Vitamin Spotlight: Vitamin B

There are a number of vitamins and minerals that are essential for your body to stay healthy. One of them is vitamin B. Here, we’re looking at the essentials of this vitamin, including its benefits and purpose.

What is Vitamin B?

Vitamin B refers to a family of eight water-soluble B vitamins important for cell metabolism:

  1. Thiamin (also known as B1)
  2. Riboflavin (also known as B2)
  3. Niacin (also known as B3)
  4. Pantothenic acid (also known as B5)
  5. Vitamin B6 (also known as pyridoxine)
  6. Biotin (also known as B7)
  7. Folic Acid (also known as B9)
  8. Vitamin B12 (also known as cobalamin)

While these vitamins are usually referred to as the general group of vitamin B, each play a unique role and contribute to different functions in your body. In order for your body to absorb vitamin B from food, hydrochloric acid in your stomach will separate the vitamin from the protein it’s attached to in the food and then combine with intrinsic factor (a protein your stomach makes) and is then absorbed by your body.

Some genetic conditions make it difficult to conduct this process. People with pernicious anemia, for example, cannot make intrinsic factor and therefore have trouble absorbing vitamin B from foods and supplements.

What Does Vitamin B Do for the Body?

Each of the B vitamins play an important role in helping your body produce energy from food. Thiamin supports cellular energy production and helps support healthy nervous system function. Riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid also help your body produce cellular energy from the food you eat.

Playing a role in more than 100 cellular reactions in your body, vitamin B6 is essential for ensuring your bodily functions operate efficiently and effectively. This vitamin helps your body metabolize amino acids and glycogen, support a healthy nervous system function and the formation of red blood cells.

Biotin, sometimes nicknamed as the beauty vitamin, is believed to support healthy hair, nails and skin, as well as support your body’s metabolism of carbs, protein and fat. Meanwhile, folic acid is often found in prenatal supplements because it supports fetal health and development so a fetus can develop a healthy nervous system.

Lastly, B12 supports a number of functions, including DNA synthesis, red blood cell formation, nervous system function and cellular energy production.

What Foods Contain Vitamin B?

Different foods contain different B vitamins:

  1. Thiamin: lentils, legumes, red meat, milk, peas and cauliflower
  2. Riboflavin: milk, eggs, beef, salmon, spinach and broccoli
  3. Niacin: wheat bread, lentils, beef, fish and poultry
  4. Pantothenic acid: whole grains, nuts, brown rice, milk, organ meats and poultry
  5. Vitamin B6: bananas, eggs, poultry, fish and meat
  6. Biotin: cheese, organ meet, soybeans and strawberries
  7. Folic Acid: breads, cereal, dark leafy greens, beets, avocados and dates
  8. Vitamin B12: poultry, milk, red meat and fish

What are the Side Effects of Vitamin B Deficiency?

A vitamin B deficiency can be very serious and detrimental to your health, especially a vitamin B12 deficiency. A vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to anemia, depression, weakness and a tingling sensation in the hands and feet. A vitamin B6 deficiency can also cause these side effects, along with increasing one’s susceptibility to infections.

On the other hand, a niacin deficiency can result in digestive issues and even mental confusion. And as folic acid is essential for fetal development, a pregnant woman with a folate deficiency may give birth to a baby with a birth defect.

How Can I Tell if I’m Deficient in Vitamin B?

If you’re experiencing any of the side effects mentioned above, you may have a vitamin B deficiency. Even if you’re eating a healthy diet, you may still not be getting enough vitamin B. Pregnant women and the elderly may need more of certain types of vitamin B. Those with conditions such as Crohn’s disease, HIV, Celiac and alcohol abuse often struggle absorbing vitamin B, thereby being more susceptible to a deficiency. In instances such as these, consult your doctor about alternative ways to get enough vitamin B.

As B vitamins are water-soluble, your body won’t build up an excess amount. Instead, any excess will be excreted through your urine. However, there is still such a thing as getting too much vitamin B. If you don’t have a vitamin B deficiency and you take a supplement, you may experience intestinal issues, like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and gas. Ongoing overdoses of vitamin B can result in liver problems, skin lesions and high blood sugar. Additionally, too much folic acid during pregnancy could result in the baby developing neurological problems while in the womb.

Most healthy adults who follow a healthy diet typically receive enough vitamin B. However, if you’re concerned you may not be getting enough vitamin B, consider taking a DNA test, such as PathwayFit, which looks at which vitamins you may need to optimize. With the guidance of your physician, you can determine an effective diet for you.