Know Your Vitamin Bs

Know Your Vitamin Bs

Vitamin B is a group of essential nutrients that play a pivotal role in maintaining overall health and well-being.

B vitamins are water-soluble vitamins that act as coenzyme. Water soluble means they aren’t stored by our body, so we need to eat them daily for the best effects. One exception to this is vitamin B12. Excess B12 is stored in our liver.

Coenzyme means they work to power enzymes. Enzymes are proteins that help speed up chemical reactions in our body. But they can’t work on their own. They need coenzyme, like B vitamins and others, to act as a switch that turns them on.

Each type of vitamin B works on different enzymes. They make sure the enzymes get the power they need to metabolize food, build and repair DNA, grow healthy blood cells and more. So, B vitamins essentially ensure those enzymes are able to do their work.

That leaves eight B vitamins that are essential for our health:

1. Thiamin (B1)

Thiamin helps your body get energy from the food we eat by turning it into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the energy our cells use. It’s also important for adequate nerve cell function.

Our cells’ mitochondria are the ‘powerhouses’ that produce energy.  ATP is the energy the mitochondria in our cells use to power our cells. Thiamin helps to create that energy.

NRV (Nutrient Reference Values): 1.1 mg for adult men and women, 1.4 mg for breastfeeding women.

Thiamin doesn’t have an upper limit for toxicity. That means we don’t have to worry about getting too much of it.

Thiamin deficiency, on the other hand, can cause health concerns like swelling of the lower extremities, loss of muscle coordination, weight loss, lowered immunity and confusion.

2. Riboflavin (B2)

Riboflavin is a component of two coenzymes that are needed for energy production, cellular function and metabolism. It also helps to make sure the other B vitamins are doing their jobs.

NRV (Nutrient Reference Values) : 1.4 mg for adult men and women, 1.6 mg for breastfeeding women.

Riboflavin doesn’t have an upper limit for toxicity. Riboflavin deficiency is rare in  developed countries.

3. Niacin (B3)

Niacin is converted into a coenzyme that’s used throughout the body for several different processes. It helps transfer the energy found in food into ATP. It also helps with the creation and repair of DNA. 

NRV (Nutrient Reference Values): 16 mg for adult men, 14 mg for adult women, 17 mg for breastfeeding women.

Niacin can be dangerous when taken in very large quantities. It can cause flushing, redness and itchiness throughout the skin. So, it’s advised to avoid supplements that contain high doses of niacin.

4. Pantothenic acid (B5)

Pantothenic acid is used to make coenzyme A, which helps enzymes to build and break down fatty acids. 

NRV (Nutrient Reference Values): 6 mg for adult men and women.

There’s no upper limit for vitamin B5. And as long as we’re eating adequate calories, it’s very uncommon for people to be deficient in pantothenic acid.

5. Pyridoxine (B6)

Vitamin B6 is probably one of the more famous B vitamins.

One of its jobs is to help maintain proper levels of the amino acid homocysteine. Our body naturally produces homocysteine. But too much of it can lead to things like blood clots, hardened arteries and heart attack.

Vitamin B6 targets homocysteine and breaks it down into other substances that our body needs. That keeps homocysteine from building up and causing damage.

Vitamin B6 also helps support our metabolism, immune system, brain health and many other functions. In all, it’s involved in more than 100 enzyme reactions in our body.

NRV (Nutrient Reference Values): 1.4 mg for adult men and women, 1.9 mg for pregnant women, 2 mg for breastfeeding women.

Excessive amounts of vitamin B6 from supplements can cause neuropathy (nerve damage), which can lead to loss of control of body movements. So, the National Institutes of Health advises that the upper limit of vitamin B6 is 100 mg per day.

6. Biotin (B7)

Biotin is perhaps most known as a nutrient for healthy hair, nails and skin. Biotin assists the enzymes that break down fats, carbs and proteins in our food. It also helps ensure our cells work together effectively and that they carry out their assigned tasks based on the instructions set out by our genes.

NRV (Nutrient Reference Values): 50 μg for adult men and women, 35 μg for breastfeeding women.

There’s no upper limit to how much biotin is considered safe.

7. Folate and folic acid (B9)

Vitamin B9, commonly called folate (in food form) and folic acid (in supplement form), is the B vitamin most associated with pregnancy and prenatal vitamins. That’s because folate is critical for proper formation of the neural tube in early pregnancy. Neural tube is the structure that forms the early brain and spine in a developing fetus.

Folate is very important for people who could become pregnant because often, the neural tube develops before we even know we’re pregnant. If we’re low in folate in those early days of pregnancy, it can raise a risk of the fetus having birth defects like spina bifida, a condition where the neural tube doesn't fully close.

And even if we’re not pregnant, folate is an important component of our healthy eating plan. It helps our body to:

  • Form DNA and RNA.
  • Metabolize protein.
  • Break down homocysteine.
  • Keep your red blood cells healthy.

NRV (Nutrient Reference Values): 200 μg for adult men and women, 600 μg for pregnant women, 500 μg for breastfeeding women.

Note that taking folate supplements for long periods can hide the effects of a vitamin B12 deficiency, which can be dangerous. So, supplements aren’t recommended except for people who are pregnant or may become pregnant or who are otherwise advised to by their healthcare provider.

8. Cobalamin (B12)

Vitamin B12 is another of the heavy hitters of the B vitamin empire. It helps form red blood cells and DNA. It also is important for organ and brain function.

NRV (Nutrient Reference Values): 2.5 μg for adult men and women, 2.6 μg for pregnant and 2.8 μg breastfeeding women.

A vitamin B12 deficiency can cause irreversible brain damage. But it can be harder for some people to get adequate amounts of vitamin B12 in their diets. Risks for deficiency can include:

  • People who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet.
  • People who’ve had bariatric surgery.
  • People who use the diabetes medication metformin.
  • People who take proton pump inhibitor medication.
  • People over the age of 65.

Ensuring an adequate intake of B vitamins is integral to overall health and well-being. While deficiencies are uncommon in well-rounded diets, certain populations, such as pregnant or breastfeeding individuals, may benefit from targeted supplementation. Prioritize a diverse and nutritious diet to harness the full potential of these indispensable nutrients for a vibrant life.

Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen.


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