B vitamins are essential. They’re basically the Avengers of vitamins.
Your bod needs all eight to stay in tip-top shape. And, each provides its own special benefits to keep you healthy and happy. Here’s how they work.
Some B vitamins have shared functions — for example, most of them help convert food into energy. But each B vitamin also has a unique and crucial role. Vitamin B complex does everything from boosting brain function to supporting a healthy immune system.
FYI: B vitamins are water-soluble, which means they can’t be stored in your bod. You have to replenish your supply on the daily.
Here’s the lowdown on all eight B vitamins.
Vitamin B1: Thiamin
Thiamin is necessary for the growth and development of cells. You need it for energy production and a healthy nervous system.
Vitamin B2: Riboflavin
Riboflavin helps break down nutrients from food so your bod can use them. It also works with folate, B12, B6, and choline to keep your levels of homocysteine (an amino acid) in check. High homocysteine levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
Vitamin B3: Niacin
Niacin helps produce sex and stress hormones. It also builds and repairs DNA 🧬. It even acts as an antioxidant to help keep inflammation levels low.
Vitamin B5: Pantothenic acid
Pantothenic acid is super important for the production of energy, hormones, and cholesterol. You need cholesterol for vital things like hormone production and synthesizing vitamin D from the sun 🌞.
Vitamin B6: Pyridoxine
Your bod needs vitamin B6 to create neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals help you feel good.
B6 is also important for the production of hemoglobin, which helps oxygen travel to your cells. And, like riboflavin, B6 helps regulate homocysteine levels and keeps inflammation levels down.
Vitamin B7: Biotin
Biotin is best known for keeping hair, skin, and nails on point. A biotin deficiency can lead to brittle nails and thinning hair. But TBH, there’s no strong evidence that biotin supplements are beneficial if your levels are already healthy.
Biotin also helps you metabolize carbs and fats.
Vitamin B9: Folate
Folate supports red blood cell production, healthy cell growth and function, and DNA synthesis.
Vitamin B12: Cobalamin
Vitamin B12 is necessary for red blood cell formation, DNA synthesis, and healthy brain function.
B vitamins, assemble! You need this team of vitamins for:
- neurological development and brain function
- sex- and stress-related hormone production
- healthy immune system function
- healthy skin, hair, nails, and eyes
- proper nervous system function
- cell growth and development
- red blood cell production
- a healthy digestive tract
- energy production
- liver function
Vitamin B complex benefits for women
Everyone needs all the B vitamins, but women should pay special attention to folate, B6, and B12. These are particularly important if you’re preggo or breastfeeding. Vitamin B complex supports healthy fetus growth and development.
It may also make your monthly cycle more manageable. A 2011 study found that thiamin and riboflavin intake from food could reduce PMS symptoms. Some research also suggests vitamin B6 supplements can help alleviate the physical and emotional symptoms of PMS.
Vitamin B complex benefits for men
Just like women, men need B vitamins to be healthy. There have been some claims that B vitamins might help increase testosterone levels and possibly help build muscle, but there isn’t enough solid research to prove this.
Men and women need roughly the same amounts, but age, medical conditions, pregnancy, and diet can also affect how much you need.
This chart outlines the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for each of the B vitamins according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements.
|B1 (thiamin)||1.2 milligrams (mg)||1.1. mg||1.4 mg||1.4 mg|
|B2 (riboflavin)||1.3 mg||1.1 mg||1.4 mg||1.6 mg|
|B3 (niacin)||16 mg||14 mg||18 mg||17 mg|
|B5 (pantothenic acid)||5 mg||5 mg||6 mg||7 mg|
|B6 (pyridoxine)||1.3 micrograms (mcg)||1.3 mg||1.9 mg||2 mg|
|B7 (biotin)||30 mcg||30 mcg||30 mcg||35 mcg|
|B9 (folate)||400 mcg||400 mcg||600 mcg||500 mcg DFE|
|B12 (cobalamin)||2.4 mcg||2.4 mcg||2.6 mcg||2.8 mcg|
Breastfeeding or pregnant people
You might need an extra boost of B if your eggo is preggo or if you’re breastfeeding. Folate, B6, and B12 are essential for fetus growth. Studies have shown that they help develop the brain and spinal cord.
Getting extra biotin is also uber-important. Biotin needs increase during breastfeeding.
Older folks might have a harder time absorbing vitamins, because they tend to produce less stomach acid. Appetite also tends to diminish as people get older. Both of these factors can have a significant effect on B vitamin levels.
Vegetarians and vegans
Vegans and vegetarians should be extra mindful of their vitamin intake. Research has shown that it’s harder to get enough of certain B vitamins through a plant-based diet. Make sure you get enough fortified foods or supplements to keep your levels in check.
Several medical conditions and procedures may prevent proper absorption of some B vitamins. These include:
- celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease
- ulcerative colitis
- alcohol dependence
- rheumatoid arthritis
- certain kidney conditions
- inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- gastric bypass surgery and other weight loss surgeries
If you have one or more of these conditions, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor. They can check your blood levels to see what’s up.
Some medications can block the absorption of B vitamins, putting you at a higher risk of deficiency. These include:
- certain types of chemotherapy and other cancer drugs
- long-term use of proton pump inhibitors
- some blood pressure medications
- medications for ulcerative colitis
- anti-seizure medications
- some antibiotics
- diabetes medications
Talk with your doctor if you’re taking any of these medications. They can help you figure out the best way to get enough vitamin B.
So, what’s the best way to get vitamin B through your food?
Organ meats are rich in B vitamins. But if you’re not a fan of liver and onions, you’re still in luck. There are tons of other options for all dietary needs.
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin). You can find thiamin in whole grains, meat, fish, fortified cereals, and fortified breads.
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin). If pâté isn’t your forte, you can opt for eggs, lean meats, milk products (like yogurt), fortified breads, and oatmeal.
- Vitamin B3 (niacin). In addition to organ meats, you can try beets, salmon, tuna, peanuts, and sunflower seeds. These choices rock the top of the niacin list.
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid). You’re prob getting enough B5 if you eat a variety of foods. Pantothenic acid is found in loads of veggies. Sweet potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, beans, and legumes are great choices. You can also nosh on nuts, fish, shellfish, dairy, and eggs.
- Vitamin B6. Eat a rainbow 🌈 of foods for a healthy dose of B6. Opt for tuna, salmon, chicken, chickpeas, dark leafy greens, bananas, papaya, oranges, and cantaloupe. Eating these foods is the best way to keep B6 levels in the green zone.
- Vitamin B7 (biotin). Red meat, eggs, oysters, seeds, nuts, salmon, avocado, and wheat bran are great sources of biotin.
- Vitamin B9 (folate). Pack your plate with plenty of beans, peas, lentils, beets, avocado, wheat germ, and leafy greens (like spinach, kale, and arugula).
- Vitamin B12. B12 is the only B vitamin found almost exclusively in animal products like fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy. Breads, breakfast cereals, nutritional yeast, and some other plant-based foods can be fortified with B12, but the amounts may vary greatly.
Most folks get enough B vitamins through a healthy diet, but others may need a B complex supplement to keep their levels in check.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women, older adults, and those on restrictive diets (like vegan or vegetarian) may benefit from taking a supplement. Vegans and vegetarians should pay extra attention to their B12 intake.
The most common B vitamin deficiencies are:
- vitamin B6
- vitamin B12
In some cases, your doc might suggest a vitamin B12 shot. These are usually given to peeps who have a malabsorption issue. The shots can only be prescribed by a doctor.
Choosing the right supplement
Look for vitamin B supplements that have been tested and approved by an independent third party.
Look for certifications from:
- Consumer Lab
- The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF)
- The United States Pharmacopeial Convention (USP)
Keep in mind that these certifications don’t 💯 guarantee safety or effectiveness for everyone. That’s why you should always ask your doctor before adding a supplement to your daily routine.
Even in high doses, B vitamins are relatively safe because they’re water-soluble (which means you pee out the extra that your body can’t use).
But taking excessive amounts of certain B vitamins can lead to serious side effects. Too much niacin can cause vomiting and liver damage in extreme cases. And taking very high doses of B6 can lead to nerve damage.
This is why it’s super important to take only high quality supplements under the direction of your doc.
Get in touch with your healthcare pro ASAP if you’re taking a vitamin B supplement and notice any of these symptoms:
- increased urination
- abdominal cramps
- excessive thirst
- blurry vision
So, do you really need all the B vitamins? Yes x 8! Vitamin B complex supports hundreds of functions that keep you movin’ and groovin’ all day long. While deficiencies aren’t common, folate, B6, and B12 are the three nutrients to keep your eye on.
If you maintain a healthy, balanced diet, you should be good to go. But if you think you might “B” deficient, check in with your doctor. They can assess your levels and help you find a solution if necessary.