Up next in our series is vitamin B. Vitamin B complex is essential for a variety of bodily tasks and functions, especially cell health and energy.
Let’s explore this vitamin in detail.
What is Vitamin B?
Vitamin B, unlike other vitamins, is actually a family of eight different vitamins, each of which performs its own distinct functions. B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenate), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folate) and B12 (cobalamin) make up this vitamin family.
What Does Vitamin B Do?
Vitamin B is well known for helping your body turn the food you eat into energy. But that is not all it does. Vitamin B also helps form red blood cells and is critical for the development and function of those cells. It promotes healthy hair, skin, nails and bones, and it keeps your heart healthy.
The easiest way to understand each of the B vitamins is to look at them individually to see what they are, what they do for your body, what foods to eat to make sure you are getting enough of them and how your body lets you know when aren’t.
Let’s break it down.
Thiamine (B1) is what the body uses to turn the foods you eat into usable energy. It is also used to maintain proper nerve and heart function, boost immunity and prevent damage to your nerves.
Vitamin B1 can be found in whole grains, beef, pork, nuts, yeast and spinach.
Vitamin B1 deficiencies are rarely a problem in the United States because so many of the foods we eat are fortified with it.
Riboflavin (B2) is a particularly important B vitamin because it must be present in your body to allow the other B vitamins to do their jobs! It has also been proven to prevent and cure headaches and migraines.
Most of the riboflavin we consume comes from refined carbs such as enriched wheat breads, cereals and pastas. This is because many refined carbs are strengthened with riboflavin. Additionally, it is present in cheese, eggs, leafy green vegetables, beans, legumes and nuts.
As with vitamin B1, a B2 deficiency is rare because manufacturers fortify our milk and whole grains with thiamine and riboflavin.
Niacin (B3) is essential in maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system. This is because it can help lower bad cholesterol levels while boosting good cholesterol levels. It also reduces inflammation and improves circulation.
Fish, seeds, peanuts, yeast and beets are the best food sources for B3.
Your body will tell you if you lack B3 through abdominal and digestive issues such as cramping and nausea.
Panthothenic acid (B5) is essential to the creation of red blood cells as well as sex and stress hormones. You may have heard B5 referred to as an anti-stress vitamin. That is because it produces the hormones that help your body withstand stress. B5 also aids in maintaining a healthy digestive tract, increasing your body’s immunity in the process.
Foods that contain large amounts of B5 include whole grains, eggs, meat, legumes, avocado and yogurt.
It is not likely that you will ever be alarmingly low on B5. However, a deficiency could occur in combination with a deficiency of another B vitamin. Possible symptoms include fatigue, depression, burning feet, insomnia, upper respiratory infections and stomach pain.
Pyridoxine (B6) helps maintain your nervous system, which is responsible for the communication between your brain and your cells. It also helps produce hemoglobin, which the body uses to carry oxygen (in red blood cells) throughout your entire body.
B6 can be found in poultry, fish, potatoes, chickpeas, turkey, seeds, beans, avocados and bananas.
Too little B6 in your body can result in anemia as well as dry, cracked skin and skin rashes.
Biotin (B7) keeps you looking young! It helps you maintain healthy hair, skin and nails. Although it does not absorb as well through the skin as it does the digestive tract, B7 is added to many hair and beauty products.
Biotin is present in eggs, salmon, cheese, raspberries, mushrooms, whole grain bread, cauliflower and avocado.
Although rare, symptoms of a B7 deficiency include hair loss; scaly, red rash on the face; fungal infections and lethargy.
Folic acid (B9), along with vitamins B6 and B12, controls your body’s level of homocysteine. In other words, it reduces your chance of heart disease.
Folic acid is most important during infancy, adolescence and pregnancy. This is because it aids in the production of DNA and RNA. Too little folic acid could potentially lead to birth defects.
Dark leafy greens, whole grains, root vegetables, beans, salmon, orange juice and milk all contain high levels of B9.
A lack of B9 can cause you to suffer from diarrhea or anemia. A B9 deficiency in a pregnant woman has more serious consequences, such as various birth defects and neurological problems.
Vitamin B12 maintains nerve cell health. Without it, all cognitive functions suffer. It also aids in heart health and reduces the risk for heart disease.
As we age, this particular B vitamin becomes more difficult for our bodies to absorb. Doctors recommend that anyone over the age of 50 eat fortified cereals and grains to ensure the body gets what it needs.
B12 can be found in dairy products, eggs, fish, meat and poultry. For those of you who may be vegetarian or vegan, you can get your daily B12 through plant milk, breakfast cereals and soy products.
Low levels of B12 may lead to extreme fatigue and weakness, confusion in older adults, anemia, tingling in the hands and feet and irritability or depression.
Can I get too much?
Vitamin B is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning it dissolves in water. Unlike other vitamins, such as A, D, E and K, it can’t build up in your body. This makes it extremely difficult for you to “overdose” on it. However, it is possible.
If you are eating foods with high levels of vitamin B, as well as taking a B vitamin supplement on a regular basis, for a long period of time, you should pay attention to the following warning signs:
The good news is, it is highly unlikely that you will experience any of the aforementioned symptoms as a result of too much vitamin B. However, if you ever do, the symptoms will subside after you discontinue the use of your B vitamin supplement, and your body has successfully rid itself of what is left.
When to See a Health Care Provider
If you have any questions or are unsure about your vitamin B intake, do not hesitate to contact your healthcare provider.
Always let your doctor or nurse know if you decide to, or are already, taking a vitamin supplement. He or she will be able to determine if that supplement is right for you.
A Healthy Approach
Do you need to start taking a vitamin B pill? No, probably not. If you are eating a balanced diet, especially consisting of meat, eggs, milk, whole grains, rice, fish, beans and nuts, you are likely getting all of the ‘B’ that you need!