B Vitamins and the Immune System
The kids are back in school and cold and flu season is in full swing. In a normal year, we would all be gearing up to fight off the cold that will likely invade our families sometime soon. But, this year Covid is adding an element of both fear and confusion to an otherwise expected yearly spike in sickness. Covid doesn’t necessarily change what we should take. It just makes it all the more important to get our body ready to fight off any of the viruses that comes our way. Learning about B vitamins and the immune system is important. It can help us understand how and why these vitamins can keep our immune system strong and quick to respond.
1. B Vitamins and the Immune System: How do they work?
What they do
You’ve probably heard of B12, but did you know the B vitamins are a complex of eight different vitamins? All of these eight have distinct but overlapping roles in the body. And, you need all of them to stay healthy. B vitamins help your body make energy, and they set it free when your body needs it. They are also involved in making red blood cells that carry energy across your entire body. And when it comes to immunity, they work to keep the immune system running smoothly – like oil in the engine of a car. All three of these jobs are an important part of larger effort to fight off viruses like Covid.
When thinking about vitamin intake, it’s important to know which vitamins you store and which vitamins need to be replaced each day. B vitamins are water soluble. That means your body doesn’t store them to be used later. Actually, you get rid of the B vitamins that you take in when you pee. So, you need to continue to take them daily in order to stay at an optimal level.
Understanding the way B vitamins and the immune system work together can seem complex and overwhelming. For example, vitamin B12 is used as a cofactor in immune cell formation alongside folic acid, while vitamin B6 plays a supportive role in reactions that take place in the immune system. Luckily, you don’t have to know the fine details – leave that to your healthcare team. Really, it’s about knowing what benefits they offer to your body and how to get them in each day.
How to get them
There are great food sources of vitamin B. Spice up those leafy green vegetables with any combination of nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, avocados, or citrus fruit. You can also add eggs, or meat if that’s your thing. And, you’ll be getting in a variety of the eight B vitamins that are needed daily.
But, if you don’t hit the mark that day or you’re not sure that you are getting the full B complex, you can also take them through a daily vitamin. This is especially important for those who may not get in enough through food alone. And, its also important for those who lack the enzyme to absorb or convert the vitamins so your body can use them.
Regardless of how you get them in, it’s important to understand balance B vitamins into your daily routine.
2. Do B vitamins help the immune system?
Simply put, B vitamins prime your immune system to help it run as smoothly as possible – like putting oil in a car. Without them, your engine won’t work the way it is set up to run.
Let’s look at three B vitamins as examples.
Vitamin B6, or pyroxidine, is found in many foods and added to most B vitamin complex supplements. The active form of B6 is involved in more than 100 functions in your body, including breaking down carbohydrates, proteins and fats, keeping normal levels of hormones that may cause heart problems, supporting brain health and immune function. That’s a lot of responsibility for one simple B vitamin.
The role of B6 in disease prevention has been well established. Adequate intake is associated with lower risk of cancer, and it has even been shown to reduce nausea during pregnancy. Now, that’s something every pregnant mama should know about!
Vitamin B9, or folate, is most commonly known in relationship to pregnancy, but it is actually one of the daily 30 that every should be getting each day. In fact, your DNA depends on folate. It’s also involved in protein metabolism, keeping hormones in check that can be harmful when levels are too high, and producing healthy red blood cells on a regular basis.
And for this nutrient in particular, it tends to be absorbed better when taken as a vitamin compared with food intake due to the strong bonds in food that make it hard to breakdown and absorb. In fact, you typically absorb about 85% in vitamins compared to 50% in foods.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get it through food, but you may need to up your serving size a bit to compensate if you are deficient. Balancing food sources, like eggs, dark leafy greens and whole grains with a low dose supplement is typically your best approach for this nutrient.
Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is a key player in brain and nerve function. Are you feeling a bit foggy? Then, B12 may be the culprit. Though not always responsible, being low in vitamin B12 can lead to fatigue, weakness, anemia, memory loss, depression and nerve damage.
If it is determined that you are low, there are several reasons that could explain why. First, if you are vegan or vegetarian, you’ll need to make sure you are getting B12 in other ways since it’s only found in animal products. Since the B12 is often securely bonded to protein, you need adequate levels of stomach acid to break it down. So, if you don’t produce enough, you may not be able to unlock B12, even when you do eat enough animal protein.
Other reasons you may be deficient could be due to a lack of the enzyme required for absorption or absorption disorders. If you are having difficulty absorbing B vitamins, try a vitamin in capsule or liquid form for better absorption. In certain cases, your healthcare team may suggest injections of vitamin B12 to avoid the need to cross the gut barrier altogether.
3. Can B vitamins prevent me from getting sick?
This is the question everyone is asking. What vitamins will prevent me from getting sick? The truth is there is not magic bullet. And, they way B vitamins and the immune system work together are really no different than any other immune vitamin. You need them all, because they work together to prime the immune system to respond quickly and appropriately to a virus.
The key in understanding how to think about immune health is in knowing what the immune system needs to do its job. Your job really is just to simply take in the nutrients necessary to get your body ready to fight off illness. Then, let your immune system do the rest.
The exception to this is when you have an underlying condition that requires B vitamins to stay healthy. When you remove them from your diet, then you can get sick and show symptoms due the condition you already have the relies on B vitamins to keep your body systems in check.
4. What are the eight B vitamins?
The B vitamin complex help a variety of enzymes do their jobs, including store and release energy from the fat and carbohydrates that you eat, break down amino-acids, transport oxygen, form DNA, and improve nerve and brain health. B vitamins and the immune system are one of the most googled topics right now, due to the pandemic. Here is a list of all eight B vitamins.
B5 (pantothenic acid)
5. Which supplements are the best for the B vitamins?
There are a variety of supplements that include B vitamins.
Personalizing your intake based on your specific needs is the best approach. For example, those with thyroid disease may need B12 while expecting mamas might need a B vitamin complex. At Vitamin & Me, we help you customize your vitamin routine based on what’s right for you. You can take our personalized vitamin quiz or contact us to chat with one of our healthcare professionals. If you are simply looking for immune vitamins, you can shop them here. To learn more, follow us @vitaminandme
Beyond vitamins: 5 steps to support the immune system
And, if you are curious about other steps to put in place to support your immune health, here are a few of the top recommendations from top scientists worldwide.
- Eat a balanced diet
- Fill gaps with vitamins
- Get regular, moderate exercise each day
- Manage stress
- Sleep between 7-9 hours every day