The B vitamins are a fascinating group of nutrients that have numerous health effects. Despite substantial research showing reasons to optimize your B vitamin intake, these vitamins are often overlooked. The traditional view is that a “healthy” diet supplies plenty of B vitamins and few people need to supplement.
A closer examination of the research shows a long list of situations that put you at risk of B vitamin deficiency:
High-carb diets: Diets high in simple carbs from processed foods stress glucose metabolism and put people at risk of vitamin B1 (thiamine deficiency).
Genetics: Individuals with certain genetic mutations have impaired methylation that impairs activation of vitamin B9 and B12 in the liver, leaving them at risk of a deficiency.
Pregnancy: Pregnant women require higher levels of B vitamins for health of the mother and the fetus.
Older age: Older people have higher risk of B vitamin deficiency due to lower intake through diet and an aging-induced decline in methylation.
GI disorders or celiacs disease: Malabsorption impairs digestion of B vitamins and is linked with deficiency in vitamin B9 and B12.
Vegans and Vegetarians: The only source of vitamin B12 is animal products so people who shun these foods are guaranteed a deficiency unless they supplement.
Chronic disease or inflammation: Because the B vitamins have potent antioxidant action in the body they can be easily depleted in situations of chronic illness or inflammation.
Cardiovascular disease: High levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that causes vascular damage and is associated with heart disease, depletes B vitamins and compromises health.
Athletes: Strenuous activity burns through B vitamins because they are necessary for energy metabolism and cortisol management.
A high-stress lifestyle: A high cortisol output depletes the B vitamins and increases risk of poor adrenal function.
Even if you don’t fall into one of these categories you may benefit from supplemental B vitamins due to their role in regulating mood, immune function, and metabolic health. What follows is a list of why the B vitamins are vital for health and performance.
1. They Convert Food into Energy
The B vitamins are probably best known for their role in energy metabolism, being necessary for enzymes involved in the Krebs cycle, which is the biochemical pathway responsible for producing energy in the body. Fat burning, glycogen breakdown, and ATP production all rely on ample B vitamins.
2. They Are Necessary For Proper Methylation
Methylation is a complex process that “turns on” genes and DNA. It is necessary for mental health, nervous system function, gene expression, and immunity. Methylation also helps convert the amino acid homocysteine into methionine and cysteine. When homocysteine is too high, it damages arteries and puts you at risk of cardiovascular disease.
3. They Support Neurological Function & Neurotransmitter Balance
A B vitamin deficiency predisposes people to impairment of cognition and neural damage. Several B vitamins are used in the synthesis of neurotransmitters and hormones that regulate cognition and mood, including serotonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine, melatonin, glutamate, and GABA. The B vitamins also play a role in sleep and the ability to dream.
4. They Protect Cardiovascular Health
The B vitamins regulate homocysteine levels through methylation, which helps avoid damage to blood vessels that increase heart disease risk. B vitamins are necessary for nitric oxide production—a chemical that helps arteries dilate and supports blood flow. Supplementation with B vitamins has been shown to improve blood lipid levels, decreasing the presence of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
5. They Help You Manage Stress
Dealing with high levels of stress is a nutrient dense process that burns through B vitamins. High cortisol depletes vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) and leads to adrenal gland enlargement. Supplementing can help the body cope while improving methylation pathways that are necessary for illness prevention and detoxification.
6. They Regulate Energy & Prevent Anemia
Lack of vitamin B2 (riboflavin), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate), and B12 (cobalamin) can lead to anemia—a condition in which red blood cell function is compromised and your cells are not getting enough oxygen. When cells don’t get enough oxygen, a debilitating fatigue sets in and physical performance suffers.
7. They Prevent Peripheral Neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy is a disorder that occurs when nerves malfunction because they are damaged or destroyed, leading to pain, tingling, or numbness in certain parts of the body such as the feet or hands. Diabetics commonly have neuropathies because high glucose levels damage cells. Supplementation with vitamin B12 can help: In a study of diabetics, supplementation with 500 mcg three times a day of vitamin B12 reduced numbness, pain, and burning sensations (1).
8. They Support Immune Function
Vitamin B6 is necessary for the growth and function of key immune cells that fight off disease. In the elderly who are at risk of B vitamin deficiency and poor immune function, B6 supplementation restored levels of immune cells (2, 3).
9. They Improve Blood Glucose Regulation
The B vitamins are crucial for glucose regulation and preventing diabetes. For example, vitamin B3 (niacin) has antioxidant effects on the beta cells of the pancreas and B7 (biotin) also enhances pancreatic function and increases muscle sensitivity to insulin.
10. They Counter Inflammation
Several B vitamins serve as antioxidants (B2, B3, and B7) and they regulate inflammatory markers linked with heart disease. Additionally, vitamin B6 helps recycle the master antioxidant glutathione that protects against many chronic diseases and aging. The B vitamins have also been shown to protect the liver from oxidative stress.
How To Take Your Bs
The B vitamins should generally be taken all together. When individual B vitamins are supplemented alone, it is easy for them to get out of balance. Additionally, several B vitamins work together synergistically to improve energy metabolism, support methylation and detoxification, and protect the cardiovascular system.
It’s worth investing in a B Complex that provides the active form of B6, B9, and B12. When you take a vitamin that supplies the inactive form, the liver will process it into the active form. For example, folic acid is the synthetic, inactive form of B9 that must be turned into 5-methyltetrahydrofolate by the liver. However, this process can be inefficient and easily hampered by genetics, subpar nutrition, or less than optimal liver health.
Here is a list of the active name of B6, B9, and B12 that you should look for and the inactive name to avoid:
Folic Acid or Folate
We provide all of the B vitamins in their most active form along with the nutrients betaine and n-acetyl-cysteine for optimal absorption and function in our B Excellence product.
1. Yaqub, B., et al. Effects of methylcobalamin on diabetic neuropathy. Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery. 1992. 94: 105-111.
2. Meydani, S., et al. Vitamin B-6 deficiency impairs interleukin 2 production and lymphocyte proliferation in elderly adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1991. 53(5): 1275-1280.
3. Talbott, M., et al. Pyridoxine supplementation: effect on lymphocyte responses in elderly persons. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1987. 46(4): 659-664