The ABCs of B vitamins

Vitamins are a topic of interest for many. Should a supplement be taken? This text will provide you with additional information.

Vitamin B or B vitamins

The group of B vitamins is comprised 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

They play a variety of roles in the body’s cell metabolism. They are sometimes found to coexist in certain foods. When they are referred to as a whole, they are called "B-vitamin complex" or more simply the "B complex".

The functions of B vitamins

All B-complex vitamins are essential to the human body. Each vitamin in this group has its own characteristics, functions, and health benefits. Here are some examples of the biochemical processes in which they may be involved:

  • 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


In North America, vitamin B deficiency is quite rare. Diet alone meets the daily needs of most people of all ages as long as it is varied. The best way to ensure this is to follow Canada’s Food Guide.

That said, some people need to supplement with one of the B-complex vitamins at some point in their lives, ideally under the recommendation of a healthcare professional. Vitamins B1, B6, B9 and B12 are the most likely to require supplementation.

Vitamin B1

This vitamin is essential for the proper functioning of the memory and nervous system. It is also contributes to the transformation of food into energy. It is involved in the treatment of certain diseases such as alcoholism. Foods that contain vitamin B1 include wheat germ, brewer's yeast, sunflower seeds and certain cereals.

Vitamin B6

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

Certain factors can predispose a person to a vitamin B6 deficiency, such as taking birth control pills or other medications, alcoholism, and hemodialysis.

Vitamin B9

Vitamin B9 (better known as folic acid or folate) is a nutrient that helps with cell growth and maintenance. Food sources of folic acid include fortified 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, and even before if possible. For additional information on the subject, we recommend that you read the following text: Folic acid and pregnancy.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is involved in many processes in the body. Among other things, it allows the body to produce blood cells and also helps the nerves to function normally. It is found in protein foods (meat, fish, shellfish, egg yolks, etc.).

Vegetarians, especially vegans, may not get enough vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 deficiency mainly causes a specific form of anemia. The elderly are also at risk, as the body's ability to absorb vitamin B12 decreases with age.

If your doctor or healthcare specialist says you are lacking vitamin B12, you may need to take a supplement in oral tablet form or by muscle injection.

In conclusion, the best way to ensure that your body is getting enough B-complex vitamins consists of eating well. If you think you need a B vitamin supplement, speak to your healthcare professional to make sure you do. Your pharmacist can help you choose a supplement and advise you on safe and optimal 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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