The ABCs of B vitamins

Vitamins are a subject of interest for a great number of people, and B-complex vitamins are no exception. What are they? What foods are they found in? Should a supplement be taken? The following text will provide you with additional information. 

Vitamin B or B vitamin(s)

We are accustomed to referring to vitamins in the singular form. For example, vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin E, well-known by the general public, are individual entities. B-vitamins however, form a group of eight vitamins:

  • vitamin B1 or thiamine
  • vitamin B2 or riboflavin
  • vitamin B3 or niacin
  • vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid
  • vitamin B6 or pyridoxine
  • vitamin B8 or biotin
  • vitamin B9 or folic acid
  • vitamin B12 or cyanocobalamin

The vitamins that belong to this group are said to be water-soluble. They play a variety of roles in cell metabolism. They are sometimes found to coexist in certain foods. When they are referred to as a group, they are called "B-complex vitamins" or simply "B-complex".

The functions of B vitamins

All of the vitamins included in the B-complex are essential to the human body. Each vitamin in this group has its own characteristics, functions, and health benefits. A list for each vitamin could be made, but for the sake of simplicity, here are just a few examples of the biochemical processes they can have an effect on:

  • carbohydrate, protein, and lipid metabolism
  • energy production
  • oxygen transport
  • protein, hormone, red blood cell and DNA synthesis or production
  • nervous system and immune system function
  • vision, skin, and mucous membrane health
  • wound healing

B vitamins and nutrition

B-complex vitamins are found in a multitude of foods, including the following:

  • potatoes
  • bananas
  • green vegetables
  • lentils
  • nuts
  • beans
  • brewer's yeast
  • mushrooms
  • meat
  • whole grain-based foods

Supplementation

In North America, vitamin B deficiency is rather rare. Diet alone meets daily needs for most people of all ages, as long as it is varied. The best way to ensure an adequate intake of vitamin B is to choose a healthy diet and to follow the recommendations of the Canada Food Guide. This is also true for other vitamins.

The issue of vitamin B supplementation is subject to controversy. Although its use is relatively common, there is very little scientific data justifying it. Some studies seem to indicate benefits for health (prevention of cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease, depression, etc.), but there is not enough information to suggest systematic supplementation.

That being said, some people must use supplementation for one of the B-complex vitamins at one time or another in their lives, ideally under the recommendation of a healthcare professional. Vitamins B1, B6, B9 and B12 are the most likely ones to have to be taken as supplements.

Vitamin B1

Among other things, this vitamin is essential to the memory's and nervous system's proper functioning. It also contributes to the transformation of food into energy. Among the foods that contain vitamin B1, we find wheat germ, brewer's yeast, pork, sunflower seeds, and some cereal.

Vitamin B1 deficiency can lead to fatigue, insomnia, digestive issues, mood disorders, and weight loss due to loss of appetite. Malnutrition, alcoholism, aging, excessive coffee consumption, and certain diseases can predispose a person to a vitamin B1 deficiency. In these rare cases, supplementation will be considered.

Vitamin B6

The body mainly uses this vitamin to produce and use protein and glycogen (energy source stored in the muscles and liver). It helps to produce hemoglobin, which transports oxygen to the blood. The main vitamin B6-rich foods include meat, fish, yeast, soybean, nuts, beans, and potatoes.

Some factors can predispose a person to a vitamin B6 deficiency, such as taking birth control pills or other medications, alcoholism, and hemodialysis. A vitamin B6 deficiency can be characterized by different symptoms such as hair loss, skin problems, depression, fatigue, insomnia, and concentration problems. Vitamin B6 supplementation may be necessary, although this is rather rare.

Vitamin B9

Vitamin B9 (better known as folic acid or folate) is a nutrient that helps to develop and maintain cells. Among the food sources of folic acid, we find enriched grain products, chickpeas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, corn, and lentils.

Folic acid is a particularly essential vitamin for pregnant women or women who wish to become pregnant, as a deficiency can lead to risks in the development of the foetus's nervous system. Therefore, vitamin B9 supplementation is recommended during pregnancy. For additional information on the subject, we recommend reading the following text: Folic acid and pregnancy.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 has an effect on a number of the body's biochemical processes. Among other things, it enables the production of blood cells and helps nerves to function normally. It is found in foods such as meat and substitutes (meat, fish, shellfish, egg yolks, etc.).

Vegetarians, especially vegans, have a higher risk of not consuming enough vitamin B12. A vitamin B12 deficiency mainly involves a specific form of anemia. The elderly are also more vulnerable, as the body's ability to absorb vitamin B12 decreases with age.

If your doctor or healthcare provider confirms that you are lacking vitamin B12, you may need to take a supplement in oral tablet form or by muscle injection. Ask your pharmacist to provide you with information about how to take your supplement and all other details.

In conclusion, the best way to ensure that your body is getting sufficient amounts of B-complex vitamins is to eat well. If you think you need a B vitamins supplement, speak to your healthcare professional to validate if this is indeed the case. Your pharmacist can help you choose the supplement that best suits your needs and advise you on how to make its optimal and safe use.

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The ABCs of B vitamins

Vitamins are a subject of interest for a great number of people, and B-complex vitamins are no exception. What are they? What foods are they found in? Should a supplement be taken? The following text will provide you with additional information. 
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