B Vitamins: What You Need to Know
You have probably heard at one point or another that you should take vitamins. But you have probably also heard that it’s unnecessary, and that we shouldn’t.
What’s the truth?
The answer is probably somewhere in the middle.
In an ideal world we would get everything we need from our food as it would come from the earth without refining or processing.
In an ideal world the food we eat would all be grown on land where crops are rotated, and it would never be stored for too long under questionable circumstances.
And in an ideal world we wouldn’t need extra nutrients for our bodies to heal from high stress lifestyles, not enough sleep, chemical exposures, and all of the rest of the ‘hazards’ of modern life.
So when patients and clients ask me about taking a multivitamin I say it depends. It depends on diet, stress load, and personal medical history. And then some.
That said, I do often recommend B vitamins. These are so likely to be depleted from the normal everyday stresses we face that I tend to err on the side of caution and recommend a good quality (my next post is on how to make sure the supplements you buy are exactly that!), full spectrum, activated B vitamin.
The reason I recommend B vitamins is that they play a particularly important role in healthy normal body function as well as in optimal wellbeing.
B vitamins are key in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, in DNA and RNA synthesis, gene expression, cell signaling, neurotransmitter production (e.g. serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline, GABA), nervous system structure and function, and in red blood cell metabolism. Therefore, a deficiency in any of the B vitamins can have health consequences. Fatigue, insomnia, headaches, pain, diarrhea, dermatitis, anemia, and an increased risk for heart disease are some of the complications associated with B vitamin deficiency.
There are a total of eight B vitamins.
The B vitamins include: B1 (Thiamin), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenic acid), B6 (Pyridoxine), B7 (Biotin), B9 (Folate), and B12 (Cobalamin).
We can’t endogenously synthesize them—meaning our bodies can’t make them from other chemicals so we need to get them all in food or from supplements.
Fortunately, B vitamins are found in high amounts in many types of foods.
Here are some of the places you’ll find different B vitamins.
- B1: Legumes, peas, seeds, spinach, and nuts
- B2: Eggs, mushrooms, meat, almonds, green leafy vegetables, wild rice, Brussels sprouts, and grains
- B3: Meat, fish, peas, peanuts, mushrooms, and eggs contain B3
- B5: Meat, egg yolk, mushrooms, potatoes, avocados, cruciferous vegetables, yogurt, and whole grains.
- B6: Salmon, tuna, meat, sunflower seeds, spinach, potatoes, bananas, and nuts.
- B7: Beef liver, eggs, salmon, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, and almonds.
- B9: Green leafy vegetables, mushrooms, cruciferous vegetables, citrus, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
- B12: Liver, clams, salmon, and eggs.
Note that breads and cereals, especially those that contain refined grains are often fortified with a variety of B vitamins.
The trickiest vitamin to get in your diet is B12.
The only foods with a high concentration of B12 are clams, salmon and liver. I’ll personally eat clams and salmon, but hardly every day. And liver? Not so much.
An internet search may tell you that sources such as nutritional yeast and seaweed are suitable options to get enough B12. These sources actually contain B12 analogs that the body cannot use; they can also block the absorption of useful forms of B12. For this reason I always recommend my vegetarian and vegan patients take a good quality B supplement, always.
But it’s not just vegans and vegetarians who might not get enough B12. The digestion and absorption of B12 is somewhat complex and requires a healthy stomach, pancreas, and small intestine. Due to the prevalence of gut dysbiosis and inflammatory disorders, B12 deficiency may also be a concern for everyone..
B-complex supplements can be a good way to support a healthy diet that is already rich in B vitamins.
B vitamin supplementation is generally harmless and has the potential to provide great benefit. High-quality B-complex supplements will contain methylcobalamin and 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (L-5-MTHF) along with the proper doses of the other B vitamins. These would ideally be in their ‘activated’ forms such as P-5-P for B6.
Because of the way B vitamins work in the body it is typically best to take them together rather than individually. The exception is if you have a deficiency in one of the B vitamins and your doctor has advised you to take one in particular.
As B vitamins are water soluble they aren’t typically harmful in doses that are up to 10 or more times their RDA (there are some exceptions, please read up on this.)
One little thing to be aware of: if you take B vitamins and get an uncomfortable tingly feeling in your body accompanied by a sensation of heat, especially your face, neck, and chest, you are likely experiencing a “niacin flush.” This is harmless, albeit uncomfortable. If you do have this symptom, don’t fret, try for a brand that has a slightly lower dose of niacin in it or take it with a nice sized meal.
Oh! If you pee neon yellow while taking a B vitamin supplement, it’s okay, it’s due to the B2! It is normal and harmless for this to happen.
Yours in Health,