Health Benefits of Vitamin B

What is Vitamin B?

B vitamins are a class of water-soluble vitamins that play important roles in cell metabolism and synthesis of red blood cells. Though these vitamins share similar names, they are chemically distinct compounds that often coexist in the same foods.

The B vitamins are commonly grouped together as “B-complex,” but each one plays a unique role in your everyday health, metabolism, and body functions.

Conventional nutritional wisdom holds that the best places to find B vitamins are in animal products, where you can generally find them in abundance. But is it possible to get what you need from plant-based foods? What are the health benefits and risks of the various B vitamins? And should you supplement? These are the questions that we’ll tackle in this article. And we won’t take more than a thousand pages to do it.

In this article, learn more about the types of vitamin B, what vitamin B does and their benefits, some good sources of it, deficiencies, and B supplements.

What Are the B Vitamins?

B vitamins refer to a group of 8 different vitamins that make up what’s often called the B-complex. The B vitamins are:

  • thiamine (vitamin B-1)
  • riboflavin (vitamin B-2)
  • niacin (vitamin B-3)
  • pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5)
  • pyridoxine (vitamin B-6)
  • biotin (vitamin B-7)
  • folate (vitamin B-9)
  • cobalamin (vitamin B-12)

Group of Vitamins

This group of vitamins helps your body convert food into energy — also known as the process of metabolism — as well as create new blood cells. They are also important for the maintenance of healthy skin cells, brain cells, and other body tissues.

Like vitamin C, the B vitamins are water-soluble, which means that they dissolve in water. Unlike the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, which are best absorbed when ingested alongside dietary fats, the water-soluble vitamins can be taken with water and then used by your body. Bacteria in the intestinal tract of animals produce B vitamins, which is why prevailing wisdom has recommended eating animals to get our daily requirements. This isn’t necessary, as many plants also contain these nutrients (see below for examples).

Recently, however, scientists have discovered that bacteria in the human microbiome themselves generate B vitamins. This makes logical sense, given that humans are in fact animals, but there are a couple of reasons that we can’t rely on our internal B factories for all we need.

First, not all guts produce these compounds equally. Second, we absorb B vitamins in the small intestines, but the bacteria that manufacture these vitamins are in the large intestines. Since the large intestines are the next to last stop on the poop train, it’s not clear how fully and efficiently those vitamins get to their absorption sites. For these reasons, many of us need to be intentional with our dietary sources of B vitamins to make sure we’re getting enough. But luckily, most of the B vitamins are typically found together in food.

8 Benefits of the 8 B Vitamins

Each of the B vitamins plays an integral role in maintaining your health and making sure your body functions properly. Below are some of the most important benefits of B vitamins; individually and collectively.

1. Help Regulate Blood Sugar

Getting enough B vitamins is important for regulating your blood sugar. Lower levels of B-1, B-6, and B-7 have been observed among people who are struggling to regulate their blood sugar levels, and supplementing This has been shown to help improve metabolic control.

Additionally, pharmaceutical doses of B-1 and B-3 may be useful to prevent kidney and cardiovascular complications in people with type 2 diabetes. The absorption of B-9 and B-12 has been found to be decreased by the use of metformin, a very common drug used to help manage blood sugar in type 2 diabetes.

This demonstrates the importance of making sure you’re getting enough B-9 and B-12 if you have type 2 diabetes or other conditions that require close monitoring of your blood glucose.

2. Support Heart Health

Vitamins B-6, B-9, and B-12 help reduce levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which contributes to increased cardiovascular disease risk when elevated (called hyperhomocysteinemia, and worth 8 gazillion points in Scrabble).

These B vitamins improve vascular endothelial function and help keep your blood vessels dilated, which supports healthy circulation and is good for your heart.

Vitamins B-3 and B-5 can increase HDL “good” cholesterol while lowering LDL “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides, which can also improve heart health. In fact, B-3 is so effective at lowering cholesterol it was referred to as “the granddaddy of cholesterol-lowering drugs” by Harvard Medical School.

It wasn’t until the first actual drug for this purpose — lovastatin — was introduced in 1987 that the use of niacin for cholesterol stopped being the standard of care in clinical settings.

3. Protect Against Cognitive Decline

Getting enough of vitamins B-2, B-6, B-9, and B-12 may slow cognitive decline. Some observational studies have found an association between low serum folate (B9) levels, worse cognitive function. And low serum B-12 is also associated with poor brain function.

B-2 is known to help alleviate both the frequency and severity of migraines. In one study, high dose supplementation of B-2 for 6 months resulted in a 50% reduction in headache frequency and severity.

And vitamin B-1 is a key factor in protecting against alcohol-related dementia, as it can reduce the accumulation of iron deposits in the brain that leads to deterioration.

4. Boost Athletic Performance

Those who have lower levels of B-vitamins —– including college and professional athletes —– may perform worse during high-intensity exercise, according to Oregon State University research published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.

They may also have a tougher time recovering and building muscle. B-vitamins are necessary during the body’s process for converting proteins and sugars into energy and are used to produce and repair cells, including red blood cells (which carry oxygen to every cell in the body).

5. Improve Mood

All B vitamins — and especially B-6, B-9, and B-12 — seem to help brain health and mood. A 2019 meta-analysis and review of 16 studies concluded that, when compared to a placebo, B vitamin supplements appear to be helpful in improving overall mood and reducing stress, especially among people at higher risk for poor nutrition or suffering from poor mood status,.and for the laymen’s term, “feeling blah.”


6. Support Healthy Pregnancy and Fetal Development

B vitamins are also crucial for supporting a healthy pregnancy and normal fetal development. Getting enough B-9 and B-12, are important to the development of a baby’s spinal cord.

This is why it’s standard practice to educate mothers-to-be on supplementing folic acid and eating folate (B-9)-rich foods, like dark leafy greens, lentils, and oranges, during pregnancy, to meet their minimum 400 micrograms per day requirement of this nutrient.

In addition, some research suggests that vitamin B-3 may help bypass genetic mutations that can cause certain birth defects or an increased risk of miscarriage.

7. Balance Hormones

B vitamins have many roles within the reproductive system and may help naturally maintain hormonal balance. Many women find success with supplemental vitamin B-6 for alleviating nausea associated with morning sickness, as well as reducing symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.

And vitamins B-3 and B-5 are needed for the production of hormones in the adrenal glands, such as sex and stress hormones.

8. Keep Nails, Hair, and Skin Healthy

All the B vitamins may work together to keep your hair, skin, and nails healthy, but B-7, B-9, and B-12 may be especially helpful. Biotin (B-7) deficiency often presents as brittle nails, hair loss, and skin rash, and while evidence is mostly anecdotal, biotin supplementation is often used in hopes of improving these conditions.

Changes in your nails are often the result of micro-nutrient deficiencies, including an array of B vitamins. In fact, a B-12 deficiency may show up as entirely blue nails or other dark pigmentation. And a folate (B-9) deficiency can cause your nails to become brittle and rigid.

B Vitamin Food Sources

You can find most B vitamins in animal products, like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. But some of the best sources are plant-based and include whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, leafy greens, fortified foods, bananas, mushrooms, avocado, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.

More specifically, below are some of the best places to find each of the 8 B-complex vitamins from plant-based foods:

  • Vitamin B-1: beans, peas, lentils, and sunflower seeds.
  • Vitamin B-2: almonds, tofu, mushrooms, avocado, and spinach.
  • Vitamin B-3: brown rice, nuts, seeds, legumes, and bananas.
  • Vitamin B-5: mushrooms, avocado, nuts, seeds, potatoes, brown rice, oats, and broccoli.
  • Vitamin B-6: chickpeas, dark leafy greens, papayas, bananas, oranges, and cantaloupe.
  • Vitamin B-7: sweet potatoes, nuts, seeds, and avocado.
  • Vitamin B-9: dark leafy greens, beans, peanuts, sunflower seeds, and oranges.
  • Vitamin B-12: fortified nutritional yeast and breakfast cereals, as well as enriched plant-based milks and yogurts.

Signs of Vitamin B deficiency.

Most people get enough B vitamins by eating a balanced diet. However, it’s still possible to be deficient.

The following symptoms may be a sign that you’re not getting enough B vitamins:

  • skin rashes
  • cracks around the mouth
  • scaly skin on the lips
  • swollen tongue
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • anemia
  • confusion
  • irritability or depression
  • nausea
  • abdominal cramps
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • numbness or tingling in the feet and hands

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms and aren’t sure why do make an appointment to see your doctor.

Although it’s possible that you’re experiencing a vitamin B deficiency, these symptoms also overlap with many other underlying conditions. Your doctor can make a diagnosis and advise you on any next steps.

If you’re deficient in B vitamins you may experience a range of symptoms depending on which B vitamins you’re lacking.

If left untreated, a deficiency could increase your risk of developing:

Vitamin B-12 deficiency, in particular, may increase your risk of neuropsychiatric disorders. Researchers are also investigating its role in hyperhomocysteinemia and atherosclerosis.

Babies born to women who were deficient in folic acid during pregnancy are more likely to have birth defects.

Are supplements necessary?Vitamin B

Most people get enough B vitamins through their diet. Your diet is also the best way for your body to get these vitamins.

You shouldn’t take a supplement unless your doctor has confirmed that you’re deficient in a specific B vitamin. They’ll tell you whether you should take a specific B supplement or add a vitamin B complex supplement to your routine.

You may be more likely to need supplementation if you:

  • are age 50 or older
  • are pregnant
  • have certain chronic health conditions
  • eat a vegetarian diet
  • eat a vegan diet

Supplements are available over the counter at your local pharmacy or health food store.

Supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so you should only buy from a trusted, and reputable brand. This helps to ensure you’re taking a high-quality product without any questionable additives. Your doctor may be able to recommend a specific brand to consider.

You should always read all labels carefully and follow any directions given by the manufacturer. If you have questions about the dosage, talk to your doctor.

Writer’s note:

If you’re considering taking a B-complex supplement, it’s important to know that not all supplements are equally effective. Many are poorly absorbed. Our friends at PuraTHRIVE developed a unique Micelle Liposomal technology that may be the most effective, home-consumer level option for delivering the B vitamins in a bioavailable way. It also has a pleasant taste when you mix it into a glass of water. And if you make a purchase using this link, you can take advantage of a discount for FRN readers. PLUS, they’ll make a contribution in support of their work.

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Risks of taking B Vitamin supplements.

You’re unlikely to get too much vitamin B complex from your diet. That’s because B complex vitamins are water-soluble. That means they aren’t stored in your body but are excreted in your urine daily.

You’re also unlikely to get too much vitamin B if you’re taking any supplementation as directed.

That said, overdose is possible — especially if you’re taking a supplement without receiving a deficiency diagnosis from your doctor.

Symptoms of a vitamin B complex overdose include:

  • excessive thirst
  • skin conditions
  • blurry vision
  • abdominal cramps
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • increased urination
  • diarrhea
  • skin flushing

Seek immediate medical attention if you think you’re experiencing symptoms of a vitamin B complex overdose.

You should also check in with your doctor if you’ve been taking supplements without having a diagnosed deficiency. Taking too much vitamin B complex long-term can lead to nerve damage. This could result in losing control of your bodily movements.

Talk to your doctor about supplements.

Always talk to your doctor before you add any supplements to your routine.

You can discuss your desired health goal and why you think supplementation is necessary. Your doctor can help you determine if this is the best treatment option and advise you on any next steps.

Some supplements can interact with certain underlying conditions and medications, so it’s important to keep your doctor informed.

You should also see your doctor if you think you may be deficient in B vitamins. They can help determine what’s causing your symptoms and, if needed, recommend ways to increase your B vitamin intake.

Summary

B vitamins are important to just about every system in your body. And, they’re important for a healthy pregnancy, for hormone production, and for your hair, skin, and nails. While all the B vitamins are in whole foods, there are a few that some people may struggle to get enough of.

However avoiding deficiency is relatively easy with testing when indicated, and the addition of appropriate supplements. Hopefully, this article has helped you to be proactive with your well-being!

Please let us know in the comments below.

  • Are you aware of Vitamin B? If so, how do you take it?
  • Does anyone in your family have a history of an illness who might be able to be helped by Vitamin B?
  • Has your doctor suggested Vitamin B as part of your supplement for your health?

Disclaimer

Information on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. We encourage you to do your own research. Seek the advice of a medical professional before making any changes to your lifestyle or diet.

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References:

https://foodrevolution.org/blog/b-vitamins-benefits/

https://www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2001/8/report_folic

https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/vitamin-b-complex

 

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