Vitamin B

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A healthy diet is an important component of becoming your best self. Proper nutrition is vital for the mind, body and soul. A nutritionally balanced diet ensures you are consuming adequate quantities of essential nutrients. Paying attention to the foods you put in your body reduces your chances of coming down with potentially serious health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis.

It is widely known that consumption of macronutrients1 (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) in adequate amounts are important for a balanced diet. What about micronutrients? Where do they fit in and how important are they?  Vitamins and minerals are classified as micronutrients. Micronutrients are essential nutrients the body needs in very small amounts, hence the reason they are micro.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, there are 30 essential vitamins and minerals your body is unable to produce that must be consumed through your diet. Vitamin B is one such essential vitamin your body is unable to produce which must be procured from food sources.

What is Vitamin B?

Vitamin B actually refers to a group 8 different vitamins which share common characteristics and are all water-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins are dissolved in water and carried by the body's tissues, meaning they are not stored in the body and therefore must be consumed daily. This differs from fat-soluble vitamins, which are dissolved by fat and stored in the body's tissues, not making it necessary to consume daily. Each B vitamin serves a specific purpose in the body and together are known as Vitamin B Complex.

8 Types of B Vitamins

B1 (Thiamin): B1, also known as thiamin is essential to a healthy central nervous and immune systems. It also helps convert food into energy, which can then be used by your body.

B2 (Riboflavin): B2, also known as riboflavin aids in the production of red blood cells and assists in breaking down the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Riboflavin helps promote healthy skin.

B3 (Niacin): B3, commonly called niacin serves the digestive system, skin, and nervous system. This form of the vitamin helps elevate the body's good cholesterol, known as HDL.

B5 (Pantothenic Acid): B5, commonly called pantothenic acid is essential for the production of steroid hormones and breaking down fats and carbohydrates for the body to use.

B6 (Pyridoxine): B6, also known as pyridoxine is an instrumental vitamin in the body. Adequate consumption of pyridoxine is important when it comes to the production of red blood cells, metabolism, and immune function. This particular vitamin also helps in the ability to maintain healthy sleep patterns.

B7 (Biotin): B7, also known as biotin is commonly recognized in the beauty industry. Biotin is important in the growth of healthy skin, nails, and hair.

B9 (Folate): B9, also known as folate is recognized by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Adequate amounts of folate are essential for the developing baby's nervous system. Prenatal vitamin supplements have higher levels of folic acid.

B12 (Cobalamin): B12, also known as cobalamin is most notably known for aiding in the production of healthy red blood cells as well as aiding in the function of the central nervous system. It works closely with folate or vitamin B9. This particular B vitamin is the one that is most common when it comes to deficiencies.

Each B vitamin works independently and in combination with each other to assist in carrying out your body's processes. Though small, vitamin B is mighty and offers a myriad of benefits.

Benefits of Vitamin B

Adequate consumption of vitamin B provides many benefits to your body. On a cellular level, vitamin B promotes cell health by aiding in the production of red blood cells which carry oxygen to your body and remove carbon dioxide.

Have you ever heard of taking vitamin B if you need a boost of energy? This is because vitamin B is known to increase your energy levels, making it a preferable alternative to caffeine or other artificial stimulants.

Adequate amounts of vitamin B are good for your eyes, heart, digestion, and nervous system. Vitamins B9 and B12 work hand-in-hand to support your body's immune system and mood.2 Hormone production is another benefit of vitamin B. Benefits differ between men and women due to higher levels of testosterone in men and higher levels of estrogen in women.

As a man ages, testosterone levels tend to decrease. Vitamin B helps increase testosterone levels in men3. In women, vitamin B is extremely important during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This is due to the need for higher levels of folic acid which are important for the development of the baby's brain. Vitamin B also reduces the risk of serious birth defects. The recommended amount of vitamin B differs depending on age and gender.

Daily recommended allowance

The amount of vitamin B-12 needed depends on age and stage of life, according to The National Institutes of Health.

  • Newborns need 0.4 mcg
  • Infants need 0.5 mcg
  • Children up to 3 years old need 0.9 mcg
  • Children 4 to 8-year-olds need 1.2 mcg
  • Children 9 to 13-year-olds need 1.8 mcg
  • Teenagers need 2.4 mcg
  • Adults consume 2.4 mcg
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women need between 2.6-2.8 mcg

Older adults and pregnant or breastfeeding women commonly require larger amounts of vitamin B in their diet due to reduced ability to absorb vitamin B and the requirements of a growing fetus, respectively. Your health care provider can determine how much vitamin B is appropriate.

How to Consume Vitamin B

Because vitamin B is a water-soluble nutrient, it is not stored in the body. This means you must replenish vitamin B daily in order to consume the required amounts. Vitamin B is common in certain foods and oral vitamin supplements. There are a variety of foods which supply the needed amounts of vitamin B including proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

For those who do not eat a balanced diet or do not consume foods rich in vitamin B, there are oral vitamin supplements available to ensure you are consuming adequate amounts of vitamin B.

Symptoms of Vitamin B Deficiency

Consuming a balanced diet with adequate amounts of both macronutrients and micronutrients is important for your overall health. Nutrition effects more than just your physical body. It plays a part in your overall energy level, emotional health, sleep habits and, of course, physical health. Deficiencies in vitamin B can cause serious physical symptoms. 

Anemia, which is a decreased level of red blood cells is a common symptom of a vitamin B deficiency. Numbness in the extremities, diarrhea, mouth sores and skin conditions are common physical symptoms of a vitamin B deficiency. Those suffering from a deficiency may also experience nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss and fatigue. Birth defects can result in unborn children if the mother does not consume adequate amounts of vitamin B.

Deficiency can not only cause physical issues, but mental issues as well. Emotional and mental issues can be just as debilitating as physical issues to your overall well-being. Those with a deficiency might experience irritability, memory lapse, confusion and even depression if not remedied.

Vitamin B is essential for fetal brain development, and a deficiency can result in serious birth defects, including neural tube defects. Neurological issues and developmental delays can occur in breast-fed infants whose mother suffers from a vitamin B deficiency.

The most reliable way to diagnose a vitamin B deficiency is by a blood test through your medical provider in combination with a thorough health exam, and health history. If you do have a deficiency, your doctor will work with you on correcting the deficiency and preventing a reoccurrence in the future.

Who Is at Risk for Deficiency?

While you certainly do not want to overdose on vitamin B, according to Harvard University, it is more common to consume too little vitamin B. More than 2 billion people in the world have some type of vitamin or mineral deficiency.4 There are three groups of people who are at a higher risk of deficiency than the normal population: vegans, elderly, and unborn babies.

Vegans

B12 deficiency is the most common Vitamin B deficiency. As a vegan, you must take extra precautions to ensure you are taking in adequate amounts of Vitamin B. This group is especially at risk, due to diet. More specifically, they are at risk for B-12 deficiency. The reason being is B-12 is primarily found in animal products, and since vegans do not consume animal products, they must find other sources of Vitamin B-12.

Elderly

Men and women over the age of 50 are at a higher risk of suffering from Vitamin B deficiency. According to Harvard University, up to 30 percent of men and women over the age of 50 years old suffer from a thinning of their stomach lining. This reduces the ability of the stomach to absorb B-12 efficiently, which can lead to deficiency.

Unborn Babies

Unborn babies are at risk for suffering devastating consequences if they have a deficiency of B vitamins. The unborn baby could suffer from spina bifida or any number of neural tube defects. Unborn babies who suffer from a deficiency of Vitamin B12 combined with high folate are more likely to experience obesity and insulin resistance at some point during their life. 5

There are certain digestive conditions and digestive surgeries which can cause an inability to absorb and utilize Vitamin B correctly. Chronic gastritis, gastrectomy, thyroid issues, and even autoimmune conditions put individuals at a higher risk for a developing a Vitamin-B deficiency.

Deficiencies are easily preventable. There are plenty of Vitamin B rich food sources as well as oral vitamin supplements available.

Foods Rich in B Vitamins

It is easy to find sources rich in Vitamin B. The good news is there are plenty of foods which provide adequate amounts of all 8 B-Vitamins. Dairy products, whole grains, meat, legumes, seeds, nuts, vegetables, and fruits are great sources of Vitamin B.

Dairy products are a healthy, nutritional source of Vitamin B. Milk, in particular, is high in Vitamin B12.  Yogurt and cheeses, containing milk are high in Vitamin B. Whole grains such as bread, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and brown rice are great carbohydrate sources of Vitamin B.

Vitamin B can be found in a variety of protein sources including red meats such as beef and pork. Poultry, including chicken and turkey, are natural sources of vitamin B. What may come as a shock is fish and seafood such as trout, salmon, and oysters are high in vitamin B.

Legumes such as green peas, kidney beans, lentils, and pinto beans are high in vitamin B, especially folate. Legumes are a great food source for pregnant women.

Sunflower seeds along with dark vegetables such as spinach are easy go-to's to get your daily vitamin B requirement. Spinach, broccoli, most citrus fruits and bananas are rich in B vitamins. Eggs, which are a superfood are not only high in protein also in B vitamins.

Fortified foods such as cereals, almond milk and coconut milk are an alternative to animal products for Vitamin B, especially B12 for vegans and even vegetarians who either do not consume animal products at all or consume a reduced amount.

Vitamin B Takeaway

Vitamin B complex consists of 8 B vitamins, which all perform different functions in the body. Although needed in trace amounts, they are an essential part of a balanced diet. Age, gender, and pregnancy affect how much vitamin B you need in your diet. Since Vitamin B is a water-soluble vitamin you must consume it daily from common food sources such as meat, dairy, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains and supplements.

Vitamin B provides both physical and mental benefits including immune and digestive functions as well as energy and mood enhancement. Ensuring you consume adequate amounts of Vitamin B is an important part of being the healthiest you that you can be!

Citations and Sources

1.
Schmidhuber J, Sur P, Fay K, et al. The Global Nutrient Database: availability of macronutrients and micronutrients in 195 countries from 1980 to 2013. Lancet Planet Health. 2018;2(8):e353-e368. [PMC]
2.
Djokic G, Korcok D, Djordjevic V, Agic A, Rankovic A, Djukic D. The effects of S-adenosyl-L-methionine-vitamin B complex on mild and moderate depressive symptoms. Hippokratia. 2017;21(3):140-143. [PubMed]
3.
Cui T, Terlecki R. Prevalence of Relative Deficiencies in Testosterone and Vitamin B12 Among Patients Referred for Chronic Orchialgia: Implications for Management. Am J Mens Health. 2016;12(3):608-611. [PMC]
4.
Olatunji TL, Afolayan AJ. The suitability of chili pepper (Capsicum annuum  L.) for alleviating human micronutrient dietary deficiencies: A review. Food Sci Nutr. 2018;6(8):2239-2251. doi:10.1002/fsn3.790
5.
Allen L, Miller J, de G, et al. Biomarkers of Nutrition for Development (BOND): Vitamin B-12 Review. J Nutr. 2018;148(suppl_4):1995S-2027S. [PubMed]