One that all consumers know of today, B vitamins, or vitamin B complex are a class of water-soluble vitamins that are important primarily for cell metabolism. There are eight B vitamins, and each is either a cofactor for key metabolic processes, or a precursor needed to make one. They also have their own unique functions and benefits on bodily health.
Understanding B Vitamins And Benefits
The discovery of vitamin B came at a time when the term ‘vitamin’ was first coined. That was in 1912, when Casimir Funk, a Polish biochemist found that persons who ate brown rice were less susceptible to beriberi than those who ate only the fully milled product. Successful extraction of the responsible amine substance led him to call it the ‘vital amine,’ which in 1920 was renamed vitamin B by British biochemist Jack Cecil.
As vitamin B was studied extensively over time, eight types of vitamin B have been categorised: B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12. It is interesting to note that other substances thought to be a part of this complex had once been given vitamin numbers, but on further research, were discovered to be either not essential for life or manufactured by the body— two qualifiers for a vitamin. This explains the gaps in the numbering for B vitamins.
Today, vitamin B can still be similarly found in brown rice as it was first discovered, as well as in other whole, unprocessed carbohydrates. They can also be found in meat such as turkey, tuna, and liver, or in potatoes, bananas, chili peppers, tempeh and molasses. Dairy products such as eggs, milk and cheese are also sources of B vitamins.
B vitamins are essential to daily life as aforementioned, as they are key to cell metabolism. They therefore are required to convert our foods into energy, build up our immune system, help us avoid anaemic conditions, enable healthy skin and hair, and prevent memory loss or cognitive conditions. Of course, not all B vitamins offer all these benefits; each have their own individual advantages.
Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, is a coenzyme in the catabolism of sugars and amino acids. This means it plays a primary role in the generation of energy from carbohydrates. It also helps the body to make new cells, and is commonly known as an anti-stress vitamin because it can help to build up the immune system. Thiamine can be found in whole grains, peanuts, and vegetables such as beans, spinach or kale.
Deficiency in this vitamin can cause beriberi, which can affect the peripheral nervous system (dry beriberi), the cardiovascular system (wet beriberi), or the digestive system (gastrointestinal beriberi) and other bodily systems. Children also can be diagnosed with infantile beriberi if they are children of affected mothers.
To date, thiamine has been used to treat people with heart disease, metabolic disorders, sores, cataracts and glaucoma, and motion sickness. To support their use in these treatments, there has been extensive research done on vitamin B1 and the benefits it can provide.
Research published by the Vietnamese American Medical Research Foundation for example, suggested that thiamine can improve the cognitive function of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Also, other research has found that it can strengthen the immune system and improve the body’s ability to control mood and physiological impairments due to stress.
Vitamin B2 is known as riboflavin, and acts as a precursor for flavoprotein enzyme reactions, including the activation of other vitamins. This variation of vitamin B works as an antioxidant and helps to counter free radicals in the body, and is also thought to prevent early ageing and the development of heart disease. Ribofl avin can be found in almonds, dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and eggs, and vegetables such as brussel sprouts, spinach, and soy beans.
Deficiency in riboflavin can result in stomatitis (the inflammation of mouth and lips), and since riboflavin is important for red blood cell production, low ribofl avin levels would interfere with iron absorption, increasing risk for anaemia.
Through research, riboflavin has been found to be important for eye health. University of Michigan researchers reported that the vitamin is needed to protect an important antioxidant in the eye, glutathione. The US National Library of Medicine also reported that a diet high in ribofl avin can lower risk of developing cataracts.
Other studies also suggest the vitamin’s help with solving migraine issues. For example, one by the department of neurology of Humboldt University of Berlin revealed that individuals suffering from migraines who took high doses of ribofl avin had fewer migraines following this increased intake.
Vitamin B3, or niacin or nicotinic acid, acts as a precursor for coenzymes nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate, which are involved in many metabolic processes such as those involving energy transfer reactions, like the metabolism of glucose, fat and alcohol. Niacin has also been found to boost high-density lipoproteins (HDL), also known as the good cholesterol. It can be found in yeast, red meat, dairy products, beans, and green vegetables.
Without B3, one is prone to pellagra, a disease classically described with three typical symptoms: diarrhoea, dermatitis and dementia.
Recent research has found that a high dose of vitamin B3 can prevent up to a quarter of non-melanoma skin cancers. Having been long suspected by scientists and dermatologists that it might play a role, the study conducted by University of Sydney was successful in proving that. Specifi cally, they found that nicotinamide, the active form of B3, is particularly helpful in skin cancer prevention.
Vitamin B5, also known as pantothenic acid, is a precursor of coenzyme A, which metabolises many molecules such as fatty acids, amino acids, cholesterol, and antibodies. It also plays a role in the production of sex and stress-related hormones, and is needed for growth.
Small amounts of pantothenic acid can be found in almost every food group, which leaves less chance for one to be B5 defi cient. Stronger sources for the vitamin include avocados, broccoli, kale, dairy products, organ meat and legumes.
Defi ciency in pantothenic acid can result in acne, or less commonly paresthesia (tingling or prickling sensations on the skin with no apparent physical cause).
Vitamin B5 has been found to be able to help lower cholesterol, according to a study by researchers at the Princeton Longevity Centre in New Jersey. Supplements of pantethine, a form of vitamin B5, was found to have reduced total cholesterol and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol in participants with low to moderate cardiovascular risk.
Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, is a coenzyme in many metabolic reactions involving amino acids, and the biosynthesis of neurotransmitters, chemicals which carry signals from one nerve cell to another. It plays an important role in mood and sleep patterns because it enables the production of serotonin, melatonin and norepinephrine, a stress hormone.
It can be found in meats such as chicken and turkey, fish like tuna and salmon, vegetables such as lentils, sunflower seeds and carrots, as well as non-citrus fruit, brown rice and cheese.
Deficiency in this B vitamin can cause ailments such as pink eye, anaemia, itchy rashes, neurological conditions such as epilepsy, or seborrhoeic dermatitis-like eruptions.
Vitamin B6 has been found by several studies to be able to help reduce morning sickness in pregnant women, and can also support brain development and immune function in infants. Other studies have also suggested that vitamin B6 can reduce symptoms of depression, improve premenstrual syndrome symptoms, or even rheumatoid arthritis, but more research on these need to be conducted in order to conclude these results definitely.
Vitamin B7, or biotin, is a coenzyme for carboxylase enzymes which are required for the synthesis of fatty acids, and the metabolism of lipids, proteins and carbohydrates. It is also known as a beauty vitamin because of its association with healthy hair, skin and nails. Biotin can be found in meats such as liver, pork and chicken, in fish, eggs, and nuts, and in vegetables such as potatoes, cauliflower and barley.
Possessing a deficiency in B7 may lead to impaired growth and neurological disorders in infants.
Studies have suggested that biotin can aid in the treatment of diabetes. One such study by Alpha Therapy Centre found that taking B7 with chromium picolinate improved glucose metabolism in patients with type 2 diabetes, and another found that high doses of the vitamin was helpful in the treatment of peripheral neuropathy, which is a symptom of diabetes.
Vitamin B9, also known as folate or folic acid, is a precursor required for the making, repair and methylation of DNA. It also is important in aiding rapid cell division and growth such as in infancy and pregnancy. Folate can be found in fortified foods like cereal and bread, or they can be naturally found in dark leafy greens, asparagus, root vegetables, beans, salmon, or milk.
Deficiency in folic acid can cause macrocytic anaemia, and for pregnant women, it can lead to birth defects.
Research on folate has led researchers from Shanghai Second Medical University to suggest that it can be helpful in the prevention of gastric cancers, and also in the treatment of atrophic gastritis through the prevention or reversal of precancerous lesions. In addition, a study by the Department of Internal Medicine and Geriatrics in Italy suggested that folate can prevent or delay cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
Other studies have also hinted at some association between the vitamin and reducing risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease, but no conclusive evidence has been found yet.
Vitamin B12, known most commonly as cobalamin, cyanocobalamin or methylcobalamin, is a coenzyme involved in the metabolism of every cell of the human body, including that of fatty acid and amino acid. It is also required for the production of blood cells in the bone marrow, and for nerve sheaths and proteins.
Vitamin B12 is the only variation of the vitamin that cannot be found in plant sources; red meat, dairy products, or fish and shellfish are good sources of the vitamin. It is therefore this that puts strict vegetarians at a higher risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, due to their non-consumption of any meat or dairy products.
Deficiency in the vitamin has been shown to lead to macrocytic anaemia and abnormal mental symptoms, including memory loss, cognitive deficits, vision problems, or even psychological problems.
Despite the vitamin’s association with the amino acid homocysteine, and the consequent belief that it can therefore improve dementia, heart disease, cognitive impairment and depression, no conclusive evidence has been found for these as of yet.
Fortifying With Vitamin B
Other than the abovementioned foods that include the different variations of the vitamin, consumers typically take supplements as an easier and more convenient mode of ensuring a regular and sufficient intake of individual vitamins, including vitamin B. However, even for those who do not actively consume supplements or specific foods for vitamin B, there are always other options available to get one’s daily intake of the vitamin.
Today, manufacturers are fortifying all types of foods with vitamins and minerals for several reasons. This can be to boost nutritional intake of micronutrient-deficient populations, improve overall nutritional intake of general consumers who might possess poor eating habits, or enhance the appeal of their products to consumers with claims of ‘healthier,’ ‘with added nutrients,’ or the like.
Vitamin B12 in particular is popular on the list of vitamins to fortify foods with, largely because of the vegan and vegetarian population. Available already today are vitamin B12- fortified non-dairy products such as yogurts, breakfast cereals, spreads, yeast extracts, or nutritional yeast products. There are even grain products (breads, pasta, flour) and alternative meats that have been fortified with the vitamin, not only B12, but the other variations too.
With an increasing awareness of the importance of health and having a healthy lifestyle, more consumers are also engaging in sports or recreational activities, and looking for healthier, refreshing, and innovative beverages with added benefits. To meet their demands, manufacturers have also fortified beverages with vitamins, including vitamin B. These have come in the form of carbonated water, soft drinks, enhanced water, fruit juice, and more.
Specifically, energy drinks are catching the eyes of more consumers as they suit both athletes and the average consumer alike, and these are available as a variety of products: juice, milk, coffee, or protein shakes or waters.
Further, on top of the wide range of enhanced beverages, these also come in all sorts of flavours and sizes, fit for consumer consumption on-the-go.
With such variety of foods and beverages available that are fortified with the essential vitamins and minerals, consumers’ health is in the safe hands of manufacturers, who will no doubt continue to innovate and come up with more intriguing and health-benefiting products for consumers.