathological study of 20 necropsy cases". Journal of neurology, neurosurgery, and psychiatry 44 (3): 209–15. doi:10.1136/jnnp.44.3.209. PMC 490893. PMID 7229643.
- Jacobson, EL (2007). "Niacin". Linus Pauling Institute. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
- Combs GF. Vitamin B6. In: The Vitamins. Academic Press, Waltham, MA, 2007.
- "Folate". Patient Care & Health Info – Drugs and Supplements. Mayo Clinic. 1 November 2013. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
- "Vitamins and minerals – B vitamins and folic acid". NHS. National Health Service. 2012-11-26. Retrieved 2013-07-10.
- du, Vigneaud, V, Melville, D. B., Folkers, K., Wolf, D. E., Mozingo, D. E., Keresztesy, J. C., and Harris, S. A. The structure of biotin: a study of desthiobiotin. J.Biol.Chem 1942;:475-485.
- Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary reference intakes for thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, biotin, and choline. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1998;58-86.