The B-vitamin family truly is just that—a family—and they are really busy. The B’s have a role in more than 50 different body processes! Each one performs a vital role independently, but the body also depends on them to work together to maintain vital body functions. Take the heart for example—it depends on folic acid (or B9), pyridoxine (B6), and cobalamin (B12), for optimal health. The job that B12 does cannot be done by two B6. The body needs both of them. This group of vitamins carries many important responsibilities from assisting in cell growth and reproduction to breaking food down into a fuel usable by the body.
Each of the B vitamins has an accompanying number—why? These numbers serve no other purpose than for identification. The first B vitamin was called water-soluble B. The second B recognized was riboflavin, or B2, hence the 2. Thus a system was developed—a faulty system however, because later in 1926, B1 was found to actually be two separate vitamins. Since thiamin was already named and there was a preexisting B2, niacin took the vacant slot of B3. As more B’s were found, more numbers proceeded them. Once again, though, the system was proven inadequate since scientists discovered that some of the ‘vitamins’ they named with the B group were not really vitamins at all but wholly different substances, hence the missing B4, B8, B10, and B11.
Here is an abbreviated rundown, starting with B1, of the B-family and their most recognized roles in the human body.
Thiamine (B1): Sometimes called aneurin, is responsible for keeping the body’s cells working properly. Nerve and brain cells particularly benefit from B1. The body also needs thiamine to convert food into a fuel that the body can use.
Riboflavin (B2): Works with B1 to release energy from food. It is necessary for creation of hormones, normal body growth, and red blood cells.
Niacin (B3): This B-member wears many hats, having a hand in over 50 different body functions; from releasing energy from food to detoxifying chemicals.
Pantothenic Acid (B5): Your body needs B5 to make vitamin D, hormones, and red blood cells. In addition to this, it also serves as a helper to several of the other B’s to turn fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into energy.
Pyridoxine (B6): The human body needs over 50,000 different proteins to operate properly. We turn to B6 to help the amino acids fill these many positions.
Biotin (B7): Sometimes known as vitamin H, it is also involved in breaking down carbohydrates, proteins, and fats into a usable energy for the body.
Folic Acid (B9): First and foremost, B9 helps cells grow and divide properly. This means, for pregnant women, folic acid is essential for the prevention of birth defects. Additionally, it helps to keep veins and arteries open which, in turn, lowers chances of related health issues. It also has a hand in making chemicals in the body that control things like sleep patterns, mood, and appetite.
Cobalamin (B12): Although that scrape on your knee feels like raw nerves, those nerve cells actually have a protective covering that are formed by B12. Cobalamin helps with the other B’s in the fueling of the body from food.
The B-family has some closely related relatives that almost made the cut to become part of the group, but the body normally makes them in high enough quantity to supply need: choline, which the brain uses to store memories; inositol, helps make healthy cell membranes; lipoic acid works hand in hand with the B’s to convert food into energy, is a great antioxidant, and works to help the body get more use out of vitamins C and E; and lastly, PABA (Para-aminobenzoic acid) helps protect the skin from UV rays (it is commonly found in sunscreens).
As with most vitamins and minerals, there is much controversy over the amounts of the B vitamins that we ought to take in each day. Like vitamin C, the B’s are also water-soluble so they need to be replenished through diet or supplements on a regular basis. The daily recommended intake has changed several times, being lowered in the late 1980’s and then raised again in the 1990’s. Much to the chagrin of dieticians and nutritionists, though, the recommended intake was not raised to the levels that most were seeing that their patients needed. Most believe that higher levels of intake would do much good for overall health, especially of folic acid. Vitamin B deficiency is generally acknowledged in older patients even with the recommended daily dosages. Because vitamin B plays such a huge role in the development and division of cells during the years of major growth (0-25), it is imperative that there is an ample supply of vitamin B. As the body develops from infancy to childhood to puberty to adulthood the need for vitamin B only increases as the body goes through its changes before reaching a plateau. Women who are pregnant also require higher levels of vitamin B. After all, they are eating for two!
Some people may need to be extra aware of getting the levels of vitamin B in their systems. Those who drink alcohol may need a higher intake since alcohol blocks the body from using the vitamin B and also excretes it faster. Elderly people also absorb less and often do not get adequate nourishment to begin with. Smokers have the same issue as someone who uses alcohol; their bodies do not absorb vitamins properly. Those with digestive issues and special diets may also need to monitor closely their vitamin levels more so than usual.
Vitamin B, for the most part, is easily obtained through a proper diet. Thiamine is found in peanut butter, oranges, beans, wheat germ, and grains. Riboflavin is in dairy products, beans, nuts, avocado, leafy vegetables, and beets. These foods are also good sources of Niacin, and folic acid. Pantothenic Acid is in whole grains and nuts. Peas, bananas, potatoes, beans, and avocado are good foods to eat to get pyridoxine. Oatmeal, bananas, and peanut butter are great for Biotin. Cobalamin is found mainly in dairy so those who practice a vegan diet must be aware of this.
There are many benefits of keeping the B’s replenished in bounty. A study conducted in 1995 by the New England Journal of Medicine showed that people with high levels of vitamin B lowered the levels of homocysteine in the blood. (People with high levels of homocysteine are at greater risk of stroke and heart disease.) The people in the study with the highest levels of vitamin B were 50% less likely to suffer from either stroke or heart disease; whereas those with lower levels of vitamin B had higher homocysteine levels in their blood and twice as likely to suffer from either one! The lower levels of homocysteine and higher B’s also raise the strength of bones. Niacin is used in prescription drugs to lower cholesterol. One in four people who are hospitalized for depression are seriously low in pyridoxine and cobalamin. Pyridoxine, folic acid, and cobalamin are important for the immune system as they assist in making the white blood cells that constitute it.
See a reference table for the current vitamin B RDA’s (recommended daily allowance).
Obviously, the recommended daily allowances for the B vitamins are very small. However, no matter how small, it is easy to see how vital these amounts are to the body and its ability to operate. As was mentioned before, most nutritionists and health experts are quite dissatisfied with these low numbers. The best option would be to consult with your physician to decipher what is best for you.
We have only one life and one body on loan to us. No one would borrow another’s property and destroy it. When we become aware of the fact that our beings are the property of our heavenly Father, the careful care of His property becomes important to us. Awareness of what the body needs allows us to put the optimal effort into our lives for good health. God is the key to an enriching life.