Vitamins are substances the body needs to grow and develop. They do not provide energy the way macronutrients do, which include carbohydrate, protein, and fat. But vitamins and minerals, also known as micronutrients, are extremely vital to health.
There are 13 vitamins essential vitamins, including the B vitamins. B vitamins are water-soluble, meaning the body uses them right away. What the body does not use, is excreted through the urine.
Ensuring adequate intake of the B vitamins allows the body to use energy along with other functions. There are different types of B vitamins to know, too.
But how much vitamin B is needed? And where can one obtain them from? Learn all about the B vitamins here!
Different Types of Vitamin B
In total, there are eight critical B vitamins and commonly known as the "vitamin B complex." They are responsible for unique functions, especially related to metabolic processes.
All recommended intakes, unless otherwise specified, are based on healthy adults ages 19 to 50. In general, though, lower requirements are needed during infancy and childhood. Higher intakes are needed during adulthood and in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)
Thiamin is involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, branched-chain amino acids, and fatty acids. Severe vitamin B1 deficiency can result in Beriberi, a condition in which a variety of body systems are affected. This include cardiovascular, nervous, muscular, digestive, and nervous systems.
Recommended intake: 1.2 milligrams (mg) per day for males and 1.1 mg per day for females
Food sources: oatmeal, brown rice, barley, black beans, nuts, beef, pork, pecans
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Along with the assisting in the metabolism of carbs, fats, and proteins, riboflavin also functions as an antioxidant. Simply put, antioxidants protect the body's cells against damage. Furthermore, vitamin B2 may maintain proper eyesight.
Recommended intake: 1.3 mg per day for males and 1.1 mg per day for females
Food sources: milk, beef, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, halibut, organ meats (such as kidney and liver), fortified cereals and grains
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Like riboflavin, niacin also has the functional capability of an antioxidant. Along with participating in carbohydrate, fat, and protein reactions, vitamin B3 also helps in alcohol metabolism.
Recommended intake: 16 mg per day for males and 14 mg per day for females
Food sources: liver, tuna, chicken, turkey, salmon, anchovies, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chickpeas, tofu, coffee, fortified pastas and cereals
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
Pantothenic acid participates in multiple life-sustaining reactions and is essential to all forms of life. Vitamin B5 may also improve the healing process of skin wounds.
Recommended intake: Evidence lacks on a known dietary requirement for B5. Instead, an Adequate Intake (AI) was established based on observation. This was determined based on nutrient estimates by a group of healthy people that are assumed to be adequate. For pantothenic acid, the AI is 5 mg per day for males and females
Food sources: beef liver, trout, pork tenderloin, sweet potatoes, avocados, eggs, peanuts, lentils, mushrooms, yogurt, sunflower seeds, oranges
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Vitamin B6 is involved in over 100 essential chemical reactions in the body. The vitamin works in part with hemoglobin and amino acid synthesis as well as fatty acid metabolism. Furthermore, it plays a vital role in hormone function, specifically with estrogen and testosterone.
Recommended intake: 1.3 mg per day for males and females
Food sources: fortified breakfast cereal, salmon, chicken, bananas, russet potato with skin, avocado, beef liver, brewer’s yeast, spinach, peanut butter
Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
Biotin is required by all living organisms but actually be created by certain types of bacteria, yeast, algae, mold, and plants. Vitamin B7 is involved in several processes. These include participating in the formation of glucose and breaking down a branched-chain amino acid.
Recommended intake: Like vitamin B5, evidence also lacks on a known dietary requirement for biotin. The AI is 30 micrograms per day for males and females
Food sources: egg yolk, avocado, salmon, milk cheese, cauliflower, almonds, pork, raspberries, yeast
Vitamin B9 (Folate)
Folate and folic acid are often used interchangeably. However, folate occurs naturally in foods while folic acid is the synthetic form found in fortified foods and supplements. Vitamin B9 is critical in the metabolism of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) and amino acids (AA). Amino acids are the building blocks of protein.
Folate is also extremely important in the prevention of neural tube and birth defects. Furthermore, a deficiency may lead to pernicious anemia.
Recommended intake: 400 micrograms per day for males and females
Food sources: beef liver, lentils, spaghetti, breakfast cereals, oranges, cantaloupes, kidney beans, lima beans, green leafy vegetables such as spinach
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Cobalamin is unique because it contains a metal ion, cobalt, and is essential in the role of folate metabolism. Vitamin B12 contributes to DNA and RNA regulation and red blood cell growth and development.
If deficient, pernicious anemia may arise just as in a folate deficiency. Pernicious anemia as an autoimmune inflammation of the stomach and results in the destruction of cells in the stomach's lining.
Out of the B vitamins, vitamin B12 is the only water-soluble vitamin that can be stored. Storage of the vitamin occurs in the liver for several years at a time.
Recommended intake: 2.4 micrograms per day for males and females
Food sources: present in animal products such as meat, poultry, fish and shellfish, with lesser amounts in dairy products and eggs
Vitamin B Benefits
Taken together, B vitamins are involved in critical processes that support energy production and a healthy metabolism.
Metabolism is rather complex, but is basically the physiology in which the body transforms calories from food into usable energy. The energy is used to carry out vital processes. These include moving the body, breathing in oxygen, circulating oxygenated blood, and growing and repairing cells each second.
B vitamins also show benefit to a number of health conditions and circumstances. These include:
• Prevention of migraines
• Lessen fatigue
• Boost mood and energy
• Reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety
• Speed up wound healing
• Protect from heart disease
• Improve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
• Augment athletic performance
• Treat mouth and canker sores
• Lessen alcohol withdrawal symptoms, including cravings
A well-balanced diet can help achieve all recommended B vitamin requirements. However, a vitamin B complex might be supplemented to fill in nutritional gaps. Some brands of B vitamins may also contain other nutrients, including vitamin C and zinc.
There are certain populations that may benefit most from a B complex supplement, including:
• Followers of a plant-based diet, including vegetarian and vegan, as vitamin B12 in particular is sourced from animal products
• Seniors aged 50 or older, who oftentimes have poorer appetites and lose their ability to absorb vitamin B12
• Individuals managing intestinal conditions, including Celiac and inflammatory bowel disease
• People with conditions that may compromise effective B vitamin utilization, including impairments of the liver, pancreas, and stomach
• Weight loss or bariatric surgery participants
• Those taking certain types of medications, including heartburn medications and oral contraceptives, as they can increase deficiency risk
• Babies who are strictly fed an animal-free diet or if a breastfeeding mom follows a vegan lifestyle without supplementing properly
Taking vitamin B complex is mostly considered to be safe. Normally, too, vitamin B toxicities are rare. Whatever the body does not use for reactions and processes, the body rids via urine.
However, WebMD warns potential side effects include a mild upset stomach or flushing. Rarer, yet severe risks include damage to the kidneys and nerve. There are additional precautions to consider, as B vitamins can interact with other medications.
Bottom line: Always consult with a primary care provider and pharmacist before taking any sort of supplement to verify their safety. They can also help identify a recommended dosage to meet personal needs.
Micronutrient Information Center. Linus Pauling Institute.