A Complete Guide to B Vitamins

What’s all the buzzzzzz about those Bs? Well, I’m referring to those good ‘ol B vitamins. The B group vitamins are a collection of eight water-soluble vitamins that are crucial for a variety of metabolic processes throughout the body. They do such things as: assist with red blood cell formation, help convert food into energy, maintain normal nervous system formation and function, as well as, being involved in skin and hair maintenance. Many of the B vitamin functions overlap, but some have more specific tasks. Let’s dive in and take a closer look at the various B vitamins and the roles they play.

  • B1 (thiamine) helps convert food into energy and plays a role in healthy nerve function.
  • B2 (riboflavin) is involved in energy production and aids in skin health.
  • B3 (niacin) assists with converting carbohydrates and fat into energy, helps maintain skin health, and supports nervous system health. Niacin can cause a flush or itching, but time release capsules can minimize or eliminate those effects.
  • B5 (pantothenic acid) helps metabolize carbohydrates, proteins, and fats and assists with healthy red blood cell production.
  • B6 (pyridoxine HCl) is also needed for protein and carbohydrate metabolism and the formation of red blood cells. It also promotes cardiovascular and nervous system health and helps maintain skin and hair health.
  • B7 (biotin) is needed for energy production, and it helps nourish hair, skin, and nails.
  • B9 (folic acid, folate, methyl folate) has a couple different forms. Folic acid is the form used in dietary supplements and food fortification. Folic acid promotes red blood cell production, promote healthy fetal development, and supports healthy nervous system function. Women of child-bearing age, if planning a pregnancy, should consider taking supplemental folate. A healthy diet with adequate folate may reduce a woman’s risk of having a pregnancy affected by spina bifida or other neural tube defects. It's important to note, excessive intakes of folic acid can mask a vitamin B12 deficiency, so it is best to consume the recommended amounts of both. Methyl folate is in an active, preconverted form that offers optimal bioavailibity over other forms. Some individuals have issues absorbing and utilizing folic acid and B-12; therefore, the methylated form is the best choice.
  • B12 (cyanocobalaminmethylcobalamin) promotes healthy energy production and nerve function. It's primarily found in meat, dairy, and eggs. Therefore, some vegetarians, and especially vegans, are more susceptible to vitamin B12 deficiency. B12 is also important to take as we age, as our ability to absorb it decreases. Research indicates that a combo of B6, B12, folic acid helps maintain normal blood levels of homocysteine, which plays an important part in maintaining cardiovascular health.

There are times when we may need more of one B vitamin, such as when we're pregnant, and other times that a B-complex vitamin will do. B-vitamins are water-soluble, and our body has limited capacity to store most; therefore, they need to be replenished daily, especially during times of excessive stress. B vitamins are best taken with a meal, but be sure to seek advice from your healthcare professional beforehand.