No two B vitamins have exactly the same function in the body. They are a group of water-soluble substances that they occur together in many foods and share many of the same body functions, working together synergistically. Amongst other things they are required for the maintenance of good mental health, a healthy nervous system and an efficient digestive system. The B Vitamins are:
Each separate member of the B complex is chemically different in composition and structure and has its own independent role to play.
The first three: thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2) and niacin are sometimes referred to collectively as ‘The Energy Vitamins’.
Pyridoxine (B6) is known as ‘The Anti-Depression Vitamin’.
Pantothenic acid (B5) is often called ‘The Anti-Stress Vitamin’.
Cyanocobalamin (B12) and folic acid are known as ‘The Anti-Anaemia Vitamins’.
There are other substances that are usually considered part of the B Vitamin family but are not true vitamins, they are: choline, inositol and orotic acid which are found in foods, but can also be made in the body in adequate amounts by healthy individuals. The other substance is para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) which is associated with bacteria formation in the lower gut.
Most of the B vitamins function in the body as a co-ordinated, efficient, synergistic group, necessary for health. They are water-soluble and with the exception of B12, are needed daily in the diet.
What about the missing numbers?
As vitamins were first discovered they were given a name or number. It was later realised that some had been duplicated or were not vitamins at all. For instance, adenine (B4) was identified, named and numbered and then later found to be adequately synthesized by the body and therefore not a vitamin.
Vitamins B7, B8 and B9 were found to be growth factors in micro-organisms, but of no benefit to man, while B10 and B11 were shown to be growth factors in chicks only. B14 was eventually found to be the same as B12.
All of the B complex vitamins, except are natural constituents of:
- brewer’s yeast
- meat and offal
- wholegrains and cereals
- green vegetables and dried fruits
- dairy produce
The B Vitamins are essential to convert food to energy and is vital for the metabolism of fats and proteins. Regular supplies of the B vitamins are also required for the efficient functioning of the brain and nervous system.
As a group, the B nutrients are collectively responsible for maintaining an efficient digestive system, ensuring that food, when eaten, is properly processed in the body and that nutrients are extracted and fully utilised. B vitamins also contribute to the health of the skin, hair, eyes, mouth and internal organs.
Haemoglobin, the red pigment in blood that carries oxygen to all the muscles and organs in the body, is also regulated by some of the B vitamins.
B vitamins combine readily with digestive juices and are absorbed easily into the system. The body tissues convert substances from the group into active forms with phosphate, in a process called phosphorylation. Every B vitamin is converted to some other form, called coenzymes.
Since B complex nutrients are water-soluble, any excess is excreted via the urinary tract and with the exception of Bl2, they must be continually replaced in the body.
B vitamins may be lost during cooking or food processing. Vitamins leach into the cooking water although some can be regained if the liquid is used in gravy or sauces.
Losses can also be brought about by the use of:
- Sleeping pills
- Contraceptive pill
All of these things can have the effect of depleting the body of B complex nutrients, decreasing their absorption or increasing their requirements. Frozen meat can lose B vitamin content in the water and blood which escapes during thawing.
As the B vitamins are water soluble and needed daily in significant amounts, foods containing B vitamins should be included at each meal.
B vitamin deficiency symptoms can continue for a long time before major outward signs are apparent.
Typical symptoms are tiredness, lethargy, nervous exhaustion, mild depression, irritability and mood changes including feelings of sadness. Physical signs can be hair loss or premature greying, flaking nails, poor skin texture, general appearance of poor health without vitality. Deficiency can be further marked by poor appetite, insomnia, anaemia or even constipation.
All of these very different signs can be due to insufficient dietary intake of B complex vitamins and can go unchecked and barely noticed, leaving the sufferer feeling run down and low for many months before help is sought.
Often when a supplement is taken for one symptom, a general overall health improvement is often experienced, since other deficiency problems may also exist unnoticed.