Digestion, Heart, Mental Health, nutrition | September 21, 2017 | Author: Naturopath
The B vitamins are the most important group of vitamins essential for energy production, immune system function and the manufacture of hormones and neurotransmitters. Each has very specific roles within the body and they are best taken as a complex – unless there are specific deficiencies. B vitamins are usually found as part of a multivitamin or can be taken in a B complex.
Here’s a rundown of each individual B vitamin and why they are essential for good health.
Thiamine helps convert carbohydrates from food into energy. It also plays a role in muscle contraction and conduction of nerve signals. Deficiency symptoms include anxiety, irritability, fatigue, headaches, anorexia, gastrointestinal disturbances and muscle pain. Optic neuropathy, beri beri and Korsakoff syndrome (commonly experienced by chronic alcoholics), are well known syndromes caused by thiamine deficiency.
Riboflavin is required for healthy skin, the lining of the digestive tract, blood cells and many other parts of the body. It is often used to boost energy and the function of the immune system. Deficiency signs include cracks in the corners of the lips, acne, eczema, depression, lethargy and photosensitivity. It is commonly used to treat migraines, anaemia, stress, leg cramps and ocular cataracts.
Niacin is found in high concentration in our muscles, kidneys, liver and heart. Mild depression, mouth ulcers, fatigue, vomiting and depression are signs that you are mildly deficient. Severe deficiency is characterised by the ‘four D’s: dermatitis, diarrhoea, dementia and death. Niacin has been found to lower bad cholesterol levels and boost good cholesterol. Research has also found nicatinamide can help prevent solar keratosis (sun spots). Flushing can be a side-effect of high doses of vitamin B3 so it’s best to start with a low dose if supplementing.
The active form of vitamin B5 is coenzyme A and is essential for 4% of enzyme reactions in the body. It is required for the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. A sensation of burning in the feet, fatigue, muscle weakness and vomiting are all signs of a pantothenic acid deficiency. However, due to the abundance of this vitamin in food, deficiency is uncommon and the amounts found in a general B complex or multivitamin is usually sufficient. However, if you are looking to boost levels of this vitamin, royal jelly contains significant amounts.
As a coenzyme, vitamin B6 is important for the synthesis of GABA, the metabolism of other important neurotransmitters and healthy fats. It is also essential to produce the haem component of haemoglobin. Deficiency signs are common and include skin lesions, seborrheic dermatitis, poor immune function, depression, irritability and sores or ulcers of the mouth. Vitamin B6 can be taken for PMS, nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, autism and carpal tunnel syndrome. The active form, pyridoxal-5-phosphate, is the recommended way to take B6 for certain individuals.
Folic acid is one of the most supplemented B vitamins either individually or as part of a complex. It is a common deficiency, particularly in the elderly. The cooking and processing of foods easily destroys this nutrient. Folic acid is recommended for pregnant women to prevent neural tube defects, to lower homocysteine levels, to treat psychiatric condition and to improve cognitive function in the elderly.
Signs you are deficient in folic acid include certain types of anaemias, peripheral neuropathy, depression, mental confusion, paranoid behaviour, fatigue, headaches and gastrointestinal disturbances. Folic acid can be taken in activated form as folinic acid or levomefolic acid.
Vitamin B12 is stored in our body but can often become depleted due to poor absorption in the digestive tract. Deficiency can lead to fatigue, low mood, cognitive impairment, pernicious and macrocytic anaemia and peripheral neuropathy. Due to animal sources being a rich source of B12, vegans and vegetarians are at risk of having low stores. For deficiency, it is advised to take a sublingual form either which is either sprayed or dissolved under the tongue.
Biotin is often associated as a beauty vitamin and has been found to improve skin quality and integrity. It is also recommended for healthy nails and hair. It can be used in people who experience hair loss or thin, brittle hair. Apart from the beauty claims, biotin helps boost immunity and when taken in combination with chromium, regulates blood sugars.
The primary function of inositol is for cell membrane structure and integrity. Clinical trials have found inositol to be helpful in nervous system disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder and eating disorders. Wholegrains, brewer’s yeast and molasses are rich sources of inositol.
Choline is found throughout the whole body but is concentrated in the brain, liver, kidneys, breast tissue, placenta and brain. It is often taken in people who have liver conditions, heart disease, high cholesterol, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The B complex has a variety of roles, all important in keeping us active and healthy. Here’s a summary of reasons why you should take a B complex daily.
Hechtman L (2014). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Churchill Livingstone, Australia
Kennedy DO. B vitamins and the brain: mechanisms, dose and efficacy-a review. Nutrients. 2016 Jan 27;8(2):68
Barua S, et al. Folic acid supplementation in pregnancy and implications in health and disease. J Biomed Sci. 2014 Aug 19;21:77