The ABCs of the Bs

By: Sarah Ainsley Harrison (copyright IFM Media)

Vitamins are organic micronutrients that often get overlooked, but play an enormous rolei in the body’s functioning. Subdivided into two classes, water soluble and fat soluble, vitamins must be sequestered daily in small quantities from the diet. The B vitamins are a group of eight water soluble compounds that are involved in almost every cellular process in the body. The B vitamins allow for the body to yield energy from the carbohydrates, fats and proteins in our diets as well as produce DNA. Contrary to many supplement claims, B vitamins do not supply energy, but rather allow for the harvest of caloric energy from our food. Although needed in relatively small quantities (hence their name micronutrients) the various types are imperative for proper maintenance and growth of the body’s cellular functions.

Deficiencies in B vitamins are often diet related and can lead to serious health consequences. A balanced Mediterranean style diet (high consumption of fruit, vegetables, legumes, complex rather than simple carbohydrates, olive oil, and red wine, and moderate consumption of fish and white meat) is associated with an increase in circulating vitamin B levels. Plants make vitamin B to support the growth and fluctuating adaptations of the foliage during its life cycle. The consumer of the plant receives the same growth and restorative benefits.

A Western style diet, however, falls short of supplying ample B vitamin and mineral profiles. Characterized by high consumption of processed meat, red meat, butter, high-fat dairy products, eggs, and refined grains and sugars, this diet lacks plant-based B Vitamins. Since their origin is plant cellulose, B vitamins are easily depleted by extended cooking preparation, food processing and alcohol consumption. In fact, our abandonment of traditional micro-nutrient, plant derived diets for more convenient, highly digestible micro-nutrient depleted diets is at the corner stone of our healthcare crises. Many of the ‘lifestyle diseases’ such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and dementia are caused largely in part due to our Western diet. Research shows that over 80% of these diseases are reversible by means of proper balanced nutrition and exercise. 

The following will highlight the benefit of each type of B vitamin as well as food-based sources and daily suggested dosages. As B vitamins are water soluble, there is little harm in supplementing as the body is able to excrete excess consumption via urine.

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)

Thiamine provides circulation support to the body and the mind. It aids in nerve cell function and cognitive processing. From an energy perspective, B1 is essential for metabolizing (breaking down) carbohydrates. High carbohydrate diets should think about increasing B1 intake. This process provides fast acting fuel to the active body.
Drinking alcohol, taking antibiotics and oral contraceptives all deplete Thiamine within the body. Deficiencies in B1 are also associated with decreased appetite, fatigue, forgetfulness and weak muscles. If you fall into the any of the above categories, Thiamine should be supplemented with 20-25mg/day deriving from sources such as brewer’s yeast, wheat germ and stone ground wheat.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

Riboflavin is necessary for red blood cell formation, antibody production and cell growth. Like all of the B vitamins, B2 breaks down macronutrients into useable forms of energy (ATP) within the body. Riboflavin is especially needed during pregnancy as it maintains mucus membranes alongside vitamin A (which is needed for the developing fetus). Deficiencies can cause swelling of the tongue and are common in antibiotic use and in individuals that partake in strenuous exercise. A dosage of 1.1-1.6mg/day from milk, asparagus, broccoli and spinach is suggested.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

Popular in the supplement industry, Niacin is essential for proper circulation and healthy skin. Thanks to its positive effects on circulation, B3 helps increase memory and decrease cholesterol. Often in pre-workouts, Niacin is responsible for increasing vascular delivery to the working muscles otherwise known as the ‘pump.’ Vitamin B3 will often leave the skin looking flushed and red with blood. A normal dose of Niacin is 10-25mg/day and is safe up to 1000mg/day. Deficiencies in B3 lead to common dermatitis, diarrhea and dementia. Niacin is found in fish, rice, peanuts, green peas and avocados.

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)

Often referred to as the anti-stress vitamin, B5 aids in the production of adrenal hormones (stress hormones). Pantothenic acid especially helps with the breakdown, transportation and release of energy from fats. For this reason, it enhances stamina and reduces blood cholesterol and triglycerides. Common side effects from deficiency includes headaches, fatigue, tingling in hands and feet and nausea. Vitamin B5 is available in most vegetables including broccoli, beans, nuts and lentils.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)

Vitmain B6 is referred to as the ‘master vitamin’ as it is included in more body functions than any other nutrient. Pyridoxine prevents heart disease by reducing inflammation within the body. It also aids glucose supply to the brain and enhances the bio-availability of magnesium. Low magnesium is the number one trigger for headaches. Not surprisingly, deficiencies in B6 can lead to headaches, nausea and dry skin. If oral contraceptives are taken regularly, B6 is undoubtably deficient. A suggested daily dose of 10-25mg/day from eggs, fish, wholegrains and wheatgerm is essential. During pregnancy the need for B6 increases to 100mg/day. Toxicity occurs with daily supplementation of more than 200mg/day.

Vitamin B7 (Biotin)

Biotin levels are rarely deficient in most people however Biotin plays a key role in glucose metabolism and uptake as well as insulin receptor function. Individuals with type II diabetes are at risk for B7 deficiencies.

Vitamin B9 (Folate)

Folate is essential for DNA/ RNA production, making this vitamin truly a brain food. Vitamin B9 is essential in the early development of the nervous system of the fetus as well as immune function. Thanks to its role in the nervous system and brain, B9 deficiency is also associated with depression and anxiety. Folate works best with consumptions of 800mg/day under normal circumstances and is suggested to combine with B12 and vitamin C. During pregnancy dosages increase to 800-1200mg/day. Common sources include fresh fruit and vegetables. Like many vitamins, heat from cooking destroys folic acid.

Vitamin B 12 (Cobolamin)

Vitamin B12 works with B9 to aid in neural and cognitive development, repair and maintenance. A deficiency in either vitamin can lead to depression, cognitive decline, dementia and neurological symptoms such as tingling in the feet and hands. Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular disease are all characterized as having high levels of the amino acid homocysteine within the blood. Vitamins B9 and B12 recycle homocysteine and reduce the amount circulating in the blood. Malabsorption syndromes like Chron’s disease are subject to deficiencies as B12 is absorbed in the end of the small intestine. Lean red meats are a great source of B12, which often puts vegetarians in a state of deficiency as well.

The B vitamins are a small subsect of our nutritional profile, but play an integral part in the physiological functions of our brain and body. Since they are water soluble, the B vitamins are relatively safe to consume either by whole food or supplementation. The majority of the B vitamins should be ingested from our diets, however as research suggests, our depleting food qualities and imbalanced Western diet leave us susceptible to micro-nutrient deficiencies. Low levels of B vitamins could be causing daily symptoms like headaches, fatigue, anemia and cognitive impairment among others.
B vitaminsHealthNutrition

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