“Which vitamins do you actually need?” This is a common question from people when they find out that there are 8 vitamins just in the B vitamin family, and 13 total essential vitamins needed for optimal health and energy. Although importance may range from one vitamin to another, all of the B vitamins play an essential role in the human body, ranging from neurological function to energy production. Each one of these B vitamins is sourced from different foods, making it hard to know if you’re getting a sufficient amount of these vitamins daily. Let’s break down each of these vitamins to better understand this important family of vitamins.
Vitamin B1, also known as Thiamin, has commonly been associated with its functions within the nervous system (1). It is a key component in maintaining the structure of nerve cells in order to support brain function (2). Above all, the most important role Thiamin plays is in energy production. Thiamin is involved with the conversion of carbohydrates to a broken down form that can be used by cells all throughout the body, but especially in the brain (1).
Where to get it: whole grains, green vegetables, pork
Vitamin B2, also known as Riboflavin, is a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that reduces the amount of cell damage caused from harmful molecules within the body (3). It also works to help produce and convert other B vitamins such as vitamin B3 and B6 (2). Riboflavin is also a crucial part of the production of red blood cells, allowing better oxygen transport throughout the body (2).
Where to get it: dairy products, leafy vegetables, liver
Vitamin B3, also known as Niacin, is an essential component in energy production for all body cells, especially in the brain (4). Aside from energy production, Niacin has been shown to reduce LDL levels (bad cholesterol) and increase HDL levels (good cholesterol) (4).
Where to get it: fish, whole grains, legumes
Vitamin B5, also known as Pantothenic Acid, is mainly responsible for the synthesis of Acetyl-CoA, a molecule essential in energy metabolism (5). Pantothenic Acid is also important in the synthesis of a variety of different hormones and neurotransmitters involved in proper brain function (2).
Where to get it: meat, whole grain cereals, broccoli
Vitamin B6, or Pyridoxine, is required in a wide range of biochemical reactions within the body, ranging from neurotransmitter synthesis to amino acid synthesis (6). One of the most recently discovered benefits related to Vitamin B6 is its role in reducing hypertension (high blood pressure) (6).
Where to get it: fish, legumes, nuts
Vitamin B7, also known as Biotin, is one of the B vitamins that is essential for human beings, meaning that we cannot produce it ourselves within the body. Biotin plays an important role in glucose uptake and regulation in the liver, muscles, and brain (2).
Where to get it: eggs, pork, leafy vegetables
Vitamin B9, also known as Folate or Folic Acid, is important in the development of the fetus during pregnancy. Numerous studies have shown the relationship between Folate supplementation and strong fetal health (7-9).
Where to get it: leafy vegetables, legumes, citrus fruits
Vitamin B12, also known as Cobalamin, has a variety of different forms such as methylcobalamin, cyanocobalamin, or adenosylcobalamin. Cobalamin is another B vitamin that is not produced naturally in humans, so deficiencies are more commonly associated with this B vitamin (10). Cobalamin’s main two roles in the body are neuron health for proper brain function, and red blood cell health (10, 11). Cobalamin is only found in animal products, so deficiencies are commonly seen in vegetarians and vegans who do not take a Vitamin B12 supplement (11).
Where to get it: meat, fish, other animal products
Do B complex supplements work?
The B Vitamins are extremely important in all aspects of health, especially when it comes to neurological function. Although a balanced diet can provide most of these vitamins, a B complex supplement is a great way to assure that you’re getting a full dose of all the B vitamins you need, especially if you have specific allergies or diet restrictions that don’t allow you to eat some of the high B vitamin-containing foods. The B vitamins are also water soluble, meaning that they are absorbed in limited amounts and the excess is excreted from your body daily. This makes it even more important to maintain sufficient amounts of these vitamins in your system on a day to day basis.
Written by David Levinson, Founder of Keystone Performance, BS Nutrition, NASM CPT and CES
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- Riggs KM, Spiro A, Tucker K, Rush D. Relations of vitamin B-12, vitamin B-6, folate, and homocysteine to cognitive performance in the Normative Aging Study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1996;63(3):306-14.
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- Rizzo G, Laganà A, Rapisarda A, La Ferrera G, Buscema M, Rossetti P, et al. Vitamin B12 among Vegetarians: Status, Assessment and Supplementation. Nutrients. 2016;8(12):767.