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By the Numbers: Breaking Down the B Vitamins

Reviewed by: Dr. Steven Knauf, D.C.

By Donna Stark

By the Numbers: Breaking Down the B Vitamins

While they may not enjoy the same popularity as other trendy superfoods, the B vitamins are certainly champions in their own right. Quietly fueling our bodies and minds from the sidelines, this team of vitamins is crucial to our overall health and well-being (and it’s a team because there is more than one B vitamin). The eight B vitamins are B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, and B12. Each one is a significant player and is essential for vital functions of the body. Ensuring that B vitamins are a regular part of your diet is akin to ensuring a successful outcome in life.

What Are B Vitamins and Why Are They Important?

The B vitamins are essential, meaning our bodies can’t produce them and we need to get them from our diet or from supplementation. While most people only attribute B vitamins to increased energy, they actually do so much more. B vitamins play crucial roles in supporting our nervous system and aiding in wound healing and cell growth. Listed below are the eight B vitamins with their chemical name and a few of their main health benefits.

  • B1(Thiamine) - Helps convert carbohydrates and fat into energy
  • B2 (Riboflavin) - Helps to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation of nerves
  • B3 (Niacin) - Helps to convert nutrients into energy, create and repair DNA, and remove toxins and chemicals from the body
  • B5 (Pantothenic Acid) - Helps to support blood cell production and the conversion of food into energy
  • B6 (Pyridoxine and Pyridoxamine) - Helps the nervous and immune systems function properly
  • B7 (Biotin) - Helps to regulate blood sugar and support your nervous system, liver, eyes, hair, and skin
  • B9 (Folic acid) - Helps to prevent major birth defects and support red blood cells
  • B12 (Cobalamin) - Aids in keeping your body's blood and nerve cells healthy and helps make DNA

As you can see, B vitamins are necessary for many important functions in the body. Any of these eight different forms can be consumed separately, or you can take a B vitamin complex. Complex vitamins are supplements that combine several vitamins together, so in this case, you would be taking several of the B vitamins at the same time.

What Types of Foods Are Rich in Vitamin B?

Since our bodies can’t produce Vitamin B, we need to get it from our diet. Fortunately, B vitamins can be found in a variety of food sources.

Green peas, beef, pinto beans, spinach, and bananas are rich in Vitamin B1.

Asparagus, fatty fish, cottage cheese, dairy, and eggs (particularly egg yolks) are good for B2.

You can find B3 in chicken, tuna, broccoli, mushrooms, and nuts, and B5 in beans, eggs, and meat.

Greens and bananas are good choices for B6, and when it comes to B7, you can either indulge in some chocolate or go in the completely opposite direction and feast on liver. However, if you can’t stomach liver, you can also get your B7 from cauliflower, eggs, and oatmeal.

B9 can be found in leafy greens, asparagus, and oranges (the reason why doctors recommend orange juice during pregnancies), and B12 is typically obtained by consuming meat, eggs, dairy, and fortified cereals.

That said, there is always the potential of not being able to meet the recommended daily amount of Vitamin B. This is particularly true for vegetarians, vegans, older adults, and those with certain medical conditions, as some medications are known to deplete B vitamins. It is also true for those who consume a diet high in saturated fats, as this type of fat impedes the body’s ability to absorb these vitamins. In these cases, B vitamin supplements may be exactly what is needed to help restore any deficiencies.

Is Vitamin B a Necessary Dietary Supplement?

Vitamin B supplementation may be necessary to ensure you are receiving the amount your body needs. Remember, your body is counting on B vitamins to survive. They boost your energy and help to support your immune system, brain function, and cardiovascular health. Because they aren’t stored in your body’s fatty tissue like some other vitamins, they are water-soluble (meaning they are dissolved in water), so you need to establish a daily routine of taking them.

While it is generally safe to take several B vitamins at the same time, it may be easier to take one supplement that contains them all (B vitamin complex). Here is a list of the recommended daily amounts for both men and women.

  • B1 - Men 1.2mg, women 1.1mg
  • B2 - Men 1.3mg, women 1.1mg
  • B3 - Men 16mg, women 14mg
  • B5 - Men 5mg, women 5mg
  • B6 - Men 31-50 years 1.3mg, 51+ years 1.7mg, women 31-50 years 1.3mg, 51+ years 1.5mg
  • B7 - Men 30mcg, women 30mcg
  • B9 - Men 400mcg, women 400mcg (may increase during pregnancy)
  • B12 - Men 2.4mcg, women 2.4mcg

Now that you know how much to take, you may also want to know a few tips on how to help your body absorb these all-too-important vitamins. Here are the top four very simple suggestions that many experts recommend.

  • Reduce alcohol intake - Even small amounts of alcohol can decrease Vitamin B absorption.
  • Promote gut health - Poor gut health is a main cause of Vitamin B12 deficiency.
  • Choose fortified foods - Fortified foods can help ensure you are getting sufficient amounts of Vitamin B.
  • Address health conditions - Addressing underlying medical issues and understanding the effects of your medications is important if there are concerns about a Vitamin B deficiency.

For the most part, the best time of day to take a B vitamin is after waking up. This is because it does have energy-boosting abilities. Also, research has shown that Vitamin B6 may potentially interfere with sleep, so keep that in mind. If you are unsure of what your body needs specifically or when to incorporate them into your daily routine, ask your primary healthcare professional.

What Are the Symptoms of a Vitamin B Deficiency?

Because B vitamins play such a crucial role in keeping our bodies functioning properly, it makes sense that problems within the body will arise if you aren’t taking enough of them or if there is inadequate absorption. People who are deficient in B vitamins may experience the following.

  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Weakened muscles
  • Numbness or tingling in the extremities
  • Slow reflexes
  • Balance issues
  • Confusion
  • Loss of memory
  • Depression
  • Dementia

It’s important to note that symptoms can vary, depending on what B vitamin you are deficient in. For example, a deficiency in B1 can affect your cardiovascular and nervous systems. A B3 deficiency can lead to certain skin issues and dementia.B9 deficiency can lead to unexpected problems with pregnancies. A deficiency in B12 can cause anemia and neurological damage.

Conversely, you can also run into problems if you consume too much of a particular B vitamin. High doses of Vitamin B3 can impact blood clotting, too much B6 can result in nerve damage, and an excess intake of Vitamin B12 can lead to headaches and gastrointestinal problems. For this reason, it is extremely important to follow the recommended daily amounts. If you are dealing with a certain health issue and are under the care of a physician, do not stray from the Vitamin B protocol they recommend.

If you are unsure of what your body needs when it comes to B vitamins, ask your doctor to order a blood test. This is the most definitive way to check the levels of B vitamins in your body. A Vitamin B blood test is the way to go when determining if you need to make any changes to your diet or supplement intake.

Are Energy Drinks Fortified With Vitamin B a Good Alternative?

A major misconception about B vitamins is that you can get instant energy simply by drinking an energy beverage that contains them. The truth is that B vitamins do not give you a jolt of energy. Rather, they support your body’s ability to produce energy through the foods you eat over an extended amount of time. What you may be feeling instead is the boost of energy brought on by the levels of caffeine and taurine in these drinks.

If you are concerned about low energy or any other symptom, your best bet is to seek the advice and guidance of your primary healthcare professional. Getting medical advice off the side of a can and from companies who pay millions in marketing is certainly not in your best interests. You need to have a clear understanding of which vitamins you are lacking and what quantities are best for your overall health and well-being.

A Winning Strategy Always Includes B Vitamins

From sustained energy to a healthy brain and body, these vitamins are definitely some of the most important players on the team. So do yourself a favor and stop pushing them off to the sidelines. Educate yourself, seek the advice of professionals, and give the B vitamins an opportunity to be the stars of the game. With your newfound knowledge and a little bit of time, you’ll be able to see just how much of an impact they can make!

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