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The Many Health Functions of Vitamin B

Updated on March 28, 2013

Which B vitamin should I take? Take all of them: B1, B2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12.

Just kidding. There is no such thing as B4, B8, B10, nor B11. But all the rest are good.

The whole family of B vitamins plays an important role in health. Here are their names:

  • Thiamin (B1)
  • Riboflavin (B2)
  • Niacin (B3)
  • Pantothenic acid (B5)
  • B6 (also known in supplements as pyridoxine, pyridoxal, or pyridoxamine, or pyridoxine hydrochloride)
  • Biotin (B7)
  • Folate (B9)
  • cobalamin (B12)

Many people recommend taking an B-vitamin complex, which means that it consist of the whole family of B vitamins. The B vitamins work synergistically together. So it is good to take them together.

Furthermore, the key is to have the B vitamins in the proper proportions for the body to utilize. The book Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome writes ...

"For example it should have 50-100 mg of B6, 75-125 mg of B3, and 200-400 mcg of B12" [page 199-200]

Extracting Energy from Foods

Five of the B vitamins in particular are big players in extracting energy from our foods. These five B vitamins are ...

  • Thiamin (B1)
  • Riboflavin (B2)
  • Niacin (B3)
  • Pantothenic acid (B5)
  • Biotin (B7)

Folate (B9) and Folic Acid

Whereas folate is the natural form that is found in foods, folic acid is the synthetic form of folate that is found in supplements.

The primary role of folate is in DNA and RNA synthesis. And we know how important DNA and RNA are. DNA is the blueprint of our genes. Every time our cells divide we have to make a copy of the DNA in the new cell. Hence folate deficiency will affect all dividing type cells. These includes those in the digestive tract and red and white blood cells.

Taking folic acid supplementation prior to pregnancy will help prevent neural tube defects in the infant.

Food sources of folate are leafy greens vegetables, beans, and citrus. But do not over boil the greens, otherwise the nutrients will leech out into the water. Recall that B vitamins are water soluble. The folate also degrades with heat.

Vitamin B12

Because B12 is found primarily in animal protein such as beef and fish, vegetarians and vegans are more prone to be deficient in vitamin B12. And many suggest that supplementation of B12 especially for vegetarian is a good idea.

Some possible symptoms of B12 deficiency may be ...

  • fatigue
  • weight loss
  • sore or red tongue, mouth, gums
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • brain fog or poor memory
  • depression
  • numb or tingling hands and feet

Deficiency in vitamin B12 may result in megaloblastic anemia along with its associated symptoms fatigue and weakness symptoms. Megalobalstic anemia is when there is larger-than-normal red blood cells and when there is not enough of them to carries the optimal amount of oxygen to the cells.

Vitamin B12 is aids in red blood cell formation and myelin synthesis. Vitamin B12 participates in neurological function and DNA synthesis. As mentioned in a podcast with featured guest Sally Pacholok, B12 deficiency can lead to permanent neurological damage due to inability to synthesize the fatty myelin that insulates neurons.

Vitamin B12 is co-factor for the enzyme methionine synthase which is used in the conversion of harmful homocysteine to methionine. Methionine, in turn is used to form S-adenosylmethionine which acts as an universal methyl donor for almost 100 different substrates.

Needless to say the biochemistry is complex and these processes are happening in your cells all the time. Vitamins plays an essential role in this biochemistry. And when an essential vitamin is lacking, the whole chain reaction stops and cells are not able to perform its designated tasks.

Symptoms of B12 Deficiency

The Iowa Source Magazine article writes that ...

"Without adequate B12, myelin can break down and cause symptoms that mimic multiple sclerosis, depression, or dementia. Other common symptoms include poor memory and mental fogginess, loss of motivation, apathy, mood swings, low energy, fatigue, muscle weakness, soreness or redness of the tongue, tingling, numbness or crawling sensations in the arms, legs, or feet, lack of coordination, and hair loss."

B12 Absorption

Note that some people have difficulty absorbing B12 through the gut and may benefit from B12 injections or sublingual (under the tongue) B12. For those really deficient, weekly injections may even be needed in order to build back up the B12 stores. The injections can be self-administered -- once you learn how, that is.

Many things have to work correctly in order to absorb B12. Some bacteria have the ability to synthesize B12 which ends up in animal protein which is then eaten by us. Our stomach acid releases the B12 from the protein. The parietal cells of the stomach secretes gastric intrinsic factor that binds the B12 which then goes down the gut to the ilium and finally gets absorbed.

Because of this process, people with low stomach acid, people who does not make enough gastric intrinsic factor, and people whose gut is not efficient at absorbing B12 may also be deficient in B12.

People with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease may also likely to have malabsorption of B12 due to damage to the absorbing vili in the small intestine or to other mechanisms.

Which form of vitamin B12 is best?

There are two common forms of B12: Cyanocobalamin and Methylcobalamin.

Although cyanocobalamin is the one most commonly found in supplement, it is methylcobalamin that is the superior and more absorbable form. Cyanocobalamin is chemically synthesized and is not the form found in nature.

NaturalNews has article about avoiding cyanocobalamin and to take only methylcobalamin.

B vitamins lower homocysteine

Folate (B9) and B6 and B12 helps lower homocysteine levels.

High homocysteine is associated with increased cardiovascular risk, which is why one should have their homocysteine checked. Homocysteine damages the arterial lining and causes plaques to form. This was proven when they inject homocysteine into animals.

The book The Heart Revolution talks at great length about why high homocysteine is the real cause of heart disease. High homocysteine is caused by low B vitamins due to either inadequate consumption of B vitamin foods and/or excessive consumption of processed foods which are devoid of B vitamins.

The book writes ...

"A vitamin B deficiency leads to high blood homocysteine levels, damage to the arteries, and arteriosclerosis." [page 14]


"B vitamin therapy can prevent arteriosclerosis from getting worse" [page 26]

Not only does vitamin B get rid of harmful homocysteine, it helps produce the powerful antioxidant and detoxifier gluthathione.

For example, vitamin B6 along with other components help convert homocysteine into gluthathione via the methylation pathway.

Vitamin B and the Brain

Your brain needs many nutrients to run. In particular, it needs B vitamins.

In the video on the right, Dr. Mark Hyman says ...

"Your brain runs on nutrients ... and if you don't have adequate levels of nutrients, you can't actually regulate your brain function properly. So, having adequate levels of nutrients, particularly the methylating nutrients, B6, folate, B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fats, these are critical for brain function."

B vitamins helps make the myelin that insulates the neurons. In order to make myelin, the body requires B1, B9, and B12 along with omega-3 and iodine.

In order to make brain neurotransmitters, the body needs B6 and sulfur.

Vitamin B's From Foods and Supplements

Food source of B vitamin includes liver, leafy green vegetables, eggs, and meat.

The Heart Revolution writes ...

"Liver is the single best source there is of vitamin B6, folic acid, and vitamin B12." [page 169]

Although it is best to get vitamin B from foods, some people (such as myself) may still want to supplement with vitamin B in addition to vitamin B rich foods. This is because vitamin B are so important and safe.

The B vitamins are water soluble vitamins. Unlike the fat soluble vitamin which can get stored and accumulate in the fats of our bodies, B vitamins are easily excreted and there is a lesser concern about its toxicity -- unless one is taking extremely large doses.

If you take B vitamins, get a B vitamin complex that consists of the whole assortment of B vitamins. Many of the B vitamins work synergistically with each other. Plus, as you have seen, all of them play important roles.

Folic Acid Warning

There are some that say that taking the synthetic folic acid from supplements when you are not deficient may be detrimental.

MSNBC reports that it is easy to overdose on folic acid because it is being added to many of our foods such as in cereals. There is a study that found that excessive folic acid is linked to increased odds of cancer.

Article in Science-Based Medicine titled "The Benefits and Risk of Folic Acid Supplementation" concludes ...

"In children, men, and women beyond their childbearing years, supplementation in the absence of deficiency has no demonstrated health benefits, and there are worrying signals that it may raise cancer risks, possibly by “feeding” existing cancers."

Article in JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association) reports on a study that found ...

"Treatment with folic acid plus vitamin B12 was associated with increased cancer outcomes and all-cause mortality in patients with ischemic heart disease in Norway"

Shane Ellison, author of Over the Counter Natural Cures explains the difference between synthetic form of folic acid versus the natural folate found in food in the video on the right.

He suggest that getting folate from brewer's yeast, which contains various B vitamins, chromium, and selenium. However, do not take brewer's yeast if you are allergic or sensitive to yeast or taking Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors. [reference]

Getting folate from foods is a much better way to go. Folate from food is what you need, not folic acid from supplements. You can not overdose on folate when taken in food form.

The vitamin B levels can be tested with a simple blood test. If you are low, try to boost it up with food (such as leafy greens for folate and red meat for B12). And if still low, you can supplement. But then you have to retest to make sure you are not taking excessive folic acid. Taper off or discontinue folic acid if you are within normal levels. Continue to eat healthy B vitamin foods.

Supplements with natural folate

If you do us supplements, Chris Kresser says ...

"Look for products that contain the Metfolin brand, or list “5-methyltetrahydrofolate” or “5-MTHF” on the label. Avoid products that say “folic acid” on the label."

Some B-Complex that contain the 5-MTHF are ...

B6 and Dreams

There is a theory that vitamin B6 produces more vivid dreams and/or help people remember their dreams when they wake up. According to a report in DailyMail, it is believed that this vitamin helps with serotonin production.

In the book Adrenal Fatigue, it writes ...

"One easy test for vitamin B6 deficiency used by alternative doctors is to ask patients if they can remeber their dreams. If they have trouble recalling their dreams, then they often Need vitamin B6." [page 199]



This article was written in 2012 and is only opinion at the time of writing. It is not medical advice and author is not a medical professional and may receive compensation from the display ads within article.


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    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 4 years ago

      Quinoa has some great nutrients. However, I must say that for anyone with a "leaky gut" syndrome or any kind of autoimmune condition, they might want to stay away from all grains as indicated in the "autoimmune protocol". This includes avoiding quinoa even though it is gluten-free. That is because quinoa contains Saponins that increases intestinal permeability as detailed in another article here:

    • Sharicey profile image

      Sharice 4 years ago from Rhode Island

      Great article. I had maybe still have low b12 at one point it was so low I couldn't function much. It was awful. I have some Liver in my freezer that I'm try to get the nerve up to make for dinner. Quinoa is a good source of b12 I love it but it is a grain so there is a down fall to that if you are avoiding grains. Another great Hub!

    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 5 years ago

      Thanks for voting up.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Useful info. Glad that you underlined the importance of taking all the vitamins of the Bcomplex together. And it is necessary that we take it everyday as it is a water soluble vitamin and does not get stored.

      Voted up/useful/interesting.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great information! The more informed we are about all of this, the better decisions we can make regarding our health and lifestyle. Well done!