When + why to take vitamin B: what the experts have to say

“B vitamins help provide energy by acting with enzymes to convert carbohydrates to glucose, and also are important in fat and protein metabolism,” says Elson Haas, MD, an integrative physician and author of Staying Healthy with Nutrition. In addition, he says, “They’re very important for the normal functioning of the nervous system and are often helpful in bringing relaxation or energy to individuals who are stressed or fatigued.”

The Bs are also necessary for healthy skin, hair, and eyes. And, adds Haas: “The general muscle tone of the gastrointestinal tract is enhanced with proper levels of B vitamins, allowing the bowels to function most efficiently.”

Who Needs More B Vitamins?

Anyone who is under stress, periodically fasts, is losing weight, doesn’t eat grains, is vegan, generally eats a poor diet, takes medications that deplete Bs, or has digestive problems that impair nutrient absorption—such as celiac disease, or gluten or other food intolerances—is likely to fall short.

Lack of Bs can lead to depression, irritability, skin problems, lack of energy, confusion, problems with digestion, constipation or diarrhea, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, and even a swollen tongue.

What’s in a B Complex?

The B vitamins were once considered to be a single vitamin, because they occur in combination in nature. As individual Bs were identified, these eight became recognized as essential:

  • B1: Thiamine
  • B2: Riboflavin
  • B3: Niacin, niacinamide, or nicotinic acid
  • B5: Pantothenic Acid
  • B6: Pyridoxine
  • B7: Biotin
  • B9: Folate
  • B12: Cobalamin

A few other nutrients aren’t considered essential Bs, but are related, and one or more may be included in B-complex supplements. In scientific literature, these have occasionally been given a B-vitamin number but are customarily referred to by name only: choline (B), inositol (B), and PABA, or para-aminobenzoic acid (B).

Wondering what happened to vitamin B? Some European studies and supplement sites refer to folic acid as vitamin B, but the number is not used in the United States.

Different Forms of B Vitamins

Some Bs are available in different forms, which are found in various B-complex and multivitamin products.

Vitamin B12: Supplements may contain one or more forms of vitamin B. Cyanocobalamin is a synthetic form, and there are three natural forms that are identical to those found in food: methylcobalamin, adenosylcobalamin, and hydroxocobalamin. Supplements with a natural form are sometimes called “methyl B.”

Vitamin B9: Folic acid is the synthetic form of the vitamin, while folate is the natural form found in food. 5-MTHF, sometimes called “methyl folate,” is also a natural form, and is beneficial for people with digestive problems or a genetic inability to absorb the synthetic form.

Vitamin B6: Pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P-5-P) is the active form of the vitamin, considered to be better absorbed than pyridoxine.

Benfotiamine: A derivative of vitamin B, it raises blood levels of the vitamin more effectively than thiamine and may be especially helpful for nerve pain in diabetics.

Drugs that Deplete B Vitamins

Supplements can help to prevent or correct B-vitamin depletions caused by these drugs:

Caution: Folate and niacin may reduce the effectiveness of anti-seizure drugs.

Written by vera-tweed for Better Nutrition and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Better Nutrition



Vitamin & Me: Breaking Down the Importance of Vitamin B

Are your medications, lifestyle habits or dietary restrictions limiting your B vitamin levels? A great first step in finding out is to take our personalized vitamin quiz, specially made by our founder to clear away the confusion. Once you find your results, we’ll ship your match right to your front door. Easy!

Our CEO and founder Jessica Houston is an expertly-trained nutritionist. She created the EatClean30 nutrition guide just for you. You can download it for free here! As always, if you have any questions regarding your quiz results or regarding your diet status, send them our way at hello@vitaminandme.com! We’re happy to help!

If you know you’re ready to integrate vitamin B supplements into your diet, feel free to browse our top B12 picks here!

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