B Vitamins

B vitamin sources

The B vitamin complex are a group of 8 water-soluble vitamins that play important roles in cell metabolism. Originally, it was thought they were just different forms of one vitamin (like with Vitamin D, for example).

Later it turned out that they are separate vitamins that often can be found together: Vitamin B1 (Thiamine), Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B3 (Niacin) Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine), Vitamin B7 (Biotin), Vitamin B9 (Folic acid), and Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin).

The B vitamins are necessary to: Support and increase the rate of metabolism; Maintain healthy skin, hair and muscle tone; Enhance immune and nervous system function; Promote cell growth and division, including that of the red blood cells that help prevent anemia; Reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer – one of the most lethal forms of cancer – when consumed in food, but not when ingested in vitamin tablet form. Most of the B vitamins must be replenished regularly, since any excess is excreted in the urine. This can result in the urine produced being a bright green-yellow color. B vitamins have also been hypothesized to reduce the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

B vitamins are found in whole unprocessed foods. Processed carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour tend to have lower B vitamin than their unprocessed counterparts. For this reason, it is required by law in the United States (and many other countries) that the B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid be added back to white flour after processing. This is sometimes called ‘Enriched Flour’ on food labels. B vitamins are particularly concentrated in meat such as turkey and tuna, in liver and meat products. Good sources for B vitamins include kombucha (a fermented tea), whole grains, potatoes, bananas, lentils, chili peppers, tempeh, beans, nutritional yeast, brewer’s yeast, and molasses. Although the yeast used to make beer results in beers being a source of B vitamins, their bioavailability ranges from poor to negative as drinking ethanol inhibits absorption of several B Vitamins. In addition, each of the preceding studies further emphasizes that elevated consumption of beer and other ethanol-based drinks results in a net deficit of those B vitamins and the health risks associated with such deficiencies.

The B12 vitamin is of note because it is not available from plant products, making B12 deficiency a concern for vegans. Manufacturers of plant-based foods will sometimes report B12 content, leading to confusion about what sources yield B12. The confusion arises because the standard US Pharmacopeia (USP) method for measuring the B12 content does not measure the B12 directly. Instead, it measures a bacterial response to the food. Chemical variants of the B12 vitamin found in plant sources are active for bacteria, but cannot be used by the human body. This same phenomenon can cause significant over-reporting of B12 content in other types of foods as well. Vitamin B may also be delivered by injection to reverse deficiencies. Another popular means of increasing one’s vitamin B intake is through the use of dietary supplements. B vitamins are also commonly added to energy drinks, many of which have been marketed with large amounts of B vitamins with claims that this will cause the consumer to ‘sail through your day without feeling jittery or tense.’ Nutritionists, such as Case Western Reserve University Professor Hope Barkoukis, dismiss these claims: ‘It’s brilliant marketing, but it doesn’t have any basis [in fact].’ While B vitamins do ‘help unlock the energy in foods,’ just about everyone in America already gets all of the B vitamins they could possibly need in their diets.

In general, extra B vitamins are just flushed out of the system, although everyone’s limit of absorption is different in regards to B complex vitamins, and no one knows how much is needed on an individual basis of these vitamins. The elderly and athletes may need to supplement their intake of B12 and other B vitamins due to problems in absorption and increased needs for energy production. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetics may also be advised to supplement thiamine based on high prevalence of low plasma thiamine concentration and increased thiamine clearance associated with diabetes. Also, Vitamin B9 deficiency in early embryo development has been linked to neural tube defects. Thus, women planning to become pregnant are usually encouraged to increase daily dietary folic acid intake and/or take a supplement. However, for ‘most typical consumers of energy supplements or drinks, B vitamins are nothing more than a ‘gimmick.”

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