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B Vitamins from 1 to 12

Key vitamins for cell health and energy

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B Vitamins from 1 to 12

B vitamins are often discussed as a single entity. But the complex of B vitamins actually comprises eight different vitamins, each with individual roles in our overall health. Here, we unravel the complex role of B vitamins by looking at each individually.

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 inherently important role in our overall health—and together they’re essential to many aspects of our well-being.

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01

Vitamin B1

AKA: Thiamine

What it does:

B1, or thiamine, helps the body break down and release energy from carbohydrates in our food and also helps keep the nervous system healthy.

How much we need:

  • Women: 1.1 mg/day
  • Pregnant women: 1.4 mg/day
  • Men: 1.2 mg/day
02

Vitamin B1 continued

Where we find it:

  • soybeans, soy products
  • green peas
  • beans, lentils
  • squash
  • wheat germ
  • oatmeal
  • sunflower seeds

If we don’t get enough:

Not a common occurrence in North America, thiamine deficiency can be caused by excessive alcohol intake and/or a very poor diet; symptoms can include:

  • confusion
  • irritability
  • poor coordination
  • lethargy, fatigue, muscle weakness
03

Vitamin B2

AKA: Riboflavin

What it does:

B2, or riboflavin, is important for skin, eye, and nervous system health. It’s involved in the process of energy production from fat, protein, and carbohydrates and helps in the production of vitamins B3 (niacin) and B6 (pyridoxine).

How much we need:

  • Women: 1.1 mg/day
  • Pregnant women: 1.4 mg/day
  • Men: 1.3 mg/day
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04

Vitamin B2 continued

Where we find it:

  • soy products (tempeh)
  • dairy
  • eggs
  • mushrooms
  • leafy green vegetables

If we don’t get enough:

Riboflavin deficiency, also uncommon in Western countries, can be caused by excessive alcohol intake and/or a diet that doesn’t include milk or milk products; symptoms can include:

  • inflamed tongue or cracks/redness in tongue and corners of the mouth
  • anxiety
  • inflamed eyelids, sensitivity to light, reddening of the cornea
  • hair loss
  • skin rash
05

Vitamin B3

AKA: Niacin

What it does:

B3, or niacin, helps with nervous system and skin health, proper digestion, and healthy appetite. B3 helps in the process of energy production from fat, protein, and carbohydrates.

How much we need:

  • Women: 14 mg/day
  • Pregnant women: 18 mg/day
  • Men: 16 mg/day
06

Vitamin B3 continued

Where we find it:

  • mushrooms
  • whole grains (oatmeal, wheat, barley)
  • soybeans/soy products (tempeh, tofu)
  • dairy
  • eggs
  • poultry
  • fish/seafood
  • nuts and seeds

If we don’t get enough:

Niacin deficiency (called pellagra) is associated with heavy alcohol consumption or diets heavily based on corn; symptoms can include:

  • dementia
  • diarrhea
  • dermatitis
  • swollen tongue
  • weakness
  • dizziness

Did you know?

B vitamins may slow or prevent the mental decline in older people with memory problems. But researchers, studying 266 older people in Oxford, UK, 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 fish oil supplements and B vitamins may help improve thinking and memory.

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07

Vitamin B5

AKA: Pantothenic acid

What it does:

B5, or pantothenic acid, metabolizes carbohydrates, proteins, and fats and produces red blood cells and steroid hormones.

How much we need:

  • Women: 5 mg/day
  • Pregnant women: 6 mg/day
  • Men: 5 mg/day
08

Vitamin B5 continued

Where we find it:

  • fish and seafood
  • beef and pork
  • dairy
  • eggs
  • avocados
  • beans and lentils
  • mushrooms
  • sweet potatoes

If we don’t get enough:

Extremely rare, a deficiency of pantothenic acid might include symptoms such as:

  • fatigue, insomnia
  • depression
  • irritability
  • vomiting, stomach pains
  • burning feet
  • upper respiratory infections
09

Vitamin B6

AKA: Pyridoxine

What it does:

B6, or pyridoxine, metabolizes carbohydrates and proteins and helps in the formation of red blood cells. B6 is involved in brain processes and development, immune function, and steroid hormone activity.

How much we need:

  • Women: 1.3 to 1.5 mg/day
  • Pregnant women: 1.9 mg/day
  • Men: 1.3 to 1.7 mg/day
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10

Vitamin B6 continued

Where we find it:

  • soybeans/soy products (tempeh, tofu)
  • whole grains
  • beans and lentils
  • potatoes
  • bananas and avocados
  • beef and poultry
  • fish
  • nuts and seeds

If we don’t get enough:

Again, unusual unless deficient in other B vitamins, a deficiency of B6 can occur with heavy alcohol consumption, women on the contraceptive pill, the elderly, and people with autoimmune disorders and thyroid disease; symptoms might include:

  • insomnia
  • depression
  • anemia
  • smooth tongue/cracked corners of the mouth
  • irritability
  • muscle twitching or convulsions
  • confusion
  • dermatitis

Did you know?

B vitamins play an important role in converting food into energy. In a study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, researchers 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.

11

Vitamin B7

AKA: Biotin

What it does:

B7, or biotin, works with other B vitamins to break down protein, fat, and carbohydrates from food. B7 may help promote hair, skin, and nail health.

How much we need:

  • Women: 30 mcg/day
  • Men: 30 mcg/day
12

Vitamin B7 continued

Where we find it:

  • eggs
  • fish (salmon, tuna)
  • beef and pork
  • sweet potatoes
  • spinach and broccoli
  • dairy
  • nuts and seeds
  • soy/soy products

If we don’t get enough:

Biotin deficiency is very rare, but may occur with chronic acohol consumption; symptoms might include:

  • skin rashes
  • brittle nails
  • hair loss
  • depression
  • lethargy
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13

Vitamin B9

AKA: Folate (folic acid)

What it does:

B9, or folate (folic acid in its supplement form), is essential in the body’s ability to make red blood cells and in the development of the fetal nervous system, DNA synthesis, and cell growth.

How much we need:

  • Women: 400 mcg/day
  • Pregnant women: 600 mcg/day
  • Men: 400 mcg/day
14

Vitamin B9 continued

Where we find it:

  • soybeans/soy products
  • spinach
  • asparagus
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • avocados
  • beans and lentils
  • sunflower seeds

If we don’t get enough:

Folate deficiency is rare, but marginal deficiency can develop with chronic excess alcohol consumption and in pregnant women. Low folate in pregnant women has been associated with increased risk of low infant birth weight, neural tube defects (like spina bifida), preterm delivery, and fetal growth retardation.

  • fatigue and weakness
  • weight loss
  • grey hair
  • mouth sores
  • tongue swelling
  • growth problems
  • anemia
15

Vitamin B12

AKA: Cobalamin

What it does:

Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, works with folate to help produce and maintain the myelin surrounding nerve cells, and helps with mental ability, red blood cell formation, and the breakdown of some fatty acids and amino acids to produce energy.

How much we need:

  • Women 2.4 mcg/day
  • Pregnant women: 2.6 mcg/day
  • Men: 2.4 mcg/day
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16

Vitamin B12 continued

Where we find it:

  • B12-fortified cereals, soy products
  • dairy
  • B12-fortified rice, oat, almond milk
  • nutritional yeast
  • meat and poultry
  • fish and seafood
  • eggs

If we don’t get enough:

B12 has been found to be deficient in more than half of vegans assessed (not surprising since obtaining enough vitamin B12 from a vegan diet is almost impossible), while older adults may not absorb B12 well. Symptoms of deficiency might include:

  • anemia
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • depression, confusion, dementia, poor memory
  • constipation
  • loss of appetite, weight loss
  • numbness and tingling in hands/feet
  • balance issues
  • soreness of the mouth and tongue
17

B Complex

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.

Of course, those at risk of deficiencies in an individual B vitamin should get advice from their health care team to address their particular needs.

Did you know?

B vitamins may reduce negative effects of air pollution.

Though small in scale, 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.

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 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.

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