The B-complex vitamins all play an important role in energy production and aid enzymatic reactions necessary for the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Without B vitamins, many of our bodily processes would shut down and we wouldn’t be able to function properly.
In total, there are 8 B-Vitamins. Here are the roles of each, and why they are so important:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
Food Sources: sunflower seeds, navy beans, black beans, barley, dried peas, green peas, lentils, pinto beans, lima beans, oats
Vitamin B1 aids regulation of our appetite and boosts energy. It also plays a key role in maintaining the structure and integrity of nerve cells in the brain.
Deficiency symptoms: dementia, disease of nervous system
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
Food Sources: tempeh, spinach, beet greens, cremini mushrooms, asparagus, almonds
Promotes healthy vision and skin, and aids in the production of red blood cells to help prevent anemia. Riboflavin also plays a major role in energy production, and assists other B-Vitamins like folate and vitamin B6 in this energy process as well. This B vitamin is also required to recycle the master antioxidant, glutathione, one of the most important antioxidants in the human body.
Deficiency symptoms: infections of the throat and mouth, sensitivity to light and irritable eyes
- Vitamin B3 (niacin)
Food Sources: chia seeds, brown rice, almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms (particularly portabella)
Found in every cell of the human body, niacin is necessary for healthy skin and muscle tissue. It promotes mental acuteness and assists in digestion of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Niacin is also used to synthesize starch to be stored in muscles and liver for later use as an energy source.
Deficiency symptoms: lesions of the skin or mouth, difficulty sleeping or sleep disorders
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
Food Sources: shittake mushrooms, white mushrooms, avocado, sunflower seeds, sweet potato, broccoli, lentils
Helps aid in food metabolism, regulates the nervous system and promotes healthy skin. Pantothenic acid gets incorporated into Coenzyme A (CoA), one of the most important chemicals needed to sustain life.
Deficiency symptoms: skin issues like acne
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
Food Sources: sweet potatoes, potatoes, sunflower seeds, bananas, spinach, walnuts, pistachios, prunes
Helps assist in the creation of serotonin, GABA and dopamine. Vitamin B6 is also involved in several of the steps involved in carbohydrate metabolism, and is required by heme (a key section of hemoglobin) for its production. Interestingly, lack of this vitamin is associated with chronic inflammation.
Deficiency symptoms: depression, skin issues (dermatitis), high blood pressure, anemia
- Vitamin B7 (biotin)
Food Sources: chard, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, carrots, almonds, cauliflower, strawberries, raspberries, onions, cabbage, cucumber, walnuts, oats
Aids in blood sugar balance and skin health. It plays an important role in fat and sugar metabolism, and is necessary to build healthy fats in the skin (one reason why lack of biotin can cause the skin to be flaky and irritated).
Deficiency symptoms: rashes, fine and brittle hair, total hair loss, anemia
- Vitamin B9 (folic acid)
Food Sources: spinach, leafy greens (cos or romaine lettuce), asparagus, lentils, avocado, broccoli, mango, oranges
Normalizes gestation during pregnancy and activates the sexual response. You will often hear that pregnant women should eat foods high in folic acid, or take a folic acid supplement to help prevent miscarriage and neural tube defects such as spin bifida. Folic acid also promotes heart health, and is important for preventing anemia and allowing the bowel to properly absorb nutrients.
Deficiency symptoms: birth defects, anemia
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
Food Sources: mushrooms, spirulina (controversy over whether B12 in these plant forms actually absorbs), nutritional yeast, supplementation (methylcobalamin form)
Helps us become emotionally stable and promotes weight loss. B12 is also required for manufacturing of red blood cells, normal functioning of nerve cells (and the manufacturing of myelin, an insulating material that covers some of our nerve cells), and replication of DNA.
Over 40% of the population is deficient in this vitamin, so it is important to get yourself checked. Not just vegans are deficient in B12 (if that was the case, then 40% of the population would be vegan, which is not the case). The intrinsic binding factor for B12 is often destroyed if we have a past of heavy alcohol use, antibiotic use, have undergone major surgeries, or consume(d) street drugs. I recommend taking a spray B12 (methylcobalamin – NOT cyanocobalamin which is poorly absorbed) that can rest sublingually under the tongue for 30-60 seconds.
Deficiency symptoms: shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, dementia, dizziness, fainting, trouble balancing, coldness or numbness in hands/feet, slow reflexes, sore mouth/tongue, yellowing of skin (jaundice)