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The Importance of B Vitamins

B vitamins are a class of water-soluble nutrients, all with closely interrelated functions to regulate human physiology, DNA synthesis, and repair, energy production and metabolism. Being water soluble, these vitamins are not stored well in the human body, and stress, smoking, alcohol and drugs, poor diet, illness, and medications such as aspirin, diuretics, and stomach acid suppressors can inhibit absorbing these important vitamins [1].

Types of B Vitamins

B vitamins can be found in a variety of food sources, especially refined grain products through the fortification process. However, it is recommended to opt for the whole food forms as much as possible in order to minimize exposure to processed foods and chemicals.

Vitamin B1 – Thiamine

Thiamine is important in the conversion of food into usable energy and plays a role in the enzymes involved in glucose and amino acid metabolism. Legumes, whole grains, and high-quality pork products are a few good sources of thiamine [2].

Vitamin B2 – Riboflavin

Riboflavin also helps convert our food into energy, but it has several important roles to support antioxidants and detoxification. B2 is a cofactor in glutathione production to reduce oxidative stress. Riboflavin also supports methylation by maintaining folate metabolism to decrease homocysteine for improved cardiovascular disease risk. High-quality dairy products, pasture raised chicken and eggs, grass-fed beef, and wild caught salmon can provide you with your daily riboflavin needs [3].

Vitamin B3 – Niacin

Over 400 enzymes in our physiology require Niacin, including for the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and protein to make energy. Niacin is also critical for DNA repair and genome stability, and at higher dosing, it may improve cardiovascular health by improving lipid levels in the blood. Food sources of niacin include high-quality meats and poultry; wild-caught redfish, legumes, seeds and some green leafy vegetables [4].

Vitamin B5 – Pantothenic Acid

B5 is a precursor to making coenzyme A, which is essential in several biochemical processes that sustain life. These processes include energy production, fatty acid digestion, production of cholesterol, steroids, hormones, and neurotransmitters, and detoxification in the liver. Fortunately, pantothenic acid is readily available in a variety of plant and animal foods, especially high-quality organ meat (liver), wild-caught fish and shellfish, eggs, avocado, legumes, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, and sweet potato [5].

Vitamin B6 – Pyridoxine

Pyridoxine plays important roles in over 100 enzymes relating to protein metabolism, lowering homocysteine levels, make red blood cells, and neurotransmitter function for mental health. Chronic inflammation may negatively impact vitamin B6 absorption and metabolism. Interestingly, vitamin B6 has been used for several decades to help with morning sickness in early pregnancy. Wild-caught fish like salmon and halibut, pasture-raised poultry including turkey, chicken and duck, and nuts like hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios [6].

Vitamin B7 – Biotin

Humans are unable to synthesize biotin, so it must be consumed from exogenous dietary sources like pasture-raised egg yolks, grass-fed liver, whole grains, and some plants including avocado and cauliflower. Biotin is an essential co-factor in enzymes for metabolism and regulation of gene expression and biotin is essential for normal fetal development [7].

Vitamin B9 – Folate

Most people know about folate in relation to neural tube defects with a deficiency in early pregnancy, but folate has many other necessary roles in the body. Folate is critical for methylation and lowering homocysteine levels, especially in those affected by methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) genetics. Improving folate status and lowering homocysteine may also help to improve cognitive function. Legumes and green leafy vegetables are good dietary sources to get folate. Folate, in the form of synthetic folic acid, is also part of the mandatory enrichment program since 1998 to prevent neural tube defects [8].

Vitamin B12 – Cobalamin

Vitamin B12 is closely related to the functions of folate in regards to homocysteine regulation, DNA integrity, and neural tube defect prevention in pregnancy. Cobalamin also helps in red blood cell production and is required for nerve function. Inflammation in the stomach is associated with B12 deficiency and individuals over age 60 are often at a higher risk for B12 deficiency due to decrease stomach acid and digestion. B12 is only available in animal products including wild caught seafood, pasture-raised poultry, and grass-fed red meat [9].

Supplementation

Supplementation of B vitamins either from a multivitamin-mineral blend and/or a B-vitamin complex is usually safe and not often a risk for toxicity due to the water solubility of the B vitamins and excretion of any excess through the urinary tract. However, depending on age and current health status, over the counter options may not provide enough nutrients for an individual’s needs and separate higher dose B vitamins may be recommended, such as B12 shots to replenish a deficiency. Your healthcare provider can guide you on high quality, safe B vitamin supplements and dosage for your needs.

Additional Reading:
Guide to B Vitamins
Oregon State – Vitamins