One question about B vitamins that may pop into your mind is: Why are there so many of them?
“There are eight in all,” says registered dietician Joan Salge Blake. “When B vitamins were first discovered in the early 1900s, researchers thought there was only one. After more research, it became apparent that they were not a single substance but several different ones.”
They are all water soluble and share many similarities. Together, they function to help the body convert carbohydrates, fats, and protein into glucose to burn for energy.
“Even though they each have unique roles, the B vitamins perform a lot of the similar functions,” says Joy Dubost, a registered dietician based in Washington, D.C. “It’s kind of a misnomer to think that B vitamins give you energy. That’s incorrect. What they do is help your food to give you energy.”
Although B complex vitamins are vital to health, you typically don’t hear much about them. One reason is because most Americans get an adequate amount through their diet, so there’s no need to sound the alarm about great swaths of the population being deficient.
“In general, for people to be deficient in the B vitamins, they have to be really malnourished,” says Blake, a clinical associate professor at Boston University's Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. “Refined grains are enriched with thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid, and all of the Bs are in a wide variety of foods.”
B vitamins are found in meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products, beans, leafy green vegetables, asparagus, avocado, nuts, seeds, and a host of fortified grains and cereals.
“If you eat a well-balanced, healthy diet, you probably don’t need a B-complex supplement,” notes Dubost, former spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “The problem is that most people don’t eat a well-balanced diet, so supplements are a good insurance policy. Since B vitamins are water-soluble, your body gets rid of the surplus through urine. There’s no risk of toxicity.”
Here are some of the specific functions of the B vitamins:
B1 (Thiamine): Among other things, thiamine helps facilitate the transmission of nerve impulses, Blake tells Newsmax Health, adding, “it also plays a role in breaking down alcohol in the body, so alcoholics need more of it.”
B2 (Riboflavin): B2 is a potent antioxidant that helps fight damaging free radicals. It is also vital for red blood cell production. Due to its pigment, riboflavin turns urine bright yellow when excess is excreted.
B3 (Niacin): B3 dilates blood vessels, causing the “niacin flush” some people experience from taking supplements. “When taken in very high doses, niacin can have a drug-like effect,” says Blake. “It can lower cholesterol levels, especially that of the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol. But it should only be taken in large doses under the care of a physician.”
B5 (Pantothenic acid): Its name comes from the Greek word “pantothen,” meaning “from everywhere.” That’s because small amounts of B5 are found in so many foods. It helps the body produce stress and sex hormones, including testosterone.
B6 (Pyridoxine): B6 teams up with B9 and B12 to keep in check levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which can contribute to heart disease. It also helps to produce hormones that improve sleep and mood.
B7 (Biotin): Dubost tells Newsmax Health that “women tend to gravitate towards biotin because it’s known as a hair, nail, and skin vitamin. But people are rarely deficient in it.”
B9 (Folic acid): This vitamin is especially crucial for women. “All women who are capable of becoming pregnant should make sure they get 400 micrograms of folic acid daily,” Blake says. “If they become pregnant, it can reduce the risk of birth defects.”
B12: (Cobalamin): Vegans can become deficient in B12 because it is primarily found in animal products. Blake notes that between 10 percent and 30 percent of people over the age of 50 can also face deficiency issues because they have trouble breaking down the B12 in food. “They have a better time using a synthetic version,” she says.
© 2022 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.