Vitamin B is a complex or a group of vitamins – B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12. The scientific names are thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, biotin, folic acid and cobalamin. The B vitamins are essential for growth, development and a significant number of bodily functions. They play a major role in enzymes and proteins that regulate chemical reactions in the body.
With the exception of folic acid, there is not enough scientific evidence to know whether or not the B vitamins can reduce the risk of cancer. Researchers do know that people who have a low intake of folic acid are added increased risk from certain types of cancers but there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that vitamin B is an effective treatment for people who already have cancer and high doses may increase the risk of cancer. (1,2)
Vitamin B1, thiamin, and vitamin B2, riboflavin, help the body to produce energy and affect the enzymes that influence muscles, nerves and the heart. Niacin has a role in energy production and pantothenic acid influences normal growth and development. Vitamin B6 helps the body to break down protein and maintain the health of the red blood cells and vitamin B7 helps break down protein and carbohydrates to make hormones. Folic acid plays an important role in maintaining DNA for both adults and the development of infants. Vitamin B12 has a part in producing red blood cells and in the function of the nervous system. (3)
People who suffer from a deficiency of specific B vitamins can experience anemia, tiredness, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, depression, numbness and tingling, muscle cramps, respiratory infections, hair loss, eczema and birth defects in the babies of pregnant women. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding require more folic acid.
Each of the B vitamins are water-soluble, which means that they are not stored in the body but excreted through the kidneys when an appropriate amount of vitamins has been reached. Most of the time this means that it’s very difficult to reach toxic levels. However, taking large doses of vitamin B can produce harmful effects. Vitamin B1, B2, B5, B7 and B12 have no known toxicity. Individuals who take too much niacin (B3) may see flushing of the skin accompanied by itching or mild burning sensation. Vitamin B6 can cause sensory neuropathy and dermatological lesions while vitamin B9 can lead to permanent neurological damage.
Most vitamin B’s are found in whole unprocessed foods. When foods are processed, such as with sugar or white flour, it tends to reduce the contents of vitamins. They are particularly concentrated in meats, potatoes, bananas, lentils, Chile pepers, beans, liver or turkey, tuna, brewers yeast and molasses. Vitamin B12 is sometimes deficient individuals who are vegetarians because it is not available from plants products.
A popular means of increasing vitamin B intake is through the use of nutritional supplements or multivitamins. Many manufacturers also added to energy drinks with claims that it will give the consumer enough energy to sail through the day without feeling jittery. Many nutritionists dismiss these claims as a brilliant marketing but without basis in fact. Because, while vitamin B will help improve energy, most Americans already get enough vitamin B from their diets.
Those individuals who may be deficient are the elderly and athletes who may need to supplement B12 and other B vitamins to make up for problems with absorption or increase needs of energy production. Women who are planning to become pregnant should also increase their daily dietary folic acid or take a supplement in order to reduce the risk of neural tube defects.
Each of the B vitamins play an integral role in the health and well-being of people. In fact, they are so important that many scientists and researchers are now finding that they play a significant role in many diseases and conditions such as Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stomach polyps, canker sores, alcoholic hepatitis, generalized anxiety, burning mouth syndrome, peripheral neuropathy, macrocytosis and premenstrual syndrome. (4)
Fortunately, most of us get enough vitamin B by eating a well-balanced diet. However, researchers from the Hope Heart Institute believe that up to 30% of those over 50 have lost their ability to absorb adequate amounts of vitamin B12. Most researchers recommend that older Americans eat fortified cereal or grains and take a daily vitamin supplement. (5)
So, while vitamin B supplements are water-soluble and most are excreted from the body when they are on used, it is best to speak with a dietitian, pharmacist or your primary care physician before adding an additional vitamin B supplement to your daily routine.
(1) American Cancer Society: Folic Acid
(2) University o Colorado Denver: High Doeses of Certain Dietary Supplements Increase Cancer Risk
(3) Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Chapter 3: Thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid and Biotin
(4) Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes
(5) Office of Dietary Supplements: B12