B Vitamins 101: What They Do & Why You Need More

B Vitamins 101: What They Do & Why You Need More

There are countless health benefits that may go unclaimed without more B vitamins in your diet. As the building blocks of a healthy body, B vitamins are important for many of our physiological functions, especially when it comes to metabolism and energy.

But with so much information out there on this topic, leave it up to us to do the heavy lifting. This article will help you understand what B vitamins are, what they do, and why you need more of these important nutrients!

What Are B Vitamins?

B vitamins are a group of eight essential nutrients that play key roles in many body systems. They help our cells function properly, create new blood cells, and help remove toxins to make way for healthy skin and tissue repair. The main function of the B vitamins is to help your body process and create energy from the carbohydrates, proteins, and fats you consume through foods. Similar to the way a match ignites fuel, B vitamins act as a catalyst to transform calories into energy. 

Although they work together in the body as a team, B vitamins also carry out their own unique jobs. Below are a few functions of each:

  • B-1 (Thiamine) 

Critical to your nervous system, brain, muscles, and heart. It also plays a role in the flow of electrolytes in and out of muscle and nerve cells.

  • B-2 (Riboflavin) 

Helps produce red blood cells and antibodies for your immune system.

  • B-3 

Works with your gut to produce digestive fluids — especially hydrochloric acid.

  • B-5 (Pantothenic acid) 

Essential in the production of hormones and cholesterol. All eight B vitamins have a role but B-5, B-6, and B-3 are the most active.

  • B-6  

B6 has many jobs but is critical to the proper functioning of the brain and is a good friend of magnesium, helping to direct it into the cells. B6 is also involved in protein metabolism.

  • B-7 (Biotin) 

Helps break down essential fatty acids.

  • B-9 (Folic acid) 

Essential for cell division and reproduction.

  • B-12 

Essential for the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system.

Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin B Complex Deficiency

A B vitamin deficiency can manifest in a number of ways. Look out for these common signs and symptoms that may show up if you’re deficient:

  • Skin rashes
  • Fatigue
  • Pale skin
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Mood changes
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Numbness or tingling in the feet and hands

4 Factors That May Lead To A Vitamin B Deficiency

A B vitamin deficiency can pack a powerful (and harmful) punch. This is because there are several underlying factors that may rob the body of key nutrients. Let’s explore:

1. Poor Diet

A poor diet can lead to a vitamin B deficiency for a number of reasons. First things first, if you're not eating enough nutritious foods, you're likely not getting all the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs. 

Processed foods and refined sugars deplete the body of essential nutrients, especially the B vitamins. Foods that are high in refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pasta, can cause your body to excrete more B vitamins than it takes in. 

2. Stress

It's no secret that stress can take a toll on our bodies, both mentally and physically. But did you know that one of the ways stress can manifest is through a vitamin B deficiency? When your body is under stress, your adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol. Cortisol helps us deal with stress by providing the body with energy. However, constant stress overtime also interferes with the absorption of vitamin B. Although it’s a natural part of life, finding ways to manage stressful situations can prevent the rapid depletion of these essential nutrients.

3. Caffeine

If you regularly consume large amounts of caffeine, you may be at risk for a deficiency. Caffeine is a mild diuretic, meaning it pulls excess water from the body, carrying essential B vitamins right along with it. Too much caffeine also makes it harder for your body to absorb the vitamins it needs, leaving you at risk of developing a deficiency over time.

4. Medications

It's common for some medications to deplete B vitamins in the body. Some of these include antibiotics, birth control, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs called NSAIDs.

  • Metformin: This medication is used to treat type 2 diabetes. It can cause vitamin B12 deficiency.
  • Proton pump inhibitors: These medications are used to treat heartburn and acid reflux. They can cause vitamin B12 deficiency.
  • Antacids: These medications are used to treat heartburn and indigestion. They can interfere with the absorption of vitamin B12.
  • Antidepressants: These medications are used to treat depression and anxiety. They can lead to a vitamin B6 deficiency.

The Best Sources Of B Vitamins To Support Your Energy

B vitamins are water soluble, which means that their level in the body can fluctuate daily. If you don't keep up with your intake, your levels will likely get depleted by day-to-day activities such as exercising, eating, traveling, and working. To get enough of all eight different types, you should explore a variety of sources. 

  • Fish: Fish is a great source of vitamin B12, which is important for healthy red blood cells and nervous system function. Salmon, tuna, and trout are all especially rich in this nutrient.
  • Eggs: Eggs are another excellent source of B12, as well as other B vitamins like choline and biotin. They're a versatile ingredient that can be used in all sorts of dishes.
  • Dairy products: Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt are excellent sources of vitamin B2. This nutrient is important for energy metabolism and cell growth.
  • Leafy green vegetables: Dark leafy greens like spinach and kale are packed with nutrients, including vitamins B6 and folate. These two vitamins are important for metabolism and blood cell health. One great option includes making fresh vegetable juice, especially if you include a lot of the dark green vegetables like spinach, collards and kale. In fact, all the B vitamins, except B-12 are found in spinach!
  • Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are another good source of several different B vitamins, including folic acid, niacin, and vitamin B6. They make a great snack or addition to any meal.

Other great sources include whole grains, brewer’s yeast, pollen, miso, liver and raw nuts. Vegans (who don’t eat dairy), usually have to take a B-12 supplement or even receive periodic B-12 injections. 

Who Needs a B Complex Vitamin?

A person with any of the following conditions may benefit from a vitamin B-complex supplement:

  • Vegans or vegetarians. Although plant-based diets are full of other key vitamins and minerals, they are generally devoid of vitamin B12. In people that do not regularly eat meat, vitamin B12 supplements can help provide the necessary B vitamins.
  • Those over the age of 65. As we age our bodies are less likely to absorb nutrients from food. This means that taking supplements regularly can help fill in the gaps.
  • Women trying to conceive, or pregnant. A good quality prenatal should include all eight essential B vitamins needed for a healthy pregnancy. The most important being folic acid to help prevent neural tube defects in the fetus. 

Additional reasons for supplementation may include:

  • Increased stress
  • Alcohol use disorder.
  • An autoimmune condition, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or type 1 diabetes
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • A malabsorption condition, such as Celiac disease or Crohn's disease
  • Kidney disease
  • HIV

What To Look for In a B Vitamin Complex Supplement

Eating right is important, but it isn't always easy. That's why people often use supplements to make up for nutrients they're missing. But with so many on the market, it can be hard to tell what's best. Before you make a purchase, there are a few things you need to be mindful of.

Let’s break down how to choose a B complex formula:

First, make sure that ALL of the eight essential B vitamins are there.

  • Thiamin (B1) 
  • Riboflavin (B2)
  • Niacin (B3)
  • Pantothenic acid (B5)
  • Pyridoxine (B6)
  • Biotin (B7)
  • Folic acid (B9)
  • Cobalamin (B12)

Second, choose a methylated B complex formula rather than the cheaper and less effective forms found in many supplements. What makes methylated vitamins so special is that they are already in the active state, which means the body can absorb them more quickly compared to unmethylated sources.

Finally, make sure the supplement is free of fillers, binders, and artificial ingredients. This will ensure that you get everything you need and nothing that you don't. The best brands will be hypoallergenic, gluten free, and vegetarian or vegan.

How Do I Know If the B Vitamins Are Helping Me?

If you're taking B vitamins, you might be wondering if it’s making a noticeable difference. Here are a few ways to know if they're working for you:

  • you feel calmer and relaxed
  • you begin thinking more clearly
  • your digestion improves
  • you feel more nourished by the food you eat
  • you feel more energized
  • you sleep better
  • your muscle tone improves
  • you get less colds or infections
  • decreased food cravings 

If you're looking to maintain better health and energy, make sure you're getting all the B vitamins you need. Without enough in your diet, you could be at risk for a deficiency that can lead to a host of problems. The good news is, there are plenty of ways to get your fill of all the vitamin B’s, whether it's through food or supplements.