What is vitamin B?
Vitamin B is actually a complex of eight essential nutrients. Each one plays specific roles in keeping your organs working. They also work together to keep bodily systems functioning smoothly, especially when it comes to producing energy and making important cell molecules. B vitamins have a direct impact on your energy levels, brain function, and cell metabolism.
The eight nutrients in the vitamin B complex include:
- Thiamin B1
- Riboflavin B2
- Niacin B3
- Pantothenic Acid B5
- Pyridoxine B6
- Biotin B7
- Folic Acid B9
- Cobalamin B12
You’ve probably heard about B6 and B12, as well as the importance of folic acid. They are integral to your health (and, if you’re pregnant, the health of your baby). But did you know about the other five nutrients that make up the vitamin B complex? Each one is essential to your health.
How much vitamin B do you need?
Below is a breakdown of each of these nutrients, some of the important roles they play, and how much you should be getting each day.
|Vitamins||What it does||DVs for adults (& kids over 4)|
|Niacin (B-3)||Necessary for over 400 different enzyme reactions in the body, which help with:
|Pantothenic Acid (B-5)||
|Vitamin B-6||Plays a role in more than 100 enzyme reactions, including:
Note: Folic acid is a synthetic form of this vitamin used in fortified foods and supplements.
Vitamin B deficiency
Each of the different B vitamins has different deficiency levels. For example, although it’s quite rare to be deficient in thiamin and folate, B-12 deficiency is quite common, especially as you get older.
What causes the deficiency also varies based on the vitamin. However, some of the common causes may include:
- Inadequate intake due to diet (more common for vegetarian or vegan eaters)
- Inability to absorb vitamins due to gut conditions (such as Crohn’s disease or IBD)
- Interactions with medications
- Overuse of alcohol
Here’s a quick breakdown of the common symptoms of deficiency by specific B vitamin:
|B Vitamin||Symptoms of Deficiency|
|Thiamin B1||Symptoms are vague, but include:
A severe thiamin deficiency is characterized by nerve, heart, and brain abnormalities.
|Pantothenic Acid B5||
(B5 deficiency is rare)
(Due to reduction in red blood cells and lack of cell oxygenation)
|Folic Acid B9||
If you have any of these symptoms, we encourage you to get your bloodwork done and see if you have a deficiency in one or more of the B vitamins.
Four reasons to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin B:
There are many benefits to getting enough vitamin B. Some of them may even surprise you. Let’s take a look at four of our favorite reasons for making sure you get adequate amounts of B complex vitamins.
Benefit #1: Vitamin B may play a role in preventing cancer
We love that vitamin B may play a role in preventing the onset of various types of cancer. Some research shows that having the right amount of B vitamins in your body may help to resist the development of cancerous growth. Vitamin b is also associated with a lower risk of melanoma skin cancer. In one study, a B-3 supplement cut the rate of new squamous-cell and basal-cell skin cancers by 23%. And, since one in five Americans will develop skin cancer sometime during their lifetime, any way to help reduce your risk should matter. In fact, it’s estimated that 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every single day.
David and I have already both had battles with skin cancer. And with David’s history of recurring bladder cancer, we try to do all we can to reduce his risk of getting it again.
Benefit #2: B vitamins may help with brain function
I like that B vitamins have been shown to play an interrelated role in keeping our brains running properly. Adequate amounts of B vitamins in the body are essential for optimal physiological and neurological functioning. Data shows that vitamin B6 in particular may play a role in the prevention of the neurological disorder Parkinson’s Disease, and since I have a family history with that, I’m doing all I can to support my brain function.
Brain health is one of David’s priorities, too. With all the health issues he was having six years ago, his brain fog was terrible. It was frightening to watch. My very bright husband couldn’t remember things he had just been told, and he started repeating himself a lot. It’s super scary, because the first thing you start to think is, “Is David having early-stage dementia? Or even worse, Alzheimer’s?”
B is for brain health
It’s said that the ‘B’ in B vitamins is for brain health. That’s because of the eight vitamins that make up the B complex, six of them (1,2,3,6,9, and 12) play an important role in brain health. They boost the production of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that deliver messages between neurons in the brain and body. Without a steady supply of these chemicals, we’re at increased risk for cognitive decline. This includes memory loss and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. It’s also important to note that the body cannot produce or store these important chemicals. We have to get them from the food we eat and supplements we take.
I’m so grateful to say that as David has cleared up his health problems and reclaimed his health, that brain fog is no longer a problem. We’re doing all we can to support our brain health, and because of this strong connection between b vitamins and brain function, we always make sure we’re getting healthy levels of the vitamin B complex.
Benefit #3: The right amount of vitamin B combats stress
We talked about ways to deal with stress last week. It’s so important to find healthy ways to combat the stress that is such a pervasive part of our lives today. Stress can truly ravage our health. So it’s exciting that research shows that B vitamins can significantly benefit mood and reduce our actual physiological response to stress.
Studies show a strong link between vitamin b and stress levels. In one study, 215 healthy males took a B complex (this is a supplement containing a combination of the B vitamins) for 33 days. Participants reported significant improvements in self-perceived stress, general health, and vigor. In another study, participants took either a B complex or a placebo for 3 months. The group that took the B complex reported significantly lower personal strain and a reduction in confusion and dejected mood than the placebo group.
There is also a connection between B vitamins and mental health. Studies show that vitamin B6 significantly reduces anxiety symptoms and indicates improved functioning of the GABA, the neurotransmitter associated with calming and relaxing.
Benefit #4: Vitamin B can improve energy
This is one of the big benefits of getting enough vitamin B. One of the main jobs of vitamin B is to convert the food we eat into glucose, releasing energy from the carbohydrates and fat in our bodies. B vitamins also break down amino acids and transport oxygen and energy-containing nutrients around the body.
When it comes to vitamins that boost your energy, no other vitamin beats vitamin B. Let’s break down which B vitamins are especially helpful when it comes to improving your energy.
A breakdown by B vitamins
B1, or thiamine, converts carbs and fats into glucose. Glucose is necessary for energy. If you are deficient in B1, you’ll likely experience low energy as well as reduced brain and nervous system function.
B5, or pantothenic acid, is also vital for energy. B5 works with other B vitamins to convert the food we eat into energy. The more B5 present, the better the energy conversion. It also helps sustain metabolic health.
B3, or niacin, helps to rev the metabolism and stimulate blood flow. It is also known for improving sexual health.
B6 is one of the hardest working vitamins. In addition to helping repair muscles, combating anemia, and helping with brain function, it converts proteins, fats, and carbohydrates into glucose, which we use as fuel. It also specifically helps to manage energy use, so adequate amounts of B6 mean prolonged energy we can draw on.
B12 is extra important when it comes to energy. Almost every cell in the body uses B12. In addition to helping form red blood cells, it converts fat and protein to energy. If you are deficient in B12, you’re likely tired and may be battling anemia. If you tend to consistently lack energy, a B12 supplement might be helpful.
To sum it up, all eight of the B vitamins contribute to energy production, because they are all important for proper metabolism function. The more efficient the metabolism, the more efficient our energy. Plus, consider some of the most common symptoms of vitamin b deficiency: fatigue, fuzzy thinking, headaches, anemia, numbness or tingling in your hands and feet, moodiness, poor appetite, skin rashes, and heart palpitations. Each one of those conditions would contribute to low energy. Getting your vitamin B levels in line can make a huge difference in your energy levels.
How to get more B vitamins
The first time David was told that he needed to get more B vitamins in his diet was at our first appointment with Dr. Gundry’s assistant. They added two different B vitamins to his diet. Originally, he had to use supplements, but as he has healed his leaky gut and included foods rich in vitamins and nutrients, he has been able to reduce the number of vitamins he is taking.
We will always suggest you get these from great food sources. Some of the best foods with lots of vitamin B include salmon, leafy greens, organ meats, eggs, milk (unless you have an intolerance), beef, oysters, clams, muscles, legumes, poultry, pork, yogurt, trout, and sunflower seeds. If you’re not able to get a good range of these foods, then you can supplement, but we always prefer our vitamins (especially water-soluble ones like vitamin B) come from food.
Here are some easy ways to boost your vitamin B through food:
- Throw a few tablespoons of black beans or chickpeas into your salad
- Add kidney, pinto, or white beans to your chili
- Dip carrots and celery into hummus (made from chickpeas)
- Eat soybean foods such as tofu regularly
Remember – our bodies do not produce or store these nutrients, so it’s very important that we make good food choices and fuel our bodies with plenty of foods rich in vitamin B.
Vitamin B supplements
It’s easy to supplement your food with various B vitamins. I am currently a little anemic and trying to get ahead of that, so I currently take B-12 and B-3 Niacin. David just takes B-12 now. We take the Kirkland Signature Quick Dissolve B-12 5000 mcg. It’s just one pill a day that melts under your tongue. Such an easy solution to such a big problem!
As always, we encourage you to check with your doctor to see which supplements he or she recommends.
Vitamin B helped David regain his health
Despite years of going to many doctors for so many problems, it wasn’t until we found Dr. Gundry that anyone looked for a root cause. They all just kept focusing on the symptoms and giving David more medicine, none of which addressed the cause of the problems.
I’m really grateful that David and I learned about the importance of vitamin B, and discovered his vitamin B deficiency, several years ago. Who knows what we’d be dealing with now if he hadn’t started eating more nutrient-rich foods and started supplementing his diet with the B vitamins he was lacking? Looking at the list of vitamin B deficiency symptoms above, David was suffering from at least half of them. Getting enough vitamin B has been an important part of his health journey.
Food truly is the best medicine
“There are billions of chemical reactions happening within your body every second. And every single one of these reactions requires vitamins and minerals to make it work. This is why what you put on your fork is the most important thing you do every day, and it’s why I say food isn’t like medicine – food is medicine.”
David didn’t regain his health until he removed the foods he was sensitive to that were causing the inflammation and had caused his leaky gut. After he started adding all these wonderful, nutrient-dense foods to his diet, his body started to heal. In the beginning, he was in such bad shape that he had to supplement a lot of his diet to help repair the damage, but he has slowly and surely been reducing how many of those he has needed. With his ongoing dedication to his healthy diet and lifestyle changes, I’m hopeful that in the future we can reduce those even more.
Are you reaping the benefits of getting enough vitamin B?
There are so many reasons to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin B in your life! Which are your favorite foods that are high in vitamin B? Do you take any sort of vitamin B supplement? We’d love to hear all about it! Please let us know if you have any comments or questions about the health benefits of vitamin B.
For those of you interested in our free More Than Healthy coaching calls, we do them once a month on a Tuesday night at 6 PM MST. Anyone can join us. If you have health questions on anything we’ve discussed or really any issue, you can ask it live, you can type it in comments, or you can just listen in as others get coached. If you’d like to join us, just text COACHING to 1-647-558-9895 to join our email list or watch our social media pages and we will have the link there.