Be On Top of All Your B Vitamins, Not Just B12 and FolateNutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
My recent nutrient test results reflected that all my B vitamins were optimal except vitamins B1 (thiamine) and B2 (riboflavin). And it got me thinking that many people may not know about these two B vitamins. This is because vitamins B12 (cobalamin) and B9 (folate) seem to be the popular B vitamins and perhaps steal the spotlight from all the other essential Bs.
You have probably heard about B9 or folate if you are thinking of having a baby. Competent doctors will usually recommend that their patients take folate in anticipation of a pregnancy to avoid neural defects in their newborn.
And of course, almost everyone knows about B12. Many vegetarians or vegans are aware that they may be prone to B12 deficiency because plant foods don't contain vitamin B12. And as we get older, our bodies may have difficulty absorbing enough B12 from the foods we eat. As a result, many of us take B12 supplements. This B vitamin helps our nervous system, prevents anemia, gives us energy and is really a ‘must-have’ as we age.
But there are six other B vitamins we should be aware of. Each has its own name and serves very important roles in keeping us healthy. So let’s discuss the other six B vitamins and bring them into the spotlight, along with vitamins B9 and B12.
This B vitamin plays a big role in energy metabolism. It is important for the growth, development and function of our cells. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), humans mainly store B1 in the liver, however, in very small amounts. As a result, we require a continuous supply of this vitamin from our diet.
“In its early stage, thiamin deficiency can cause weight loss and anorexia, confusion, short-term memory loss, and other mental signs and symptoms; muscle weakness; and cardiovascular symptoms (such as an enlarged heart),” says the NIH.
Whole grains, meat, black beans and fish are good dietary sources of B1. Dairy products and most fruits do not contain much thiamine. Certain breads, cereals and infant formulas are fortified with B1.
Interestingly, I discovered that older adults (20%–30%) have laboratory indicators that suggest some degree of thiamin deficiency.
“Possible reasons include low dietary intakes, a combination of chronic diseases, concomitant use of multiple medications, and low absorption of thiamin as a natural result of aging. Some small studies have found that the risk of deficiency is particularly high in elderly people who reside in an institution,” according to the NIH.
We’ve discussed this vitamin before, and this was the other B vitamin I discovered I was deficient in. Vitamin B2 is important for growth, red blood cell production, proper eyesight and healthy neurological function. B2 is especially important because it affects how our bodies use and absorb iron (an essential mineral that serves so many important functions for our bodies). B2 also helps the body convert vitamin B6 and folate into usable forms. Furthermore, B2 helps the body break down the three macronutrients -- protein, carbohydrates and fats.
B2 or riboflavin may even help prevent migraine headaches, and failure to consume enough of this B vitamin may also interfere with the body's ability to metabolize pharmaceuticals which in turn may affect our response to treatment.
More riboflavin is produced after ingestion of vegetable-based as opposed to meat-based foods, according to the NIH. Good dietary sources of B2 include beef liver, fortified breakfast cereals, oats, yogurt, eggs, quinoa, spinach, sunflower seeds and tomatoes.
This is yet another B vitamin we have previously discussed. B3 is important for our digestive system, skin and nervous system. It helps make sex hormones and stress-related hormones. It also helps improve circulation and suppress inflammation. Niacin is used to treat high cholesterol and is also used alongside other treatments for circulation issues, migraines, dizziness as well as reducing the diarrhea associated with cholera.
Niacin is needed for the body to convert carbohydrates, fat and alcohol into energy. “Unlike other B-group vitamins, niacin is very heat stable and little is lost in cooking,” according to this source.
A severe niacin deficiency can lead to a disease called pellagra. The main symptoms of pellagra are “diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia, and possibly even death,” (American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD)).
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
B5 deficiency is very rare. A wide variety of foods contain vitamin B5, including avocados, meat, pork, chicken, salmon, lobster, shellfish, whole grain breads and cereals, egg yolk, milk, yogurt, lentils, mushrooms, broccoli, sweet potatoes, corn, cauliflower, kale and tomatoes.
Functions of B5 include metabolizing carbohydrates, proteins, fats and alcohol. B5 is also needed for producing red blood cells and steroid hormones. B5 also helps synthesize cholesterol and helps the body process other vitamins, particularly vitamin B2 (riboflavin).
Vitamin B6 is involved in more than 100 enzyme reactions in the body which are mostly concerned with protein metabolism, according to the NIH.
“Vitamin B6 also plays a role in cognitive development through the biosynthesis of neurotransmitters and in maintaining normal levels of homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood. Vitamin B6 is involved in gluconeogenesis and glycogenolysis, immune function (for example, it promotes lymphocyte and interleukin-2 production), and hemoglobin formation.”
An isolated vitamin B6 deficiency is pretty uncommon. And if you are deficient in this vitamin, you are usually deficient in other B vitamins as well.
“Individuals with borderline vitamin B6 concentrations or mild deficiency might have no deficiency signs or symptoms for months or even years.”
This is why nutrient testing is so vital to our proactive healthcare plan.
It is important to note that “[e]nd-stage renal diseases, chronic renal insufficiency, and other kidney diseases can cause vitamin B6 deficiency. In addition, vitamin B6 deficiency can result from malabsorption syndromes, such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Certain genetic diseases, such as homocystinuria, can also cause vitamin B6 deficiency. Some medications, such as antiepileptic drugs, can lead to deficiency over time.”
Milk, ricotta cheese, salmon, tuna (yellowfin and albacore), eggs, chicken, liver, beef, carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, green peas, bananas, chickpeas, breakfast cereals and avocado are dietary sources of B6.
- Vitamin B7 (biotin)
You may have heard about biotin in the beauty world. That’s because this B vitamin is important for the health of your hair, skin and nails. Biotin is also needed for energy metabolism, fat synthesis, amino acid metabolism and glycogen synthesis.
A deficiency in this vitamin is relatively rare, but excessive biotin intake can lead to raised cholesterol levels. Remember, having too much of certain nutrients can be just as detrimental to your health as having too little.
So now that you have been acquainted with all of the eight essential B vitamins, be proactive by making sure you have an adequate intake of all of them - not just B12 or folate. Identify the foods from which you can get these vitamins. And if you are over 50-years-old, like me, you may start to have difficulty absorbing them from all the foods you eat. However, you can avoid the consequences of not having optimal levels of these nutrients if you routinely take a comprehensive nutrient test to see whether you have any deficiencies or imbalances. If you do, a competent healthcare professional can determine what type of supplementation is appropriate for you.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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