B vitamins are the catalytic spark plugs of the human body. They function as catalysts in many biochemical reactions that are essential to health.
As a group, they are named the B complex vitamins because they are found together in nature and are often needed together to perform best.
The best food source of B vitamins is brewer’s yeast. B’s are also found in the germ and bran of cereal grains and also in beans, peas, nuts, liver, eggs and dairy products.
B vitamins are all water soluble and are not stored very well in the body. Deficiencies of the B’s occur fairly easily, particularly if the diet contains substantial amounts of refined and processed food, sugar or alcohol.
B vitamins are also produced by the healthy bacteria in the intestinal tract. Any digestive upset such as food poisoning, diarrhea, or constipation signifies that B vitamin production is off. Antibiotics also kill this health promoting bacteria. Taking a probiotic supplement helps to replace this bacteria, thereby restoring B vitamin production.
The B vitamins are known for promoting proper functioning of the brain and nervous system. They help bring relaxation and energy to those who are stressed out and fatigued. B vitamins are also important to the health of the skin, hair, eyes and liver.
The well known B vitamins include B1, or thiamine which is essential for proper digestion and nerve function. Major indicators of deficiency include irritability, depression, apathy, and burning or tingling in the soles of the feet.
B2 is also known as riboflavin. It is important for energy. Symptoms of deficiency include eye problems, bloodshot eyes, cracks in the corners of the mouth, and dermatitis.
B3 is niacin. Niacin helps lower cholesterol and improve blood flow through the capillaries. Extreme redness and roughness of the skin is one of the first signs of niacin deficiency. Other symptoms of deficiency include canker sores, indigestion, weakness, memory loss and anxiety.
B5 is pantothenic acid and is closely associated with the function of the adrenal cortex. Symptoms of deficiency include fatigue, hypoglycemia, and increased allergy symptoms.
B6 is pyridoxine. B6 has a multitude of functions. It is especially important in the function of the central nervous system. Symptoms of deficiency include tremors, skin diseases, carpal tunnel syndrome, motion sickness, tendency towards fainting and arteriosclerosis. B6 is also very helpful in women for symptoms of fluctuating hormone levels.
Folic acid is B9. It is very closely linked to B12 or cobalamin. Both are important to energy and an overall feeling of wellbeing. Symptoms of deficiency include anemia, fatigue, general weakness, nerve problems and difficulty with muscular coordination.
There are several minor B vitamins. These include biotin, choline, PABA, and inositol.
While there are many B vitamins, only certain ones have been deemed essential to human health. Taking food source B vitamins and/or eating whole foods rich in B vitamins will assure complete B supplementation to help fill in the gaps not currently known or understood by our current level of science.
Margaret Durst is a naturopathic doctor who owns The Green House, a vitamin, herb and health food store in Mason, Texas. She is available for private consultation by appointment.