Why are B vitamins important to us?

Have you ever wondered why all doctors advise you to have a “balanced” diet? Maybe your favorite dish is rice and vegetables. Both rice and vegetables are especially useful foods for the body. But why can’t we live only “on” them?

The reason is that the essential nutrients for maintaining good health do not come only from one or several types of food, but from a variety of foods. B vitamins that are crucial for maintaining the health and energy level of cells are a good example of this. Some of them are most common in cereals, some in animal foods, others in fresh vegetables or fruits.

Each B vitamin performs different functions in the body

Certain groups of people, such as pregnant women or the elderly, for example, have higher needs for certain types of B vitamins. Some diseases, such as Crohn’s disease, HIV, celiac disease, alcoholism, and others, can result in poor absorption of B vitamins.

Symptoms of deficiency vary depending on which vitamin B you are deficient in. They range from fatigue and confusion to anemia, compromised immunity, and even severe neurological disorders. Skin rashes may also occur.

A brief overview of the types of vitamin B, what is their function, in which products are most common, and why they are essential:

Vitamin B1 (thiamine) and vitamin B2 (riboflavin)

Function: These two vitamins help the part of the metabolism called catabolism, ie the conversion of food into energy for the body. Vitamin B1 is also good for the nervous system, and vitamin B2 is important for eye health.

Where do we get them: Most people get vitamin B1 at breakfast, ie through cereals. Riboflavin, on the other hand, can usually be found in:

• Whole grain foods

• Milk

• Eggs

• Green vegetables

Deficiencies of these vitamins are very rare: Lack of thiamine and riboflavin is generally not a problem in the developed world. This is to be expected, given the foods in which they are found. But problems with these vitamins can occur in people who have a problem with alcohol, due to their poor absorption. The most common symptoms of vitamin B deficiency are confusion and cracks in the ends of the mouth.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

Function: This vitamin also helps convert food into energy. Also, it contributes to proper digestion and appetite.

Sources of this vitamin:

• Whole grains

• Fish

• Peanuts

• Mushrooms

• Wholemeal rice

• Peas

• Potatoes

Deficiency: Deficiency of this vitamin can cause digestive problems, abdominal pain, cramps, and vomiting. Larger deficiency can also cause mental disorders.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)

Function: This vitamin also helps convert food into energy. It can also help fight infections. Pregnant and lactating women have additional needs for it, due to the normal development of the baby’s brain.

Sources of this vitamin in food :

• chickpeas

• tuna

• whole grains

• watermelon

• potatoes

• spinach

The deficiency of this vitamin can cause anemia, skin diseases, depression, confusion, anemia, and greater susceptibility to infections.

Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)

Function: Folic acid has many important functions in the body. It supports cell division, DNA production, and its deficiency can be especially dangerous in pregnant women. Also, like most vitamins in this group, it supports the construction of red blood cells.

Food sources :

• Whole grains

• Citrus fruits

• Fish

• Legumes

• Green, leafy vegetables

Folic acid deficiency can lead to anemia and diarrhea. As we have said, it can be especially dangerous for pregnant women, ie for their newborns. Namely, several studies indicate that B9 deficiency can cause serious neurological disorders in newborns.

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)

Function: Very important role in regulating the nervous system. Also a significant role in the process of growth and formation of red blood cells.

Food sources: This vitamin is mainly found in animal foods, ie meat, and milk. Thus, anyone with a strict vegan diet may be at risk for deficiencies. The only other source of this vitamin is fortified foods or supplements.

Risk of Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Deficiency can lead to dementia, paranoia, depression, and mood swings. The neurological damage that could potentially occur could not be overcome afterward.

The most common symptoms of a vitamin deficiency are:

• extreme fatigue

• weakness

• depression

• tingling in the arms or legs

How to prevent deficiency?

To stay healthy, most people do not need supplementation to get adequate amounts of B vitamins.

This is the case, as long as you stick to a balanced diet, ie a diet that includes everything that is considered healthy food.

But sometimes supplementation is necessary. It should be used only after consulting a doctor. The risk groups that could be deficient in B vitamins are most often pregnant women and people over 50 years.

The risk of supplementing with these vitamins is low because they are water-soluble (the body has a low ability to store them). However, supplements, in the long run, especially in combination with some other medications, can create serious side effects, such as:

• vomiting

• nerve damage

• high blood sugar

• liver damage

• skin damage

If you suspect a lack of B vitamins, consult your doctor. There are tests that can determine this condition.

Recommended daily intake for B vitamins

For male and female adults, the recommended intake for B vitamins is as follows: 

  • Vitamin B1 ( thiamine) : 1.15mg 
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) : 1.2mg 
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin) : 14mg 
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) : 5mg (No exact or adequate amount determined) 
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) : 1.3mg 
  • Vitamin B7 (biotin) : 30mcg 
  • Vitamin B9 (folic acid) : 400mcg 
  • Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) : 2.4mcg

As to why vitamin B17 does not exist… 

The substances laetrile or amygdalin are sold under the name B17. But those substances are NOT vitamins and the body does not need them. They are called “vitamins” to make them sound more natural and easier to sell.