If you haven’t had a chance yet, go check out my intro article “What are Vitamins” for a short summary of what they do and why you need the various A through K vitamins.
There are many B vitamins, together referred to as the “B complex” often. This is because when vitamins were first being discovered and named, a Polish biochemist named Kazimierz Funk isolated what he called a “vital amine” from blood and named it factor B, as the second such compound which had been discovered.
Later is was realized that what he had isolated was in fact a mixture of several compounds, the B vitamins. Several of these compounds turned out to be for other processes which caused them to lose standing as a “vitamin” (hence the jumping around in the numbering system). As you can see, the history of the vitamin B complex as we know it today was a bit… complex.
Vitamin B1 — a water-soluble vitamin also called Thiamine, this vitamin is needed to turn carbohydrates into energy, for muscle contraction, for healthy digestion, and to enable nerve signaling. You can get your Thiamine from whole grains, peas, edamame (or soybeans), nuts, seeds, brown rice, eggs, liver, and pork.
Not getting enough thiamine may cause weakness, fatigue, nerve damage, or psychosis. Deficiency is seen most often in those who abuse alcohol. Excess alcohol makes it more difficult for the body to absorb thiamine from food. This can lead to a disease called beriberi. At its most severe, thiamine deficiency can cause brain damage, leading to Korsakoff syndrome or Wernicke’s disease. The same person may develop either or both these diseases. There is no known poisoning linked to too much thiamin consumption.
RDA for adult males = 1.2 mg/day, for females = 1.1 mg/day, if pregnant or breast-feeding = 1.4 mg/day.
Vitamin B2 — a water-soluble vitamin also known as Riboflavin, it is important for releasing energy from carbohydrates, digestion of fats and proteins, red blood cell production, and protection of the nervous system. It can be found in green leafy vegetables (mustard greens, spinach, kale), legumes (peas & soybean), nuts, dairy, fish, meat, eggs, yeast extract, and fortified breads & cereals.
Riboflavin is destroyed by light exposure, so limit storing foods containing this vitamin on the counter in the open. Store them in a closed bread box, cabinet, or the refrigerator instead. Because many if not most of our bread and cereals are fortified (meaning riboflavin is added to the product) riboflavin deficiency is quite rare. Symptoms include anemia, mouth sores, and swelling of the mucous membranes. There is no known poisoning associated with high levels of B2 intake.
RDA for adult males = 1.3 mg/day, for females = 1.1 mg/day. Slightly higher if pregnant or breast-feeding.
Vitamin B3 — a water-soluble vitamin also known as Niacin or niacinamide in manufactured form, it is found in a variety of foods, including liver, chicken, beef, fish, cereal, peanuts, and legumes, and is also synthesized from tryptophan, an essential amino acid found in most forms of protein. Best sources include organ meats (such as liver, which makes great pasta sauce or heart, which you can stir-fry), venison, whole grains, mushrooms, and yeast.
Niacin can be converted into niacinamide, and these are both precursors of NAD and NADP, important molecules in the process of hydrogen transfer, catabolism of fat, carbohydrate, protein, and alcohol, cell signaling and DNA repair, as well as anabolism reactions such as fatty acid and cholesterol synthesis. A severe deficiency in B3 leads to pellagra, a painful disease characterized by diarrhea, dermatitis, inflammation, and eventual dementia.
RDA = 14 mg/day for women, 16 mg/day for men, and 18 mg/day for pregnant or breast-feeding women.
Vitamin B5 — also called Patothenic acid or pantothenate, is water-soluble. It is required for our bodies to synthesize coenzyme-A (CoA) an acyl-carrier required for the citric acid cycle leading to ATP synthesis, as well as metabolizing proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. This vitamin is found in nearly every food, with avocados, legumes, eggs, meats, yogurt, and whole grains as the largest sources. As a supplement in salt form it may improve oxygen utilization efficiency and reduce lactic acid accumulation in athletes.
Toxicity is unlikely, in fact there has been no established upper limit on this particular vitamin. As well, deficiency is extremely rare and as such has not been thoroughly studied. What symptoms we can observe are similar to other B vitamin deficiencies, including irritability, fatigue, aparthy, numbness, cramps, and hypoglycemia.
Insulin receptors are acylated with palmitic acid when they do not want to bind with insulin. Therefore, more insulin will bind to receptors when acylation decreases, causing hypoglycemia. Additional symptoms could include restlessness, malaise, sleep disturbances, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps.
RDA = varies with age from 2mg/day for children age 1-2 to 5mg/day for adult men and women, with a slight increase to 6-7 mg/day for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Vitamin B6 — also called pyridoxine, is involved in the process of making several neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin and norepinephrine. These chemicals help your brain to regulate happiness and fear. Vitamin B6 is also involved in the formation of myelin, a protein layer that forms around nerve cells.
Mild deficiency of vitamin B6 is common. A more serious Vitamin B6 deficiency in adults may cause health problems affecting the nerves, skin, mucous membranes, and circulatory system, while in children all these as well as the central nervous system is affected. Deficiency can occur in people with kidney failure complications, liver scarring, overactive thyroid, alcoholism, inability to absorb nutrients, and heart failure, as well as those taking certain medications.
Major sources of vitamin B6 include cereal grains (whole wheat, barley, farro), legumes (peas, peanuts, black beans, pinto beans), vegetables (carrots, spinach, peas, and potatoes), milk, cheese, eggs, fish, liver, meat, and fortified or whole wheat flour. Vitamin B6 is often used with other B vitamins in vitamin B complex formulas.
Vitamin B6 has been studied for the treatment of many conditions, including anemia (low amounts of healthy red blood cells), vitamin B6 deficiency, lowering homocysteine levels, certain seizures in newborns, and side effects of the drug cycloserine. Evidence in support of other uses is lacking.
RDA = 1.3 milligrams in men and women ages 19-50; 1.7 milligrams in men aged 51 and older; and 1.3 milligrams in women aged 51 and older. The maximum daily intake of vitamin B6 in adults and pregnant or breastfeeding women over age 18 is 100 milligrams.
Vitamin B12 — also known as Cyanocobalamine, Vitamin B12 is an essential water-soluble vitamin that is commonly found in a variety of foods, such as fish, shellfish, meat, eggs, and dairy products. Vitamin B12 is important in DNA synthesis in every cell in your body. Vitamin B12 is bound to the protein in food. Acid in the stomach releases B12 from protein during digestion. Once released, B12 combines with a substance called intrinsic factor (IF) before it is absorbed into the bloodstream.
Vitamin B12 is frequently used in combination with other B vitamins in a vitamin B complex formulation. The human body stores several years’ worth of vitamin B12 in the liver, so low levels in the body are rare. Decreases in vitamin B12 levels are more common in the elderly, HIV-infected persons, and vegetarians. Inability to absorb vitamin B12 from the intestinal tract can cause a type of anemia called pernicious anemia. Fever and symptoms of “excessive sweating” have been reported with anemia due to low levels of vitamin B12; however, these are fixed with vitamin B12 treatment.
For vegetarians or vegans, it is important to know that B12 is found exclusively in animal products, and you are at risk of mild deficiency. Based on how strict your diet are, there are some non-meat options: eggs (1 chicken yolk gives 6% RDA, while goose or duck eggs contain higher levels), cheeses (Swiss has the most), whey powder (100g provides over 40% RDA), milk or yogurt (8-20% RDA per cup), and yeast or yeast extracts (such as Marmite or nutritional yeast). Of course, fortified foods and supplements also help. If you are concerned, please contact your health care provider or a nutritionist for a plan that’s right for you.
Recommended dietary amounts (RDAs) are 2.4 micrograms daily for ages 14 years and older, 2.6 micrograms daily for pregnant females, and 2.8 micrograms daily for breastfeeding females.
Folic Acid — also known as Vitamin B9, folic acid is naturally found in many foods, and folic acid is the synthetic form. Foods naturally high in folate include: leafy vegetables (such as spinach, broccoli, and lettuce), okra, asparagus, fruits (such as bananas, melons, and lemons) beans, yeast, mushrooms, meat and organ meat (such as beef liver and kidney), orange juice, and tomato juice.
Some conditions may increase your need for folic acid. These include:
- Anemia, hemolytic
- Diarrhea (continuing)
- Fever (prolonged)
- Illness (prolonged)
- Intestinal diseases
- Liver disease
- Stress (continuing)
- Surgical removal of stomach
Some studies have found that folic acid taken by women before they become pregnant and during early pregnancy may reduce the chances of certain birth defects (neural tube defects). Claims that folic acid and other B vitamins are effective for preventing mental problems have not been proven. Many of these treatments involve large and expensive amounts of vitamins. It is always best to get the majority of your daily vitamins from foods, such as by eating a large salad full of leafy greens before each meal.
RDA = children 75-400 mcg/day, Adults 150-400 mcg/day, pregnant fenales 400-800 mcg/day, and breastfeeding females 260-800 mcg/day.
Hopefully this has helped clear up a little bit of the confusion surrounding the illustrious B complex, and you have learned a little bit more about your body and what it needs to function at its best. These are some of the many reasons why your mom always told you to “eat your vegetables”, why Popeye was so empowered when he ate spinach, and why vegetables consistently rank at the top of ways to lose and maintain weight loss over time.
Disclaimer: I am not a licensed health care professional nor a registered dietitian. This article is intended to be informative and perhaps entertaining. I am not dispensing health advice or instruction. Consult your own health care professional and conscience before making any decisions regarding your diet and general health.