Next in our quick series of Vitamin FAQ’s we look at vitamin B (if you missed Vitamin A – you can read it here).
There are actually lots of different types of vitamin B, but for our bodies the main ones are:
- B1 – thiamin
- B2 – riboflavin
- B3 – niacin
- B5 – pantothenic acid
- B6 – pyridoxine
- B7 – biotin
- Folate (folic acid)
In general, they all aid the process of breaking down key aspects of our food, releasing much needed energy into our system, as well as helping keep our eyes, skin and nervous system healthy.
Vitamin B6 has a specific role in using and storing the protein and carbohydrates we take in as part of our diet and helping our body to produce haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is what makes our blood look red and critically carries oxygen around the body.
Folic acid – most well known as the supplement that is needed in pregnancy – is crucial for reducing the risk of developmental defects of the central neural tube of unborn babies. The neural tube is the early form of our central nervous system. Developmental problems at this crucial stage of a baby’s growth can lead to problems such as spina bifida. However it’s not just pregnant women – it also helps all of us to make healthy red blood cells.
Perhaps the most well known is vitamin B12. This actually helps us to use folic acid. It also is vital in keeping the nervous system healthy and plays a key role in making red blood cells.
With so many types of B vitamins, the ways we can get this into our diet are varied. Importantly, some of these vitamins cannot be stored in the body – so we need a daily supply in our diet. Thiamin cannot be stored – and it’s recommended that men need around 1mg/day and women around 0.8mg/day. Similarly we need daily riboflavin at around 1.3mg for men and 1.1mg for women. Niacin also cannot be stored and men should aim for around 16.5mg and women around 13mg.
A word of caution about niacin – too much for a long time can lead to liver problems and cause skin flushes. Similarly B6 in excessive amounts (e.g. more than 200mg) can lead to a problem called peripheral neuropathy. This is a problem of the nervous system where we can develop loss of sensation in our limbs (peripheries). Men should aim for around 1.4mg/day of B6 and women around 1.2mg.
Many foods are rich in a number of B vitamins including: eggs, fresh/dried fruit, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, wholegrain bread, fortified cereals, milk (cow’s), nuts,
Some specific diets e.g. vegetarians and vegans can sometimes struggle with B vitamins, and B12 in particular. B vitamins are in abundance in animal products – meats, fish, eggs, cows milk etc. However with careful planning, it is possible to get all the recommended amounts in your diet without additional supplementation. However, a multivitamin can be a helpful addition to more restrictive diets and might be worth discussing with your doctor.
As we have already learned, folic acid (or folate) is pivotal in a baby’s development and throughout our life by helping us produce red blood cells. The average adult needs 200micrograms of folic acid/day and it cannot be stored meaning you need a daily amount. An additional supplement is provided to pregnant women – either 400mcg of 5mg depending on their medical history. Caution is required with additional supplementation – too much can possibly cover up an existing B12 deficiency.
This is found in vegetables such as asparagus, peas, sprouts and broccoli. It is also prevalent in liver but this should be avoided in pregnancy.
The most well known of all B vitamins is B12. A deficiency of B12 is something that has been in the media more of late. This is the vitamin that those who avoid animal products in their most struggle with – as it is only found naturally in animal products – meats, milks, eggs. It is some fortified cereals however.
We need around 1.5micrograms/day and this is something we can store in the body.
Deficiency in B12 causes wide ranging symptoms including low mood, changes in mental state, altered or abnormal sensation, fatigue, irritability, anaemia and reduced fertility. Whilst some changes can be reversed with treatment, if left unchecked and untreated, some of the damage can be permanent.