Supplements in the Spotlight: Vitamin B Complex
In 1906, biochemist Frederick Gowland Hopkins proposed a link between nutrition and diseases. Five years later, another biochemist, Casimir Funk, advanced this concept, asserting that unknown organic materials that he referred to as “vitamines” were essential for health.
Thiamine, or vitamin B1, was the first vitamin to be isolated. Beri beri, a disease characterized by decreased physical function and general weakness, was discovered to be caused by a deficiency in thiamine. From that point onwards, chemists raced to isolate, study, and synthesize vitamins.
With the discovery of vitamins, disease rates tied to malnourishment drastically fell, helping to improve the health and nutrition of both humans and animals on a global scale.
Complex Made Simple
The body needs adequate amounts of 13 vitamins for optimal function. These include vitamin A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12, C, D, E, and K. Each vitamin serves a different function within the body. They also work synergistically to perform a variety of processes!
With all essential B-group vitamins, a B complex supplement checks eight out of thirteen of your vitamin needs in one supplement. Read on to learn more about the function of each B vitamin in the human body!
While B vitamin dosage requirements depend on gender, age, and health, the general recommended intake is listed in italics for each vitamin.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Thiamine helps convert carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into energy, which supports nervous system health. In addition to metabolic support, thiamine is known to:
- Aid the immune system
- Promote digestive wellness
- Encourage cardiovascular health
Recommended daily intake (men): 1.2 mg
Recommended daily intake (women): 1.1 mg
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Riboflavin is a critical component of two coenzymes that are central to energy production, cellular function, development, and metabolism. It also aids in maintaining normal levels of homocysteine, which is an amino acid that can harm arterial health when levels are elevated.
Many foods, like bread and cereal, are fortified with riboflavin. However, light exposure destroys the vitamin. For this reason, food products that contain riboflavin should be stored away from light or in opaque containers!
Recommended daily intake (men): 1.3 mg
Recommended daily intake (women): 1.1 mg
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Over 400 enzymes require the metabolically active form of niacin to carry out their respective processes. Prescription niacin is also used to help promote normal cholesterol levels. Research has shown that vitamin B3 helps increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is considered the "good" cholesterol. HDL aids in removing low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol, from the bloodstream.
Recommended daily intake (men): 16 mg
Recommended daily intake (women): 14 mg
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
Pantothenic acid is vital for:
- Conversion of food into glucose
- Red blood cell production
- Cholesterol synthesis
- Formation of sex and stress hormones
While B5 deficiency in the United States is rare, a lack of this particular vitamin is usually accompanied by other vitamin deficiencies.
Some great sources of B5 are whole-grain cereals, white and sweet potatoes, and broccoli!
Recommended daily intake (men & women): 5 mg
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, is involved in several significant processes, including:
- Neurotransmitter production, which requires B6 to create substances like serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA and serotonin promote nervous system health and help discourage anxiety, depression, and pain.
- Homocysteine regulation, which helps reduce the likelihood of developing several health issues, particularly heart conditions and Alzheimer’s disease. B vitamins, especially B6, B12, and folate together, support homocysteine metabolism. Research has shown that those with low B6 levels may have double the risk of developing heart disease compared to those with higher levels.
Recommended daily intake (men & women): 1.3 mg
Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
Biotin, once known as vitamin H, is a nutrient popularized by the beauty industry. In addition to converting nutrients into energy, it plays a role in external health by helping to improve the infrastructure of keratin, which is the protein that makes up hair and nails. It’s also a component of skin.
Biotin deficiency tends to result in hair thinning, hair loss, and skin rashes, and supplementation is often recommended to alleviate those symptoms. Deficiency in this vitamin, however, is not very common. Pregnant women and those who consume large amounts of alcohol may be more prone to biotin deficiency than the general population.
Since biotin is needed for cellular function and growth, it’s also an important factor in normal fetal development. Cosmetic purposes notwithstanding, pregnant women and those with certain health conditions are the most likely candidates for supplemental biotin intake.
Recommended daily intake (men & women): 30 mcg
Vitamin B9 (Folate)
Even more than biotin, folate is essential for expectant mothers. Adequate intake is crucial during periods of rapid fetal development and through a child’s infancy and adolescence. Additional benefits may include:
- Support for the keratinization of hair and nails for those deficient in folate
- Encouragement of red blood cell production and optimal cardiovascular health
- Aid for the maintenance of homocysteine levels
- Facilitation of normal circulation and cognitive function
The supplemental form of folate, folic acid, may help support normal cellular, cardiovascular, and cognitive health.
Recommended daily intake (men & women): 400 mcg
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Vitamin B12 benefits include maintaining normal nerve cells, cell production, and metabolism. However, cobalamin also works in conjunction with B9 to help produce red blood cells, create a compound that influences mood and immune function, and support proper iron function. Additionally, vitamin B12 works with B6 and B9 to regulate homocysteine levels.
Those especially at risk for B12 deficiency include:
- The elderly
- Vegans and vegetarians (B12 is only naturally present in foods derived from animals)
- People with difficulty absorbing nutrients
- Those who are infected with Helicobacter pylori
- Individuals with an eating disorder, HIV, and/or diabetes
- The elderly
Recommended daily intake (men & women): 2.4 mcg
Finding Balance with B Complex
All B vitamins are water soluble, so the body is unable to store them. That means it’s up to us to eat a nutritious diet that includes the foods we need to meet our dietary needs. But, as we all know, real life often gets in the way of preparing meals with the perfect amount of nutrients on each plate.
B Complex supplements can help ensure that you’re getting enough of the nutrients you need every single day. As clearly demonstrated, the benefits of taking a B complex vitamin are numerous. However, exercise caution, and consult your doctor before introducing any new supplements into your diet!