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Vitamin B – Effortless boost to health and wellbeing

Dr Sarah Brewer talks about the value of Vitamin B its benefits and how you could be lacking.

vitamin b

What is Vitamin B?

If there’s one vitamin everyone should consider taking its vitamin B because our bodies uses it up at a fast rate in many different ways and we don’t store them up for long.   This is a group of eight vitamins which all contribute to many different functions within the body. The B complex includes:

B1 (thiamin)

B2 (riboflavin)

B3 (niacin)

B5 (pantothenic acid)

B6 (pyroxidine)

B7 (biotin)

B9 (folic acid)

B12 (cobalamin)

Who’s deficient?

The National Diet and Nutrition Survey only includes data on B2, folate and B12 as these are the nutrients from this group of most interest within the population. The survey shows that 4% of men and 13% of women aged 19 to 64 years have insufficient intakes of B2. Amongst those aged over 65 years old these figures are 5% for men and 10% for women. 

The survey shows that 2% of men and 7% of women aged 19 to 64 years old have insufficient intakes of folate. Amongst those aged over 65 years old these figures are 2% for men and 4% for women.

The NDNS also shows that around 4% of adults aged 19-64 years old and those aged over 65 years old have levels of vitamin B12 considered to be clinically deficient. 

Vegans may struggle to get enough B12 in their diet as this nutrient is found predominantly in meat and dairy foods. 

tiredness vitamin b deficiency
Among the common signs of vitamin B deficiency is tiredness.

What are the common signs of vitamin B deficiency?

Most people get more than enough of the B vitamins in their diet as they occur in so many different foods. Older adults may require higher amounts of vitamin B12 due to an increased risk of autoimmune conditions such as pernicious anaemia. This condition causes the immune system to attack cells in the gut that produce intrinsic factor required to absorb vitamin B12. 

Underlying health conditions can also impact on the absorption of B vitamins and these include:

  • Coeliac disease
  • HIV
  • Crohn’s disease 
  • Alcoholism 
  • Kidney conditions 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis 
  • Ulcerative colitis 
  • IBS

Common signs of deficiency include:

  • Skin rashes 
  • Cracks around the mouth
  • Fatigue 
  • Weakness
  • Confusion 
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramps 
  • Depression 
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Numbness/tingling in the hands and feet

It is worth noting that many of these symptoms could be result of other dietary and lifestyle factors. 

Why we need it? 

Functions of the B complex are wide and varied but together they all support good health and wellbeing. Some of the key roles they share include energy metabolism (converting food into energy), brain function and supporting the nervous system. Other functions include:

  • Cell health 
  • Healthy eyesight
  • Healthy skin 
  • Digestion 
  • Hormone and cholesterol production 
  • Muscle tone 
  • Cardiovascular health 
  • Red blood cell production 

How does it work?

These vitamins act as functional parts of enzymes (substances that speed up chemical reactions in the body) involved in the release of energy from the food we eat. 

Vitamin B12 and folate have a specific role to play in the production of healthy red blood cells. In the absence of these two B vitamins the body produces abnormally large red blood cells which cannot function properly.

Where can I get it from? 

The list of foods rich in B vitamins is quite extensive given the number of nutrients in the B complex. The key to getting enough of these nutrients in the diet is to eat a wide variety of foods and especially those in their most natural state.

Foods richest in B vitamins include:

Dairy foods (milk, cheese, cream)

Eggs 

Offal (live, kidney, heart)

Meat and poultry 

Oily fish (salmon, mackerel)

Shellfish 

Dark green leafy vegetables (kale, cabbage, spring greens, spinach)

Wholegrains

Fortified breakfast cereals 

Nutritional yeast 

Fruits and vegetables (avocado, bananas, peas, oranges, mushrooms, broccoli)

Legumes (soya beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils)

Nuts 

porridge vitamin b
Start the day with a bowl of healthy bowl of porridge.

How can I include it in my diet?

Eating a wide variety of foods in your diet is the best way to ensure your intake of B vitamins. Opting for mostly wholefoods will ensure you get the greatest intake. Starting the day with oats (porridge or soaked oats) topped with dried fruit and nuts is a good option. Lunch may include a protein-based salad which includes beans or lentils and avocado. Dinner options such as a veggies chilli made with Quorn and beans served with brown rice will seriously boost your intake of B vitamins. 

Supplements 

The B vitamins are included in multivitamin and mineral supplements but they are also available as a B complex on their own such as Healthspan  Vitamin B Complex 180 tablets £7.95. 

The EU nutrient reference values for the B complex are:

B1 (thiamin) – 1.1mg

B2 (riboflavin) – 1.4mg

B3 (niacin) – 16mg

B5 (pantothenic acid) – 6mg

B6 (pyroxidine) – 1.4mg

B7 (biotin) – 50mcg

B9 (folic acid) – 200mcg

B12 (cobalamin)- 2.5mcg

What to avoid? 

It’s very unlikely you will consume too many B vitamins from your diet and the same is true of supplements if taken as recommended. Taking 200mg or more of B6 can lead to a loss of feeling in the arms and legs known as peripheral neuropathy but to reach this dose you would be going above and beyond the recommended dosage. 

To find out further information about supplements or if you have any queries about taking supplements you can visit www.healthspan.co.uk or speak to a qualified nutritionist.

This content is part of a series by Dr Sarah Brewer detailing the A to Z of Vitamins, for more in the series visit our Nutrition channel.

Tags: , Last modified: October 15, 2021

Written by 12:40 pm Health, Nutrition

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