In this article I aim to tell you about the different forms of Vitamin B and why you need them.
B Vitamins are water-soluble vitamins. There are eight of them in total and they are all important for cell metabolism.
Although the different forms of Vitamin B are chemically distinct from each other, foods that contain one form often provide several types of Vitamin B.
Vitamin B Complex
When supplements provide all eight forms of Vitamin B, instead of listing each one by name it is more common to refer to them as a Vitamin B Complex.
In general, B vitamins tend to be most valued for their ability to help the body obtain energy from food and support a healthy metabolism.
They also support healthy nerve and liver function and fetal growth and development during pregnancy.
You are more likely to fall victim to Vitamin B deficiency if your diet is lacking in protein and you do eat enough leafy green vegetable, seeds and beans.
If you are not getting enough Vitamin B, taking steps to improve the situation will boost your energy levels and prevent health problems like anemia and chronic fatigue.
The Different Forms of Vitamin B and Why You Need Them
Each B vitamin is either a cofactor (usually a coenzyme) for key metabolic processes or is a precursor necessary to make one.
A cofactor is a non-protein chemical compound or metallic ion that is needed for an enzyme’s activity.
They could be termed “helper molecules”. Precursors take a more active role by participating in the chemical reactions necessary to produce another compound.
Vitamin B1 is also called thiamine. It’s a coenzyme the body uses to process sugars and release energy from carbohydrates.
Thiamine also supports healthy nerve and heart function. Although the body is capable of manufacturing certain nutrients, thiamine is not one of them. You have to obtain it from food.
Good sources of thiamine include:
If you don’t get enough thiamine from your food your health will suffer.
Thiamine helps maintain muscle tone in the digestive tract.
This is where much of the immune system is situated so a lack of thiamine can cause your immune system to become less efficient.
Thiamine also supports cognitive function and promotes a positive frame of mind.
So if you want a healthy mind and body, it’s important to ensure your thiamine levels are not allowed to become too low.
Vitamin B2 is also known as riboflavin. It’s a precursor of the cofactors that are necessary for flavoprotein enzyme reactions.
One of the things it does is aid the activation of other vitamins.
Riboflavin also helps the cells draw in oxygen and put it to work. You need to replenish your stores of riboflavin every day.
Good sources of riboflavin include:
- Beef liver
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Natural yogurt
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, riboflavin deficiency is uncommon in the west.
Signs of riboflavin deficiency include cracked lips, skin problems, sore throat, and redness and swelling inside the mouth.
A lack of riboflavin in the diet can also retard the metabolism and cause anemia and fatigue.
Vitamin B3 is occasionally referred to as nicotinic acid or nicotinamide riboside but is better known as niacin. It’s a precursor of the coenzymes NAD and NADP that are integral to many metabolic processes.
Niacin promotes healthy cardiovascular activity and is known to help balance cholesterol. It also assists brain function and aids the secretion of human growth hormone (HGH).
Foods that provide niacin include:
- Grass-fed beef
Although niacin deficiency is rare in developed countries, it’s can still occur if the diet is poor.
Typical symptoms of niacin deficiency include skin lesions, inflammation of the mucous membrane, and digestive disorders.
More seriously, niacin deficiency also causes a condition called Pellagra. The condition is characterized by the “four Ds”: diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia, and death.
Vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid, is found in every cell of the body. It’s a precursor of coenzyme A. Your body needs coenzyme A to aid the metabolism of fatty acids.
Pantothenic acid also balances blood glucose levels, lowers cholesterol, reduces blood pressure, and prevents nerve damage and heart failure.
Foods that are high in pantothenic acid include:
- Lean pork
- Oily fish
- Sunflower seeds
Fortunately, pantothenic acid deficiency in humans is extremely rare. It’s usually restricted to countries where malnutrition is widespread.
Symptoms of pantothenic acid deficiency can include fatigue, irritability, depression, insomnia, muscle cramps, vomiting, and burning sensations on the feet.
Alcohol abuse can rob the body of pantothenic acid and increase the risk of deficiency. As can medical conditions and medications that interfere with nutrient absorption.
A vitamin of many names, Vitamin B6 is also known as pyridoxine, pyridoxal, and pyridoxamine. It’s a coenzyme that’s especially important for amino acid metabolism and aids the biosynthesis of neurotransmitters.
Your body is using up its supplies of Vitamin B6 every day to support important biological activities including blood flow, memory function, and movement.
Vitamin B6 is a popular energy drink ingredient.
Foods that provide Vitamin B6 include:
Most people are unlikely to be deficient in Vitamin B6. In fact, some experts worry many people may be getting too much. Bearing in mind how popular energy drinks are, this is not surprising.
The chances of Vitamin B6 deficiency increase as you age.
This is something older people may need to bear in mind. Symptoms of Vitamin B6 deficiency include lack of energy, muscle pains, anemia, and mental confusion.
Vitamin B7 is also called Vitamin H but it’s more commonly known as biotin.
It’s a coenzyme for the carboxylation of enzymes and is necessary for the smooth synthesis of fatty acids, protein, and carbohydrates.
Biotin also aids digestive and cardiovascular activity, but people who take biotin supplements often do so because it’s associated with healthy, skin, nails, and hair.
Biotin providing foods include:
- Egg yolks
- Sweet potatoes
It’s rare for anyone living in developed countries to become biotin deficient.
This is a good thing because left untreated, a lack of this important vitamin can have fatal consequences.
There is an inherited condition called Biotinidase deficiency (BTD) that may interfere with the body’s ability to use biotin.
Fortunately, BTD is extremely rare. It only affects one in 60,000 newborn babies. BTD symptoms can include weak muscles, eczema, loss of hearing, and enlarged liver.
This B Vitamin also goes by then name folate (folic acid).
It plays an important role in red blood cell production and has crucial importance during early pregnancy because a deficiency increases the likelihood of birth defects.
Working together with Vitamins B6 and B12, folate helps control levels of homocysteine in the blood. If allowed to persist, elevated homocysteine levels increase the risk of coronary heart disease.
Foods that are high in folate include:
- Brussels sprouts
- Citrus fruits
Although anaemia is the condition most often associated with folate deficiency, a lack of this important vitamin can impair the health in a number of other ways.
Signs and symptoms of folate deficiency may include lack of appetite, weight loss, headaches, heart palpitations, weakness, and behavioral disorders.
Although Vitamin B12 is also known as cobalamin and methylcobalamin and has a number of other names, their use is rare.
Vitamin B12 is a coenzyme involved in the metabolism of all human cells and is important for DNA synthesis and the metabolism of fatty acids and amino acids.
It’s paired with Vitamin B6 is most brands of energy drink.
Foods that provide Vitamin B12 include:
- Fortified nutritional yeast
- Animal organs, including liver and kidneys
The body does not retain stores of Vitamin B12 for long, so levels need to be topped up regularly. The ability to absorb Vitamin B12 reduces with age and may also be hampered by the long-term use of antacids.
A number of medical conditions can also reduce Vitamin B12 absorption including atrophic gastritis and Crohn’s disease. As can a vegan diet. Symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency may include, fatigue, pale skin, shortness of breath, loss of vision, and heart palpitations.
NOTE: A further 17 substances were mistakenly classed as B vitamins in the past. This is why the above list does not contain vitamins B4, B8, B10, or B11.
People who are in good health, eating a balanced diet, and not abusing alcohol or using medications are unlikely to become deficient in Vitamin B, but certain health problems and other factors may necessitate the use of supplements.
Vitamin B RDA
|RDA/AI (Men)||RDA/AI (Women)||Max Dose|
|Vitamin B1||1.2mg||1.1mg||Not Established|
|Vitamin B2||1.3mg||1.1mg||Not Established|
|Vitamin B5||5mg*||5mg*||Not Established|
|Vitamin B7||30mcg*||30mcg*||Not Established|
|Vitamin B 12||2.4mcg||2.4mg||Not Established|
*Adequate Intake (AI) provided — RDA not established.
The fact that the maximum dose has yet to be established for the majority of B vitamins does not mean it is safe to overdo it with the vitamins in question. If supplements are being used, it is best to stick to the RDA/AI.
Supplement users will also need to bear in mind any vitamins they obtain from their supplements will be on top of those provided by their diet.
B Vitamin Side Effects
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Thiamine is not associated with side effects when taken by mouth.
When administered by injection, thiamine side effects include hives, itchy skin, coughing, difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing, inflammation of the face, lips, or eyelids.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Certain medications can increase riboflavin absorption and/or cause it to be retained in the body for longer than normal and build up.
Side effects are usually mild and include diarrhea, hives, swelling of the face, lips tongue, or throat.
Too much riboflavin may also cause your urine to become darker and/or interfere with your breathing.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Adding more niacin rich food to the diet is unlikely to cause problems.
The risk of side effects increases when niacin supplements are being used in high doses.
Especially by people who have pre-existing medical issues.
Niacin side effects may include, nausea, vomiting, skin rashes, dizziness, headaches, low blood pressure, and irregular heartbeat.
However, the most common reaction to high doses of niacin is a short-lived sensation called niacin flush, where the skin becomes red and warm flushes are experienced.
The condition is not dangerous. Some people even find it pleasurable.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
Pantothenic acid is not normally associated with side effects, but extremely high doses may cause diarrhea and present an increased risk of bleeding.
It may also interfere with the performance of certain drugs including the antibiotic, Tetracycline and some medications prescribed for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Some people who exceed the RDA for pyridoxine may experience side effects.
The most likely reactions are stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, headache, tingling sensations, and sleepiness.
Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
Biotin is not normally linked to side effects, but high doses have been known to cause misleading results in thyroid tests and mimic the laboratory pattern associated with Graves’ disease.
This may make biotin supplements unsuitable for people who are being treated for thyroid gland problems.
Vitamin B9 (Folate)
Although most people who are supplementing with folic acid don’t experience any negative reactions, side effects are not unheard of.
Possible folate side effects include gas, bloating, nausea, lack of appetite, insomnia, funny taste in the mouth, mood disorders.
Overly high doses of Vitamin B12 are associated with a number of side effects.
Possible side effects include:
- High blood pressure
- acne/skin rash
- Facial flushing
- Increased blood volume
- Decreased potassium levels
People who have gastrointestinal problems, heart concerns, high blood pressure, and certain other health issues will need to proceed with caution before overly increasing their intake of Vitamin B12. I
t’s also known to interact badly with certain medications.
A sufficient intake of B vitamins is necessary for good health.
Most people obtain a sufficient amount from their diets, but those who do not may experience a number of health issues including fatigue and anemia.
Certain B Vitamins can offer increased benefits when used in higher doses.
Vitamins B6 and B12 are prime examples. Their ability to boost energy has allowed them to become key energy drink ingredients.
Niacin is also a valued supplement ingredient that’s often included in bodybuilding formulations and products intended to increase HGH production.
However, overly high doses of any vitamin have the potential to cause side effects.
The risk increases when there are pre-existing health issues and when medication is in use.
Anyone who is worried they may be vitamin deficient or has a specific reason for wanting to increase their daily intake of one or more vitamins would do well to play it safe and seek professional medical advice before doing so.