B vitamins are a group of nutrients that play many important roles in your body.
Most people get the recommended amounts of these vitamins through diet alone since they are found in a wide variety of foods.
However, factors like age, pregnancy, dietary choices, medical conditions, genetics, medication and alcohol use increase the body’s demand for B vitamins.
In these circumstances, supplementing with B vitamins may be necessary.
Nutritional supplements that contain all eight B vitamins are referred to as B-complex vitamins.
Here are the health benefits of B-complex vitamins as well as dosage recommendations and potential side effects.
B-complex supplements usually pack all eight B vitamins into one pill.
B vitamins are water-soluble, which means your body does not store them. For this reason, your diet must supply them each day.
B vitamins have many important functions and are vital for maintaining good health.
B-complex vitamins usually contain the following:
- B1 (thiamine): Thiamine plays an essential role in metabolism by helping convert nutrients into energy. The richest food sources include pork, sunflower seeds and wheat germ.
- B2 (riboflavin): Riboflavin helps convert food into energy and also acts as an antioxidant. Foods highest in riboflavin include organ meats, beef and mushrooms.
- B3 (niacin): Niacin plays a role in cellular signaling, metabolism and DNA production and repair. Food sources include chicken, tuna and lentils.
- B5 (pantothenic acid): Like other B vitamins, pantothenic acid helps your body obtain energy from food and is also involved in hormone and cholesterol production. Liver, fish, yogurt and avocado are all good sources.
- B6 (pyridoxine): Pyridoxine is involved in amino acid metabolism, red blood cell production and the creation of neurotransmitters. Foods highest in this vitamin include chickpeas, salmon and potatoes.
- B7 (biotin): Biotin is essential for carbohydrate and fat metabolism and regulates gene expression. Yeast, eggs, salmon, cheese and liver are among the best food sources of biotin.
- B9 (folate): Folate is needed for cell growth, amino acid metabolism, the formation of red and white blood cells and proper cell division. It can be found in foods like leafy greens, liver and beans or in supplements as folic acid .
- B12 (cobalamin): Perhaps the most well-known of all the B vitamins, B12 is vital for neurological function, DNA production and red blood cell development. B12 is found naturally in animal sources like meats, eggs, seafood and dairy.
Although these vitamins share some characteristics, they all have unique functions and are needed in different amounts.
SUMMARY-B complex supplements usually contain all eight B vitamins conveniently packed into one pill.
Since B vitamins are found in many foods, you are most likely not at risk of developing a deficiency as long as you follow a well-rounded diet.
However, certain circumstances increase the need for B vitamins, making supplements necessary.
Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women
During pregnancy, the demand for B vitamins, particularly B12 and folate, grows to support fetal development.
In women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, especially those who follow vegetarian or vegan diets, supplementing with a B-complex vitamin is crucial.
B12 or folate deficiency in pregnant or breastfeeding women can lead to severe neurological damage or birth defects in the fetus or infant.
As you age, your ability to absorb vitamin B12 decreases and your appetite declines, making it difficult for some people to get enough B12 through diet alone.
The body’s ability to release B12 from food so that it can be absorbed depends on adequate amounts of stomach acid.
However, it’s estimated that 10–30% of people over 50 don’t produce enough stomach acid to properly absorb B12.
Deficiency in B12 has been linked to increased rates of depression and mood disturbances in elderly people.
Deficiencies in vitamin B6 and folate are also common in the elderly population.
Those With Certain Medical Conditions
People with certain medical conditions, such as celiac disease, cancer, Crohn’s disease, alcoholism, hypothyroidism and anorexia, are more susceptible to developing nutrient deficiencies, including B vitamins.
Additionally, the MTHFR genetic mutation can affect how your body metabolizes folate and can lead to a folate deficiency and other health issues.
What’s more, people who have undergone certain weight-loss surgeries are also more likely to be deficient in B vitamins.
In these circumstances, patients are often advised to supplement with a B-complex vitamin to correct or avoid deficiencies.
Vegetarians and Vegans
Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products like meat, dairy, eggs and seafood.
Vegans and strict vegetarians could be at risk of developing a B12 deficiency if they don’t get enough of this vitamin through fortified foods or supplements.
A daily B-complex vitamin can help ensure that people who choose to follow diets that eliminate animal products are getting enough of these important nutrients.
People Taking Certain Medications
Commonly prescribed medications can lead to a deficiency in B vitamins.
For example, proton pump inhibitors, which are medications that lower stomach acid, can decrease the absorption of B12, while metformin, a popular diabetes drug, can decrease levels of both B12 and folate.
Birth control pills can also deplete several B vitamins, including B6, B12, folate and riboflavin.