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The B complex family of vitamins is essential for many aspects of health. The B vitamins support multiple aspects of health including neurological wellness, DNA and cellular communication, fetal development, and more. B vitamins are also important for slowing the negative impacts of aging, like cognitive decline.
What is B Complex?
The B vitamins work synergistically, which is why they are paired together in what’s known as B complex. While they each have some unique uses for health, most have overlapping functions and work best together for optimal benefits.
B complex includes:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin or thiamine)
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (niacin)
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine, pyridoxal, pyridoxamine)
- Vitamin B7 (biotin)
- Vitamin B9 (folate)
- Vitamin B12
B vitamins can be commonly added to processed foods, which is known as fortification. This is done because nutrients are lost during processing. However, it’s possible to get all of the B vitamins that you need from foods that naturally contain them, as is shown by the foods listed below.
The microbiome can also make some of its own B vitamins, although this is dependent on overall gut health, as well as the consumption of foods that nourish the good gut bacteria (typically prebiotics and other sources of fiber).
Some B vitamins in supplement form may interfere with lab test results or may interact with certain medications, particularly biotin. If you take supplements, make sure that your practitioner is aware before having lab tests done.
Health Benefits of the B Complex Vitamins
- Thiamin is essential for energy metabolism and cellular growth, development, and function. It also serves as a cofactor for five enzymes involved in glucose, lipid, and amino acid metabolism.
- Riboflavin is important as a cofactor for energy production as well as cell function, growth, and development. It contributes to the metabolism of drugs and lipids and supports healthy levels of homocysteine, helping to manage inflammation.
- Niacin is required by more than 400 enzymes to catalyze reactions in the body. Enzymatic reactions rely more heavily on it than any other nutrient. Niacin is required for cellular energy, genome integrity, gene expression, cellular communication, and cellular antioxidant function.
- Pantothenic acid helps synthesize coenzymes and carrier proteins to aid in fatty acid synthesis and cellular reactions throughout the body.
- B6 is essential for more than 100 enzyme reactions that mostly relate to protein metabolism. It is also involved with the metabolism of amino acids, carbohydrates, and lipids. B6 also helps with the synthesis of neurotransmitters, supports healthy homocysteine levels, and assists in the storage of glucose for later energy. It is required for healthy immune function as well as hemoglobin formation.
- Biotin serves as a cofactor for essential steps in the metabolism of glucose, lipids, and amino acids. It also supports normal gene regulation and cellular signaling.
Folate and B12 are also part of the B complex family. These nutrients are talked about separately in their own posts. Read them here:
Food Sources of B Complex
B vitamins are widely found in animal foods and are present in a smaller amount of plant-based foods. Because foods often contain more than one type of B vitamin, foods with the highest levels of each part of B complex are listed below.
High dietary sources of B complex include:
- Thiamin: Pork, trout, black beans, mussels, tuna, acorn squash
- Riboflavin: Beef liver, milk, beef, clams, mushrooms, almonds, cheese, chicken, eggs
- Niacin: Beef liver, poultry, salmon, tuna, pork, beef
- Pantothenic acid: Beef liver, shiitake mushrooms, chicken, tuna, avocado
- B6: Chickpeas, beef liver, tuna, salmon, chicken, potatoes, turkey, bananas
- Biotin: Beef liver, eggs, salmon, pork, beef, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes
B Complex Supplements
Most people in the US are not deficient in B vitamins since there are many dietary sources (including foods that are fortified) and supplements available. However, certain individuals may be at higher risk to have inadequate levels of specific B vitamins.
Conditions or situations that may lead to low B complex levels include the following:
- Thiamin: Alcohol dependence, HIV/AIDS, gut absorption disorders, side effects of some medications, reduced nutrient absorption in older adults, diabetes, bariatric surgery
- Riboflavin: Being a vegetarian athlete, pregnancy, lactation, following a vegan diet, following a lactose-free diet
- Niacin: Malnutrition, eating disorders, alcohol use disorder, AIDS, IBD, certain rare genetic disorders, gastrointestinal disorders
- Pantothenic acid: Malnutrition and rare genetic disorders
- B6: Impaired renal function or kidney disease, autoimmune disorders, gut malabsorption or IBD, Celiac disease, alcohol dependence
- Biotin: Alcohol abuse disorders, gut absorption disorders, pregnancy
Most B vitamins are not associated with toxicity risks as long as they are supplemented properly, by following recommended guidelines on product labels or practitioner instructions.
(PPNF Note: When available, nutrition counseling is the best way to determine the supplements that are right for you. We understand that it is not always affordable or accessible. Supplements can be potent and have the potential for negative effects when used incorrectly. Use them with caution and follow recommended product use guidelines unless a practitioner directs you otherwise.)
Today’s Simple Step
If you already routinely eat foods that are rich in B vitamins, keep at it. B vitamins are essential for many basic cellular and genetic processes. While deficiencies of B vitamins can usually be avoided by following a diverse diet of whole foods, it’s still possible to consume suboptimal amounts.
This Seared Ahi Tuna and Sriracha Remoulade is a great way to include B vitamins on your plate while also enjoying a rich and savory meal. Pair it with your favorite roasted vegetables for a well-rounded meal.