A Guide to the B Vitamins
This family of vitamins is made up of eight separate B vitamins. Although they are usually recognized as a group, and often work together in the body, each separate B vitamin performs its own unique and important functions. To help better understand each of the B vitamins, I have broken them down individually to explain each one’s value.
Thiamin, also known as vitamin B1, is needed to help produce cellular energy from the foods you eat, and also supports normal nervous system function. Some of the best sources of B1 coming from lentils, whole grains and pork, but can also be found in red meats, yeast, nuts, sunflower seeds, peas, milk, cauliflower, spinach and legumes.
Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, supports cellular energy production, and is found in a variety of foods such as fortified cereals, milk, eggs, salmon, beef, spinach and broccoli.
Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, also supports cellular energy production. When in the form of nicotinic acid, it helps support cardiovascular health. Food sources of niacin include beef, poultry and fish as well as whole wheat bread, peanuts and lentils.
Pantothenic Acid, also known as vitamin B5, as well supports cellular energy production. It is widely available in plant and animal food sources such as organ meats (liver, kidney), egg yolk, whole grains, avocados, cashew nuts, peanuts, lentils, soybeans, brown rice, broccoli, and milk.
Pyridoxine, also known as vitamin B6, is involved in over 100 cellular reactions throughout the body, vitamin B6 is instrumental in keeping various bodily functions operating at their best. It is also needed to metabolize amino acids and glycogen (the body’s stored form of glucose), and is necessary for normal nervous system function and red blood cell formation. It also supports adrenal function. Vitamin B6 is usually abundant in the diet and can be found in foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, bananas, fish, fortified cereal grains and cooked spinach.
Biotin, also known as vitamin B7, supports carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism. Biotin may also help support healthy hair, skin and nails. It is commonly found in foods such as brewer’s yeast, strawberries, organ meat, cheese and soybeans.
Folic Acid, also known as vitamin B9, is most commonly known for its role in fetal health and development during pregnancy, as it plays a critical role in the proper development of the baby’s nervous system. This important developmental stage occurs during the first initial weeks of pregnancy, so insuring adequate folic acid intake is especially important for all women of child-bearing age. Adequate folic acid may reduce a woman’s risk of having a child with a neural tube defect. Good food sources of this B vitamin are dark green leafy vegetables such as asparagus and spinach as well as brewer’s yeast, liver, fortified orange juice, beets, dates and avocados. Breads and cereals are fortified dietary sources of folic acid.
Cobalamin, also known as Vitamin B12, plays a critical role in the pathways of the body that produce cellular energy. It is also needed for DNA synthesis, proper red blood cell formation and for normal nervous system function. Individuals who follow vegan or vegetarian diets may benefit from a B12 supplement since it is predominantly found in foods of animal origin such as chicken, beef, fish, milk and eggs.
B vitamins can be taken individually or, combined in a B complex supplement. B vitamins are water soluble, which means they will dissolve and absorb in water, and, that any excess you take in will likely exit your body via your urine. This results in a minimal concern of taking in too much of it. If you are on any medications or have a current health condition, it is always recommended that you consult your doctor and/or pharmacist before you begin supplementing.
Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin that is also a powerful antioxidant. It is involved in reducing inflammation by fighting against free radical damage in our bodies. Vitamin A plays a critical role in maintaining healthy vision, neurological functions and healthy skin. It is also responsible for building strong bones and supporting immune function.
Vitamin A is found in two forms, active Vitamin A and beta carotene. Active Vitamin A comes from animal-based foods and is referred to as retinol. This form of Vitamin A can be used immediately by the body, so it does not need to first be converted. Beta carotene is the other form of Vitamin A. We can obtain this from colourful fruits and vegetables. Beta carotene needs to first be converted into active Vitamin A in order for the body to be able to utilize it.
It is recommend that we try to obtain our Vitamin A primarily by a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole foods whenever possible, rather than from supplements. Some of the best sources of Vitamin A include eggs, milk, liver, yellow and orange vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes and squash. It is also found in spinach, and other leafy greens.
High doses of vitamin A may actually do more harm than good. Consuming too much Vitamin A from supplementation alone, or in combination with other antioxidants, has been associated with birth defects, lower bone density, and liver problems. If you are planning on supplementing with this, first consult your doctor or pharmacist to insure that it is a safe supplement for you to consume and that it won’t conflict with any current medications you may be taking. Be sure to take lower doses and use supplements from food based sources.