Know Your Vitamins: Vitamin B

We know vitamins are good for us, but do you know exactly what each one is good for? Sure, we know vitamin C is good for a cold, but do you know why? In this series, we will take a look at each vitamin and delve into what role each one has to play in nutrition.

Many of us take a vitamin B complex to give us energy while managing our stress levels. What exactly is it in vitamin B that that our body needs to function? With so many different vitamins making up the B group – eight in total -- it can be confusing to understand the role each one has to play. B1 has a different purpose than B12; therefore, you need each one for a specific function. Let's take a closer look at vitamin B as a whole and its components to better understand its purpose.

Vitamin B is a water-soluble vitamin. Water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body. This means proper diet is crucial in obtaining them. While certain foods allow us to get a healthy dose of vitamin B, others can prevent its absorption – such as alcohol. Vitamin B allows our body to utilize nutrients, such as carbohydrates and fats, and turn them into energy. Think of it as a carrying vessel to the body's system. In order for us to gain nutrients, we first must eat them. In order for the body to use those nutrients, it needs some assistance to process, which is where vitamin B comes into play.

Energy, the nervous system, healthy liver, skin, eyes, and hair all rely on vitamin B. When it comes to the eight vitamins that make up the vitamin B group each one plays a significant role.


Thiamin B1

Thiamin – or vitamin B1 – supports a healthy nervous system. Along with the neurological role it plays, it also allows us to take nutrients and turn them into cellular energy. Without it, the energy we get from whole foods like an apple would be like trying to get energy from junk food.

Having a deficiency in Thiamin in first world countries is rare, but can still occur usually due to excessive alcohol consumption. Symptoms include mental confusion, fatigue, muscle weakness, irritability, and poor coordination.

Foods rich in thiamin include lentils, pork, whole grains, sunflower seeds, milk, and spinach.

Riboflavin B2

Just like vitamin B1, vitamin B2 – riboflavin – is also responsible for energy production. It also supports healthy vision as well as skin.

Similar to vitamin B1, deficiencies in the western world are usually caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Symptoms include anxiety, sensitivity to light, cracks around the mouth, and an inflamed tongue.

It can be found in foods such as fortified cereal, milk, eggs, meats, and dark greens.

Niacin B3

Digestion and turning carbohydrates and fat into energy are the role of vitamin B3, or niacin. It aids a healthy nervous system as well.

Deficiency symptoms are linked to a poor digestive system, usually resulting in stomach pains and nausea. Mental confusion may also occur, along with an inflamed tongue, irritability, and dizziness.

Fish, red meat, poultry, and lentils all contain vitamin B3.

Pantothenic Acid B5

Pantothenic acid, or vitamin B5, converts fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into sources of energy. It also produces red blood cells.

It is very rare to have a deficiency in vitamin B5. If one occurs, you will notice digestive symptoms like vomiting along with fatigue.

Liver, eggs, avocados, and legumes are an excellent source of pantothenic acid.

Pyridoxine B6

The role of vitamin B6 includes a healthy nervous system, formation of red blood cells, and metabolizing amino acids and glycogen.

Excessive consumption can cause nerve damage. Deficiency symptoms include anemia, insomnia, and depression. The elderly and those with thyroid disease are more at risk.

To get vitamin B6 into your diet, eat fruit, nuts, fish, and poultry.

Biotin B7

Biotin is used for energy metabolism. It metabolizes carbohydrates, fats, and protein.

It is also rare to have a deficiency in biotin. If a deficiency occurs, symptoms include pale skin, muscle pain, weakness, and hallucinations.

Foods rich in biotin include egg yolks, mushrooms, brewer's yeast, and strawberries.

Folic Acid B9

Folic acid aids in fetal nervous system development. It is important for pregnant women to get enough folic acid, or folate, in their diet. Folic acid also forms red blood cells.

Weight loss, fatigue, anemia, and spina bifida – neural tube defect – for babies are caused by a deficiency.

Fortified bread and cereal, as well as avocados, beets, orange juice, and liver all are good sources of folic acid.

Cobalamin B12

Last but not least, vitamin B12 is especially crucial when it comes to a healthy nervous system. DNA synthesis, healthy blood cells, energy, and anemia prevention is why we need vitamin B12. Possibly the most sought after in the vitamin B group, B12 works closely with some of the other B vitamins.

In combination with folate, it makes red blood cells and makes sure iron is utilized properly. According to the University of Maryland, it also works with B6 and B9 to “work together to control blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine are associated with heart disease.”

Risks of a B12 deficiency include fatigue, numbness, nervous system damage, heart palpitations, and tingling fingers. Certain groups are more prone to a deficiency, which include the elderly, those with diabetes, people with HIV, and even vegans and vegetarians.

Vitamin B12 is only found in animal sources. Eggs, dairy, fish, shellfish, beef, and poultry all contain vitamin B12.

As you can see, B vitamins help your body operate smoothly in a variety of ways.  If you believe any symptoms you have may be a result of a vitamin B deficiency, consult your doctor.