Everything you need to know about the B vitamins

Diet


Emily Condon
BSc (Hons) Biological Sciences

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What are the B vitamins?

Altogether, there are 8 B vitamins, each with their own purpose and role within the body. The B vitamins are all water-soluble and crucial for cell metabolism, normal functioning of the central nervous system and the formation of red blood cells. All the B vitamins we need should be available through our diet. The B vitamins help with the converting food into fuel and metabolising fats and proteins. Thiamine (B1) in particular is crucial in forming adenosine triphosphate which all cells in the body need.

During pregnancy, vitamin B9 (folic acid) aids the proper development of the baby’s nervous system. Adequate folic acid levels may help to reduce a woman’s risk of having a child with a neural tube defect. Vitamin B12 is needed for DNA production, the normal functioning of the nervous system and the production of energy. 
 
How do we get the B vitamins?
 
The 8 different types of vitamin B all come from different food types. 

  • Vitamin B1 is found mainly in beef, pork, poultry and offal. Good amounts are also found in whole-grains, legumes and nuts.
  • Vitamin B2 is found in foods like almonds, whole-grains, mushrooms, certain dairy products, eggs, brewer’s yeast and some green vegetables.
  • Vitamin B3 is found in foods such as eggs, peanuts, fresh fruit and vegetables, red meat and fortified cereals. 
  • Vitamin B5 can be found in a wide variety of food types with rich sources including organ meats (liver, kidney, heart, brain), whole grain cereals, eggs, milk, vegetables and legumes. 
  • Vitamin B6 is found in foods including some meat, poultry, fish, seafood dairy, lentils, beans, carrots, spinach, bananas, brown rice and whole-grains.
  • Vitamin B7: Many foods contain biotin including legumes, lentils, eggs, organ meats (liver, kidney, heart, brain) and dairy products, including milk, cheese, and yoghurt.
  • Vitamin B9: Folate is found in a wide variety of foods such as cooked dried beans, peas, and lentils, spinach and asparagus as well as fortified foods such as breakfast cereals. 
  • Vitamin B12: is found in virtually all meat products and certain algae such as seaweed. Individuals who follow vegetarian or vegan diets may benefit from supplementing B12. Dried yeast flakes are rich in B12 and can be used in vegetarian/vegan recipes.

What are the symptoms of a vitamin B deficiency?
 
Symptoms of a deficiency depend on what type of vitamin B you lack. 

  • Vitamin B1: It is fairly rare to be deficient in B1, however more common in people with alcoholism, Crohns disease, anorexia or those undergoing dialysis. Symptoms include headaches, nausea, fatigue, depression and abdominal discomfort. It can also make digesting carbohydrates difficult leading to a host of other health problems.

 

  • Vitamin B2: Although rare, vitamin B2 deficiency can occur. Symptoms include anaemia, fatigue, slowed metabolism, nerve damage, a swollen tongue, mouth sores and cracks, skin inflammation, sore throat, swelling of the mucous membranes and changes in mood.

 

  • Vitamin B3: Although extremely rare, vitamin B3 deficiency can occur. Symptoms include fatigue, vomiting, disorientation, memory loss and swelling of the mouth. Strict vegetarians and vegans may be at risk of vitamin B3 deficiency.

 

  • Vitamin B5: symptoms of a vitamin B5 deficiency include burning feet, fatigue, insomnia, vomiting and respiratory infections.  

 

  • Vitamin B6: Although rare, a vitamin B6 deficiency can cause muscle weakness, nervousness, mood changes, difficulty concentrating and short-term memory loss.

 

  • Vitamin B7: Symptoms of a biotin deficiency include red rashes on the skin, brittle and dry hair, dry skin, nausea, fatigue and a burning sensation in the hands and feet.

 

  • Vitamin B9: folate is found in a wide variety of foods such as cooked dried beans, peas, and lentils, spinach and asparagus as well as fortified foods such as breakfast cereals. Patients who have had gastric bypass surgery are at a greater risk of a vitamin B9 deficiency. 

 

  • Vitamin B12: Low levels are seen in people with pernicious anaemia, an autoimmune disease which prevents the absorption of vitamin B12 or through dietary restriction e.g. a vegan diet. Patients who have had gastric bypass surgery are at a greater risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency.

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