B vitamins are a group of eight individual vitamins, often referred to as the B-complex vitamins. We will look at how the B vitamins work so you can begin to understand why these essential vitamins should be in your diet
What Are Vitamins and What Do They Do for Us?
Vitamins are organic (carbon containing) molecules that mainly function as catalysts for reactions within the body. A catalyst is a substance that allows a chemical reaction to occur using less energy and less time than it would take under normal conditions. If these catalysts are missing, as in a vitamin deficiency, normal body functions can break down and render a person susceptible to disease.
The body requires vitamins in tiny amounts. We get vitamins from the following 3 primary sources:
- Our bodies
The B-complex vitamins are a group of eight vitamins, which include thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid (B9), cyanocobalamin (B12), pantothenic acid and biotin. These vitamins are essential for:
* The breakdown of carbohydrates into glucose (this provides energy for the body)
* The breakdown of fats and proteins (which aids the normal functioning of the nervous system)
* Muscle tone in the stomach and intestinal tract
Some doctors and nutritionists suggest taking the B-complex vitamins as a group for overall good health. However, most agree that the best way to get our B vitamins is naturally — through the foods we eat!
Where Do We Find These Vitamins and Why Are They Important?
The B-complex vitamins are found in brewer’s yeast, liver, whole-grain cereals, rice, nuts, milk, eggs, meats, fish, fruits, leafy green vegetables, and many other foods.
For metabolism and nervous system, Thiamine (B1)
The B vitamin thiamine is essential for the metabolism of carbohydrates into the simple sugar glucose. Thiamine is also important for the proper functioning of the nervous system. In this instance, thiamine acts as a co-enzyme in the production of the neurotransmitter (chemical messenger between nerve fibres), acetylcholine.
Thiamine is found in whole-grain cereals, bread, red meat, egg yolks, green leafy vegetables, legumes, sweet corn, brown rice, berries, yeast, the germ and husks of grains and nuts. Mega-doses (very high doses) of thiamine have not been associated with adverse health effects, and excess of the water-soluble vitamin is excreted.
Water-soluble vitamin: Riboflavin (B2)
Riboflavin is important in the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and, like thiamine, it acts as a co-enzyme in the process. It is also significant in the maintenance of the skin and mucous membranes, the cornea of the eye and for nerve sheaths.
A deficiency of riboflavin can cause skin disorders and inflammation of the soft tissue lining around the mouth and nose and can cause the eyes to be light-sensitive.
Riboflavin is found in whole-grain products, milk, meat, eggs, cheese, and peas. As a water-soluble vitamin, any excess is excreted, although small amounts are stored in the liver and kidney.
Niacin (B3) found in protein-rich food
Niacin is needed for the metabolism of food, the maintenance of healthy skin, nerves, and the gastrointestinal tract. Niacin is also used in those all-important oxidation reduction reactions.
Niacin is found in protein-rich food such as meats, fish, brewer’s yeast, milk, eggs, legumes, potatoes, and peanuts. Be mindful that high doses of niacin can cause flushing of the skin (due to dilating blood vessels), itching, headaches, cramps, nausea, and skin eruptions.
Keep your red blood cells with Pyridoxine (B6)
Pyridoxine is needed in the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Pyridoxine is also used in the production of red blood cells, as well as in the biochemical reactions involved in the metabolism of amino acids (the building blocks of protein). Due to the abundance of pyridoxine in many foods, a deficiency is rare except in alcoholics, where it is often present. A pyridoxine deficiency causes skin disorders, abnormal nervous system, confusion, poor coordination, and insomnia. Oral signs of pyridoxine deficiency include inflammation of the edges of the lips, tongue, and the rest of the mouth.
Pyridoxine is found in many foods, including liver, organ meats, brown rice, fish, butter, wheat germ, whole grain cereals, soybeans, and many others.
Vegetarians may want to read it: Cyanocobalamin (B12)
Vitamin B12 is necessary for processing carbohydrates, proteins, and fats and to help make all the blood cells in our bodies. Vitamin B12 is also required for maintenance of our nerve sheaths.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is sometimes seen in strict vegetarians and vegans, who do not take vitamin supplements, and those who have an inability to absorb the vitamin (usually from a failure to produce intrinsic factor).
Although enough B12 is stored in the liver to sustain a person for many years, a deficiency will cause a disorder known as pernicious anaemia. Mouth irritation and brain damage are also common consequences of B12 deficiency. However, these very serious effects can be reversed by vitamin B12 shots. Shots are needed because the deficiency is often caused by an inability to absorb the vitamin when taken orally. As we age, our stomachs have an increasingly difficult time producing intrinsic factor. Many doctors recommend that people over 60 have their vitamin B12 levels checked, to see if a B12 shot is needed.
Vitamin B12 is not found in any plant food sources and is produced almost solely by bacteria. Rich sources of B12 include liver, meat, egg yolk, poultry, and milk.
Folic acid (B9) and especially during pregnancy
Folic acid is one of the B-complex vitamins that interacts with vitamin B12 for the synthesis of DNA, which is important for all cells in the body.
A deficiency of folic acid causes anaemia, poor growth, and irritation of the mouth — all of which are like symptoms suffered by those with B12 deficiency. Folic acid is present in nearly all-natural foods but can be damaged, or weakened, during cooking. Deficiencies are found mainly in alcoholics, the malnourished, the elderly and those who are unable to absorb food due to certain health issues.
Folic acid is found in yeast, liver, green vegetables, whole grain cereals and many other foods. The need for folic acid increases during pregnancy, due to high requirements of the vitamin from the foetus.
Many nutritional requirements change during pregnancy, and vitamins are no exception. Always speak with your healthcare provider to ensure you are taking the correct supplements for your pregnancy requirements.
Useful in many of the body’s functions: Pantothenic acid and biotin
Pantothenic acid is used in the breakdown of carbohydrates, lipids, and some amino acids. Biotin functions as a co-enzyme in carboxylation reactions (-COOH), which are also useful in many of the body’s functions.
The vitamin is found in abundance in meats, legumes, and whole-grain cereals. Mega-doses of pantothenic acid can cause loose bowels.
Biotin is found in beef liver, egg yolk, brewer’s yeast, peanuts, cauliflower, and mushrooms.
Always read the label. Use only as directed. Vitamin and mineral supplements should not replace a balanced diet. Consult your healthcare professional to discuss your symptoms.