Vitamin B Complex Benefits

What are vitamin B complex benefits?  This article will answer that question and give you some other valuable tips, to boot....

One day soon, perhaps even now, you may be able to do an amusing experiment.  If you were to ask a recent graduate of health-sciences to tell you what are the vitamin B complex benefits, the reaction you could expect would be akin to picking a busy street in downtown Rome, Italy and asking directions in ancient Latin:  Chances are you'd see an expression on the other person's face of bewilderment.

The reason for this is that there really isn't any such thing as a B-complex vitamin but, instead a whole group of vitamins which have names that "begin" with "B" and the complex part comes from the fact that at one time--almost ancient history now--they were all called just vitamin B.  It wasn't until later that it was discovered that B was actually a group of eight different chemical compounds which usually were found together in the same foods.

The eight (original) B vitamins are

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin or niacinamide, sometimes also known as vitamin PP)
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine, pyridoxal, or pyridoxamine, or pyridoxine hydrochloride)
  • Vitamin B7 (biotin)
  • Vitamin B9 (folic acid)
  • Vitamin B12 (various cobalamins; commonly cyanocobalamin in vitamin supplements)

The Vitamin B Complex Benefits

This group of vitamins, or the B-complex together:

  • Support and increase the rate of metabolism
  • Maintain healthy skin and muscle tone
  • Enhance immune and nervous system function
  • Promote cell growth and division, including that of the red blood cells that help prevent anemia
  • Reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer, one of the most lethal forms of cancer, when consumed in food, but not when ingested in vitamin tablet form.

All B vitamins are water-soluble, and are dispersed throughout the body. Most of the B vitamins must be replenished regularly, since any excess is excreted in the urine.

Deficiency problems

Perhaps one of the most telling indications that there is really no such thing as a B-complex are the various distinct problems which occur when only one of these vitamins is missing in a person's regular diet.

  • Vitamin B1 or thiamine:
    • Deficiency causes beriberi. Symptoms of this disease of the nervous system include weight loss, emotional disturbances, Wernicke's encephalopathy (impaired sensory perception), weakness and pain in the limbs, periods of irregular heartbeat, and edema (swelling of bodily tissues). Heart failure and death may occur in advanced cases. Chronic thiamine deficiency can also cause Korsakoff's syndrome, an irreversible psychosis characterized by amnesia and confabulation.
  • Vitamin B2 or riboflavin:
    • Deficiency causes ariboflavinosis. Symptoms may include cheilosis (cracks in the lips), high sensitivity to sunlight, angular cheilitis, glossitis (inflammation of the tongue), seborrheic dermatitis or pseudo-syphilis (particularly affecting the scrotum or labia majora and the mouth), pharyngitis, hyperemia, and edema of the pharyngeal and oral mucosa.
  • Vitamin B3 or niacin:
    • Deficiency, along with a deficiency of tryptophan causes pellagra. Symptoms include aggression, dermatitis, insomnia, weakness, mental confusion, and diarrhea. In advanced cases, pellagra may lead to dementia and death.
  • Vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid:
    • Deficiency can result in acne and paresthesia, although it is uncommon.
  • Vitamin B6 or pyridoxine:
    • Deficiency may lead to microcytic anemia (because pyridoxyl phosphate is the cofactor for heme synthesis), depression, dermatitis, high blood pressure (hypertension), water retention, and elevated levels of homocysteine.
  • Vitamin B7 or biotin:
    • Deficiency does not typically cause symptoms in adults but may lead to impaired growth and neurological disorders in infants. Multiple carboxylase deficiency, an inborn error of metabolism, can lead to biotin deficiency even when dietary biotin intake is normal.
  • Vitamin B9 or folic acid:
    • Deficiency results in a macrocytic anemia, and elevated levels of homocysteine. Deficiency in pregnant women can lead to birth defects. Supplementation is often recommended during pregnancy. Researchers have shown that folic acid might also slow the undesirable effects of age on the brain.
  • Vitamin B12 or cobalamin:
    • Deficiency results in a macrocytic anemia, elevated homocysteine, peripheral neuropathy, memory loss and other cognitive deficits. It is most likely to occur among elderly people, as absorption through the gut declines with age; the autoimmune disease pernicious anemia is another common cause. It can also cause symptoms of mania and psychosis. In rare extreme cases, paralysis can result.

The sources of B vitamins

Processing tends to significantly reduce B vitamin content so if you wish to get the best vitamin B complex benefits the best sources are whole, unprocessed foods.  

They are concentrated in meat and meat products such as liver, turkey, and tuna.

Other good sources for B vitamins include:

  • potatoes
  • bananas
  • lentils
  • chile peppers
  • tempeh
  • beans
  • nutritional yeast
  • brewer's yeast
  • molasses.

It is interesting to note that although the yeast used to make beer might result in beer being a source of B vitamins,their bioavailability ranges from poor to negative becuse  ethanol is known to inhibits the absorption of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, biotin,and folic acid. In fact, there is reason to believe that high consumption of beer results in a net deficit of B vitamins. (Sorry, beer-lovers!)

Vitamin B12 is a special case since it is not found in plants and thus makes B12 deficiency a concern for vegans.

Supplements to get Vitamin B complex benefits

A popular means of increasing vitamin B intake is through  dietary supplements. B vitamins are also commonly added to energy drinks and many energy drinks have been marketed, some with large amounts of B vitamins as much as 8333% of the RDA! This may sound good for marketing but excessive B vitamins are quickly eliminated from the body through urine so such exaggerated amounts may not provide any real benefits.

A carefully forumulated balanced supplement such as Total Balance combined with a sensible healthy diet is likely to produce more of the vitamin B complex benefits except in special cases, such as women with a neural tube defect who wish to become pregnant, and other persons with specific conditions for which a doctor is likely to prescribe special doses.  These situations are best attended to by a health-care professional.

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