Vitamins are essential nutrients for the body, needed in small quantities for the proper functioning of the metabolism. Although the needed requirements are small, there is no way to synthesize them in the body itself, so they must be acquired through the diet.
While the list of vitamins reads like a short alphabet, the one with the most variations is vitamin B, including B1(thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folate), and B12 (cobalamin). Vitamins A, C, D, E, and K have no such variations and only vitamin C and the B vitamins are water-soluble while the others are fat-soluble.
Since vitamin B is not fat-soluble it isn’t stored in the body fat and needs to be replenished more than the others, so consuming it regularly through diet or supplements is essential to maintain a healthy system. B is essential for the metabolism and the full range of the Bs are readily found in many foods. However, some bodies have a need for more B than others, usually because of factors like age, medical conditions, genetics, dietary choices, alcohol consumption, or pregnancy.
Since a normal diet provides only a basic level of vitamin Bs it is usually necessary to take supplements to maintain a higher level for such conditions and supplements that contain all 8 B vitamins are referred to as B-complex vitamins.
The Functions of B-complex:
- B1 (thiamine): Helps convert nutrients into energy. The richest food sources include pork, sunflower seeds, and wheat germ.
- B2 (riboflavin): Helps convert food into energy and also acts as an antioxidant. Foods highest in riboflavin include organ meats, beef, and mushrooms.
- B3 (niacin): Plays a role in cellular signaling, metabolism, and DNA production and repair. Food sources include chicken, tuna, and lentils.
- B5 (pantothenic acid): Like other B vitamins, B5 helps your body obtain energy from food and is also involved in hormone and cholesterol production. Good sources include liver, fish, yogurt, and avocado.
- B6 (pyridoxine): Is involved in amino acid metabolism, red blood cell production, and the creation of neurotransmitters. Food sources for B6 include chickpeas, salmon, and potatoes.
- B7 (biotin): Essential for carbohydrate and fat metabolism and regulates gene expression. Some of the best sources for B7 include yeast, eggs, salmon, cheese, and liver.
- B9 (folate): Needed for cell growth, amino acid metabolism, the formation of red and white blood cells, and proper cell division, B9 can be found in foods like leafy greens, liver, and beans or in supplements as folic acid.
- B12 (cobalamin): Perhaps the most well-known of all the B vitamins, B12 is vital for neurological function, DNA production, and red blood cell development. B12 is found naturally in animal sources like meats, eggs, seafood, and dairy and is called methylcobalamin. A synthetic form is also available commercially and is known as cyanocobalamin.
While there are several studies about the natural and synthetic forms of B12 regarding which is more effective, the common findings show that about three times as much of the synthetic version is eliminated through the urine, indicating that the natural form is more usable and retained in the body.
A Little Science Lesson: Methylation
What does methylated mean? Methylation is a biochemical process that has a significant impact on many biochemical reactions in the body that regulate the activity of the neurological, reproductive, cardiovascular, and detoxification systems. If you think of the body as a machine, methylation helps turn the switches and gears on and off as needed.
When you have a mutated MTHFR gene, your ability to methylate is compromised which means, you’re not getting the folic acid and B12 you need.
In other words, your B-Complex (unless the folic acid and B12 are methylated) is useless and you’re peeing it all out.
I’ve told this story before, but when my daughter was a college sophomore, she was in a car accident and ended up with whiplash. When consulting with the doctor, he told us that she was lucky she wasn’t born with spina bifida–her spine was filled with tiny holes!
In my pregnancy with my daughter, I religiously took my prenatal vitamins but the folate wasn’t methylated and that impacted my daughter because MTHFR is responsible for methylating it and it didn’t happen–I didn’t know that at the time.
Studies have shown that during pregnancy, women who test positive for the mutated MTHFR gene have a higher risk for miscarriage, preeclampsia, and birth defects, especially spina bifida.
Without a genetic test, it’s impossible to know if you have the MTHFR mutation. This is why our Wise Women’s B-Complex has methylated folate and B12.
Who Needs a B-complex Supplement?
People who can most benefit from a B-complex supplement include pregnant or breast-feeding women, especially if they are vegetarians or vegans. B12 and folate in particular are needed for fetal development and a deficiency can lead to birth defects or severe neurological damage in the fetus.
Vegetarians and vegans miss out on the B12 that is naturally found in meat, dairy, seafood, and eggs. A daily B-complex supplement is essential for them to maintain adequate levels of these essential vitamins.
Older adults (50+) often don’t produce enough stomach acid to absorb B12, and a decreased appetite as we all age adds to the decline. A deficiency in B12 has been linked to depression and mood disturbances in the elderly.
Certain medical conditions can result in a B deficiency, and the result can be even more health issues. Cancer, hypothyroidism, alcoholism, anorexia, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease can make you more susceptible to developing nutrient deficiencies and some weight-loss surgeries can also cause B vitamins to be lacking.
Additional B-complex Health Benefits
Studies have shown that B-complex supplements can help reduce anxiety and depression symptoms compared to a placebo. While not a cure for mental health issues, B vitamins have shown promise in enhancing treatment response when given in combination with anti-depression medications.
If blood levels are low in certain B vitamins like B12, folate, and B6 there has been shown a link to increased levels of depression, so it is important to consider nutrient deficiencies in anyone experiencing symptoms of depression. They may also help to boost cognitive performance and relieve stress too.
For more information about the specifics about vitamin D and to get links on the research, check out our Wise Women’s supplements.