All B vitamins are water soluble – i.e. the body does not retain them and excretes excess through the urine. Hence, we need to get our full complement of these vitamins either through a varied diet or through supplements. Vitamin B complex refers to all 8 B vitamins:
- Biotin – B7
- Folate – B9
- Niacin – B3
- Pantothenic acid – B5
- Riboflavin – B2
- Thiamine – B1
- Pyridoxine – B6
- Cobalamin – B12
Health benefits of vitamin B complex
The health benefits of vitamin B complex are vital for growth and development of humans, regulating the activities of all enzymes in the body and aid in protein production. Birth defects, various cancers and other illnesses can be prevented with proper intake of vitamin B complex.
Energy production : Health benefits of vitamin B complex are important for metabolism of body energy. They help with converting carbohydrates to glucose. They also help with processing of other types of fuel molecules that are used by the body immediately or stored and used later. Of the 8 B vitamins, B1, B2 and B3 are needed to produce energy using food sources. Vitamin B9 and B6 help in protein metabolism in the body and help the cells to absorb it. Vitamins B7 and B5 help in synthesis of fats and help with carbohydrate metabolism.
Health benefits for RBC : Certain B complex vitamins – B12, B9 and B6 are needed for the production of red blood cells. RBC carry oxygen throughout the body and a lack of vitamin B12 causes two types of anemia. The first is megaloblastic anemia caused due to a lack of B12 or B9 wherein large sized RBC are found in the body. The other is pernicious anemia that is caused due to B12 deficiency. This results in the body being unable to absorb B12 via the digestive tract. To treat pernicious anemia, B12 is given either as IM injections, intra-nasally or as supplements.
Benefits for the nerves : The health benefits of vitamin B complex are critical for optimal nerve cell functioning. Folic acid (vitamin B9) helps in nervous system development in infants. It is also required for good growth and development in babies. Due to its vital need in infants, many common foods like cereals and breads are fortified with folic acid so that women will get adequate quantities of this vitamin throughout their lives – not just when they are pregnant. Other vitamins critical for nerve cell functioning and formation are vitamins B12, B1 and B6.
Health benefits for metabolic activities : All metabolic activities of the body require the partaking of no less than one enzyme. Chemical reactions in the body are expedited through biological catalysts – enzymes. B complex vitamins are cofactors or coenzymes – i.e. they support the functioning of enzymes. For example according to the "The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy", pyridoxine – vitamin B6 – helps with the enzymatic reactions in the brain, skin and blood cells. This helps in the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
Overall health benefits : Vitamin B complex is required for maintaining the good health of skin, hair, eyes, immune system, liver, gastrointestinal tract and mucous membrane by reducing stress caused to all these parts of the body through wear and tear of tissues and cells. This wear and tear could be due to environmental stress, lifestyle or other illnesses.
Specific health benefits of each B vitamin
These are some of the specific health benefits of each vitamin in the B complex family for various critical body functions.
- Biotin – B7 – helps to break down carbohydrates and proteins. It helps the body manufacture hormones.
- Folate or folic acid – B9 – is vital for the manufacture of red blood cells because it helps the body cells produce and maintain DNA. It can also help prevent certain forms of cancer.
- Niacin – B3 – helps in the healthy maintenance of the digestive system, nervous system and skin for it has an important role to play in energy creation in cells.
- Pantothenic acid – B5 – helps optimal growth and development
- Thiamine – B1 and Riboflavin – B2 – help in the production of energy that affects enzymes and in turn influences the normal functioning of heart, nerves and muscles.
- Pyridoxine – B6 – is needed for good health of certain parts of the nervous and immune systems as it breaks down proteins and it is needed for healthy functioning of red blood cells.
- Cobalamin – B12 – also takes part in various body functions like growth, development, production of blood cells, influences the way carbohydrates and folic acid are used by the body, and it is needed for the optimal functioning of the nervous system.
Foods rich in Vitamin B complex
The health benefits of vitamin B complex can be got from various foods or supplements. Nutritionists suggest that 5 daily servings of fruits, vegetables and grains provide the entire range of B vitamins to the body. Fortified cereals and breads, dairy products, poultry, meat and fish all contain good sources of B vitamins. Beans, peas and dark leafy green vegetables are other sources.
Precautions while taking Vitamin B Complex
Most B vitamins are available as multivitamin supplements and the daily recommended intake is small. Those over 50 must take vitamin B complex supplements daily or ensure they eat a varied diet for they can quickly become deficient in one or all these vitamins. Pregnant, breastfeeding women and those on medications for serious illnesses need to consult a doctor before taking any kind of supplements as the dosage varies from normal, healthy individuals and these supplements could adversely interact with other medications.
B vitamins are needed to be consumed every day to perform various vital functions. Varied and well-balanced diets of fresh foods that are not processed provide the best way to get sufficient quantities of vitamin B complex. The health benefits of vitamin B complex cannot be exaggerated for deficiencies cause anemia, depression, tiredness, weight loss and a host of other problems. So, ensure you get sufficient amounts of all 8 B vitamins for good health.