The Importance of B Vitamins

picture of b vitamins

What are B vitamins?

B vitamins are a group of water soluble vitamins that are numbered B1 through B12.  They are: vitamin B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B4 (carnitine), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B7 (biotin), vitamin B8 (inositol), vitamin B9 (folic acid), vitamin B10 (PABA), vitamin B11 (salicylic acid) and vitamin B12 (cobalamin).

Mini rant: I commonly hear: “my doctor checked my B vitamin level and it was fine”. The ONLY B vitamin that medical doctors EVER check is vitamin B12 (other than occasionally checking folic acid). Having a normal vitamin B12 level, does not ensure that any of your other B vitamin levels are normal. 

Why are B vitamins important?

B vitamins play an important role in the function of the nervous system, carbohydrate metabolism, neurotransmitter and energy production, among many other functions.  Because they play so many roles in your body, I can’t overemphasize the importance of healthy levels of all of the B vitamins to your overall health.

What do each of the B vitamins do?

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine): Helps metabolize carbohydrates.  Active B1 (benfotiamine) is particularly important for diabetics.
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): Helps fight free radicals and oxidative stress.
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin): Helps support good cholesterol levels.  It can be low in alcoholics.
  • Vitamin B4 (carnitine): Helps with energy production in mitochondria.
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): Helps break down fats and carbs for energy, also helps build hormones like testosterone and keeps adrenals healthy
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): Helps produce neurotransmitters that regulate mood and sleep, keeps adrenals healthy, maintains healthy homocysteine levels, helps with liver detoxification
  • Vitamin B7 (biotin): Helps with hair, skin and nails and helps maintain healthy blood sugar
  • Vitamin B8 (inositol): Helps with healthy blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, used in PCOS to help restore fertility, can reduce anxiety and panic attacks
  • Vitamin B9 (folic acid): Helps prevent DNA damage and maintain healthy DNA, prevents birth defects for babies, must be taken in the active form L-5MTHF
  • Vitamin B10 (PABA): Is actually an amino acid that is part of folic acid, can help with skin conditions, but can also provoke allergic reactions, use with caution
  • Vitamin B11 (salicylic acid): Helps with DNA and RNA synthesis and cell division
  • Vitamin B12 (cobalamin): Helps produce red blood cells

What are the symptoms of B vitamin deficiency?

Deficiency of B vitamins can cause: problems with carbohydrate metabolism, emotional disturbances, impaired sensory perception, weakness and pain in the limbs, periods of irregular heartbeat, and edema (swelling & water retention), heart failure, cheilosis (cracks in the lips), high sensitivity to sunlight, angular cheilitis (cracks at the corners of the mouth), glossitis (inflammation of the tongue), seborrheic dermatitis or pseudo-syphilis (particularly affecting the scrotum or labia majora and the mouth), pharyngitis (sore throat), aggression, dermatitis, insomnia, weakness, mental confusion, diarrhea, acne and paresthesia, microcytic or macrocytic anemia, depression, high blood pressure (hypertension), elevated levels of homocysteine, birth defects, peripheral neuropathy, memory loss and other cognitive deficits, mania, psychosis and paralysis.

 

What Foods Can I Get B Vitamins From?

Food sources for most of the B’s include: pork, dark green leafy vegetables, green pea, lentils, nuts such as almonds and pecans, asparagus, chicken, fish, eggs, turkey, salmon, seafood, mushrooms and broccoli.

Vitamin B12 is found exclusively in animal products like poultry, meat and eggs.

What Should I Look for in a B Complex?

If there was only ONE vitamin people EVER took, to me it should be a very good B complex that contains active forms of vitamin B2 (riboflavin-5-phosphate), B6 (pyridoxal-5-phosphate) and folic acid (L-5MTHF), once or twice per day with food.  The ACTIVE forms of these B vitamins are vital to being able to use them well and their inactive forms (riboflavin, pyridoxine HCl & folic acid) can potentially cause problems.

For more advice about vitamins including B vitamins, see one of our naturopathic doctorsBook an appointment. 

B Vitamin Deficiency Research

In 3 separate studies, thiamine deficiency was found in:
One-third of hospitalized congestive heart failure patients
38% of women with anorexia nervosa
36% of homeless Australian men

Sources: J Am Coll Cardiol. 2006 Jan 17;47(2):354-61., Int J Eat Disord. 2000 Dec;28(4):451-4., Med J Aust. 1990 Jan 1;152(1):5-9.

Twenty-seven percent of patients with heart failure had biochemical evidence of vitamin B-2 deficiency, while 38% had evidence of B-6 deficiency.

Source: J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Aug;109(8):1406-10

Thirty-two patients (28%) with autoimmune thyroid disease had low B12 levels.

Source: Am J Med Sci. 2006 Sep;332(3):119-22