Unlike its micronutrient colleagues, vitamin B actually refers to eight different vitamins. You probably even know them by other names like folic acid, biotin, and riboflavin. You need all eight forms of the B vitamin to stay healthy. Since vitamin B benefits depend on the type, it may be worth digging a little deeper. So let’s do just that.
What is Vitamin B?
There isn’t just one singular B vitamin, but actually eight different types. To make matters even more complicated, however, you don’t need vitamin B one through eight. Instead, it goes from B1 to B3, B5 to B7, B9 and B12. Vitamins B4, B8, B10 and B11 no longer count as vitamins because the human body technically does not need them to survive.
The eight forms of B that meet the technical definition of a vitamin (meaning you need it to live) are:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (niacin)
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B7 (biotin)
- Vitamin B9 (folic acid/folate)
- Vitamin B12
Together, these vitamins play a major supporting role in your body. They help your organs’ enzymes work as they should, which means they’re involved in everything from processing food to moving oxygen and nutrients throughout your body.
As a result, people often equate persistent fatigue with low B vitamins and recommend a B vitamin complex for a boost of energy.
Although taking a B-complex, which contains all eight B vitamins, can help you get the recommended daily dose, you may be able to get it from your diet.
Add vitamin B to your diet
As you would probably suspect, because vitamin B comes in eight forms, you’ll be hard pressed to find one food that ticks all the boxes. That said, some food sources provide multiple types of B — and, therefore, many B vitamin benefits.
Some of the best whole food sources of B vitamins include:
- Salmon (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B12)
- Eggs (B1, B2, B3, B5, B7, B12)
- Legumes (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7)
- Nuts (B1, B2, B6, B7)
- Tofu (B1, B2, B6, B9, and more if you buy fortified firm tofu)
- Whole grains (B1, B3, B5, B6)
Beyond that, if you think you need more of a specific B vitamin — or if a doctor tells you to increase your intake — you should dig into that particular form. To help you out, we’ve rounded up all the best food sources of different types of B vitamins.
The diet gives you a great starting point to get the nutrients you need. But also talk to your doctor, especially if you suffer from persistent fatigue or follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.
If you have a malabsorption disorder, you are more likely to be deficient in B vitamins. If you take certain medications, such as metformin and PPIs (eg, omeprazole), you may also have a higher risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. If you’re affected by any of these key nutrients or aren’t getting enough of them, you can absolutely benefit from taking a vitamin B supplement.
Scientifically Backed Benefits of Vitamin B
What are the benefits of taking vitamin B, exactly? If you’ve read this far, you probably already know that it depends on what type of B you’re talking about. To clear things up and motivate us all to get enough of these essential nutrients, we’ve covered the benefits of vitamin B by type.
B1: Correct cell function
Vitamin B1, also known as thiamin, plays an important role in fueling your cells. Specifically, your body needs it to draw energy from nutrients to fuel cell growth and function. Being deficient in B1 is like walking around with a nearly dead battery.
Not only does B2, also known as riboflavin, reduce your risk of certain cancers and other health problems, it also helps your body fight cell aging, inflammation, and oxidation. To get the line of defense your body needs, make sure you get enough riboflavin.
B3: A whole bunch of stuff
Vitamin B3 or niacin does a lot in your body, including:
- Nervous system function
- Turn nutrients into energy
- Cholesterol production
A B3 deficiency can contribute to everything from headaches and fatigue to hallucinations.
B5: fuels key processes for critical body components
Pantothenic acid, or vitamin B5, helps your body metabolize fat, produce hormones, and form red blood cells. Put simply, this vitamin supports the health of your nervous system and brain.
B6: Overall health
Without enough vitamin B6, your body has to work overtime to keep your immune and nervous systems healthy. It also supports the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
B7: Healthy hair, skin and nails
You’ve probably seen supplements containing biotin. People usually take more in an effort to support healthy nails, hair, and skin. It also plays a role in energy storage.
B9: Very important during pregnancy
Your body uses B9 or folic acid to make your genetic material (DNA and RNA, in particular) and support the production of red blood. Everyone needs it, but this one is especially important if you’re pregnant. Getting enough B9 is directly linked to a reduction in birth defects.
B12: Prevention of anemia
You need B12 to create healthy red blood cells. B12 also supplies your nervous system with what it needs. Meat and fish are among the best dietary sources of vitamin B12. If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, you may benefit from a supplement.
Disadvantages of Vitamin B Complex Supplements
Many B vitamin benefits are risk-free. That’s because all eight B vitamins are water-soluble, just like vitamin C. This means that if you take in more than your body needs, it expels it as waste.
That said, continually taking too much of these vitamins — usually in supplement form — can lead to toxicity. For example, a long-term intake of more than 200 to 500 milligrams of vitamin B6 per day may be associated with neuropathy. Many of the biggest problems come from too much niacin. Here are some details:
Problems for people with diabetes
B3 (niacin) can negatively affect your blood sugar and insulin functionality. If you have diabetes, you probably know that both of these things mean trouble. Talk with your doctor before adding any form of niacin through supplementation, including a B-complex vitamin. Specifically, be on the lookout for nicotinic acid, a synthetic form of niacin.
Larger doses of 1-3 grams per day of B3 can also cause problems such as:
- Nausea and vomiting
- brown skin pigmentation
- Itchy skin
- Elevated liver enzymes
Should you take vitamin B every day?
What are the benefits of vitamin B? Now you know: It depends on the type. Overall, however, all eight vitamins play vital roles in your body.
But that doesn’t mean everyone should take a B-complex. For starters, most people can get the benefits of the B vitamin from food.
Speak with your doctor before adding B supplements to your rotation. If you are pregnant, vegetarian, or vegan, you may benefit from taking B6 or B12, respectively.
Most people won’t overdose on B vitamins because your body is eliminating them. Consistently taking B3 and B6 in excess, however, can cause problems.
If you are unsure whether you should take vitamin B supplements, ask your doctor for a blood test. This can identify any gaps so you can know if you need more B’s – or just wasting your money.
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.
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