All hail B vitamins. We’ve known they’re super important for overall health for a long time, but we’re still discovering the extent of their powers. They may not run the world, but Bs do help run our bodies.
We know most of our bodies’ 13 essential vitamins by a single letter: vitamin A, vitamin C and so on. But eight of these 13 essential vitamins begin with the letter B. Each of the eight Bs is a chemically distinct vitamin that has an important role—and together they’re essential to our well-being. They help us convert carbs, fats and proteins into fuel. Vitamins B2, B3 and B7 help with skin health. Vitamins B5, B6, B9 and B12 help us form red blood cells.
But those are just some of the well-established biological functions. New research is uncovering just how far-reaching B vitamins’ effects are.
The latest research
B is for brawn
Researchers have found that physically active individuals with low levels of B vitamins perform worse during high-intensity exercise than those with adequate levels. The study also found that low levels of B vitamins contribute to a reduction in the body’s ability to repair muscles and build muscle mass.
B is for breathe (easier)
B vitamins may reduce negative effects of air pollution. A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports led researchers to believe there may be a role for B vitamins in countering the very dangerous effects of air pollution on cardiovascular and immune system functions. In the small study, healthy non-smokers who took B-vitamin supplements nearly reversed the negative effects of two hours of exposure to fine particle pollution.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that over 90 percent of the world’s population live in areas where air pollution exceeds WHO limits. According to the WHO, about 6.5 million deaths each year are linked to exposure to air pollution; health impacts include cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.
B is for brain
B vitamins may help maintain brain health in older people with memory problems. But researchers, studying 266 older people with mild cognitive decline over a two-year period, found that supplementing with B vitamins was more effective in those with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. The researchers concluded that for some older people, a combination of omega-3 supplements and B vitamins may help improve thinking and memory.
Plant-based sources: Green peas, soy products, sunflower seeds, wheat germ
Plant-based sources: Tempeh, mushrooms, spinach, almonds B3
Plant-based sources: Portobello mushrooms, potatoes, pumpkin seeds, peanuts B5
B5 (Pantothenic acid)
Plant-based sources: Sunflower seeds, avocado, sweet potatoes, lentils B6
Plant-based sources: Chickpeas, potatoes, bananas, pistachiosGreen peas, soy products, sunflower seeds, wheat germ
Plant-based sources: Sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, almonds, spinach
A vitamin B12 supplement is recommended for vegans.
More than half of vegans assessed are deficient in B12. Plants don’t produce B12, so only B12-fortified products provide a reliable dietary source for those on a plant-based diet.
Plant-based sources (only if fortified with B12; check the product’s label): Breakfast cereals, vegan spreads, nondairy milks, nutritional yeast
B9 (Folate; folic acid in supplement form)
A folic acid supplement is recommended for women who are of child-bearing age.
Marginal folate deficiency can develop with chronic excess alcohol consumption and in pregnant women. Getting enough folate before and during pregnancy can help prevent some major birth defects.
Plant-based sources: Spinach, edamame, lentils, beans
Only a fraction of American adults get the recommended daily intake of all B vitamins through their diet.
The entire range of B vitamins is also known as B complex. This combination of all eight B vitamins can be found in supplement form and can provide excellent insurance against deficits in one or more of these important vitamins. Many multivitamin/mineral preparations also include B complex along with the other essential vitamins and minerals.