B vitamins are commonly known for their value to your health. But what do they do exactly? And what makes each of them different? In this article, we provide some answers to those questions.
What Are the B Vitamins?
There are eight B vitamins, all of which are water-soluble and chemically distinct from each other. The general function of the B vitamins is to catalyze enzymatic functions in the metabolism. In other words, they help the body metabolize the food that goes into it.
There are a few different types of reactions in which B vitamins serve a purpose. These include breaking down amino acids, transporting oxygen and other nutrients, and releasing energy from carbohydrates and fats.
Vitamin B Deficiency
The B vitamins are vital, and it’s important that you consume enough of them on a regular basis. Becoming deficient in one of the B vitamins can produce a variety of symptoms, and possible health detriments.
Firstly, it’s important to know what can precipitate a vitamin B deficiency. A vegan or vegetarian diet can precipitate a B12 deficiency because B12 occurs almost exclusively in animal products. Various medications can also cause a deficiency in one or more B vitamins. Conditions that cause gut malabsorption (e.g. Crohn’s disease) can also cause a vitamin B deficiency.
The symptoms of a vitamin B deficiency vary some depending on which vitamin is lacking. Vitamin B6 deficiency can lead to increased susceptibility to infection and fatigue. Deficiencies in B9 and B12 can cause similar symptoms as well as others.
Benefits of B Vitamins
Each of the B vitamins works a little differently. Some of these are often found solo as an oral supplement, and a B-complex oral supplement is also easy to find. It is recommended that you talk to your doctor before you start taking any supplements you haven’t used before.
Thiamin (B1) is used by various organs including the heart, liver, brain, and kidneys. It is necessary for breaking down sugar molecules from food, producing fatty acids, synthesizing hormones, and creating some neurotransmitters. Those with diabetes or with HIV/AIDS are at increased risk of thiamin deficiency.
Riboflavin (B2) is necessary for the production of adenosine triphosphate which is the primary energy source for cells. It’s also helpful in reducing the presence of pathogens in the bloodstream.
Niacin (B3) is a coenzyme that takes part in more than 400 different enzyme reactions in the body. These reactions include ones which convert all 3 macronutrients – carbs, fats, and proteins – into usable energy. It also helps with the expression of DNA and communication between cells.
Pantothenic acid (B5) is necessary for the human body to produce other coenzymes, as well as proteins and fats. It is carried throughout the body by red blood cells, and used in a variety of chemical processes.
Pyridoxine (B6) is a vital coenzyme that assists more than 100 other enzymes in breaking down macronutrients, supporting immune function, and maintaining normal levels of homocysteine (for a healthy heart). Deficiency in B6 is one of the most studied vitamin deficiencies, and can cause a number of issues. B6 is also studied for its role in preventing disease, including pregnancy-induced nausea.
Biotin (B7) is used for the breakdown of sugars, and is necessary for keeping blood sugar levels in a healthy range. Taking biotin is thought to be helpful for the health of one’s hair, skin, and nails, but science on these claims is conflicting.
Folate (B9), also known as folic acid, is important for the formation of DNA and RNA, as well as protein synthesis. Folic acid, typically found in supplements, tends to be better absorbed than the B9 present in foods. B9 also helps break down homocysteine, and in producing red blood cells. It’s very important during pregnancy and infancy.
Cobalamin (B12) is necessary for the formation of DNA and red blood cells and is also key for the development and function of brain and nerve cells. Deficiency in B12 is associated with anemia, and can be especially problematic.
All of the B vitamins are important and essential to take. Keep the above roles of the B vitamins in mind when you consider taking a vitamin B supplement. Talk to your doctor to see if a vitamin B supplement could be of particular help to you, or a family member.