Understanding B Complex


The B complex vitamins pull together to keep us healthy. We need each and every one of them. The range of jobs the B’s so is pretty amazing. We need them to help our cells grow and reproduce properly. We also need them all to send messages back and forth from our brain along our nerves. They also help produce energy by breaking down the foods we eat into fuel our body can use. Three of the B’s (folic acid, cobalamin, and pyridoxine) work together to keep the heart healthy. On their own each B vitamin also has special jobs to do, like keeping red blood cells healthy and preventing birth defects. The B vitamins have little numbers underneath such as B1, B2, B3, etc. They are named as such because as they were discovered and researched they were given the number in the order they were discovered. There are some B numbers missing from the order, such as B4, B8, B10, and B11; as research continued it was ‘discovered’ some of the B’s were part of a vitamin they had already discovered and some were not vitamins at all. These are the missing numbers. To avoid confusion, researchers prefer to use the B vitamin names instead of the numbers but we still see them written both ways.

The Role They Play

There are 8 B vitamins (These will be covered more in depth in future posts.) and 4 unofficial B vitamins. When we have plenty of all the B’s in our body, they work together to keep our body’s running more efficiently, producing energy and the many complicated chemicals our body needs to function normally. Each B has its own essential role to play. We need them all, if we’re low on any one B vitamin, the others can’t do their jobs.

Types of Vitamin B

Vitamin B1 or Thiamin – We need thiamin to keep all our body’s cells, but especially our nerves working right. Thiamin is important for mental functions, especially memory. We also need it to convert food to energy.

Vitamin B2 or Riboflavin– Riboflavin is really important for releasing energy from food. It’s also vital for normal cell growth and development, normal red blood cells, and making many of our body’s hormones.

Vitamin B3 or Niacin – More than 50 body processes, from releasing energy from food to making hormones to detoxifying chemicals, depend on niacin.

Vitamin B5 or Pantothenic acid – This vitamin works closely with several of the other B’s in the breakdown of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into energy. We also need it to make vitamin D, some hormones, and red blood cells.

Vitamin B6 or Pyridoxine – The main job of pyridoxine is shuffling around our amino acids to make the 5,000 plus proteins our body needs to run properly. It’s also involved in making more than 60 different enzymes.

Vitamin B7 or Biotin – Biotin is needed for a lot of body processes that break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into fuel we can use. Biotin is sometimes called Vitamin H.

Vitamin B9 or Folic acid – The main job for folic acid is helping our cells grow and divide properly. It’s important for preventing birth defects. We also need it for making the natural chemicals that control our mood, our appetite, and how well we sleep. Folic acid is vital for keeping arteries open and lowering our chances of a heart attack or stroke.

Vitamin B12 or Cobalamin – We need cobalamin to process the carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in our food into energy. It also forms the protective covering of our nerve cells and keeps our red blood cells healthy, and helps prevent heart disease.

The Unofficial B Vitamin’s

There are 4 ‘unofficial’ B vitamins because they are important to our health but they don’t have an RDA. They don’t have RDA’s because technically they’re not vitamins, we make them in our body from other substances.

Choline – Our brain uses choline to help store memories. It’s also sometimes helpful for treating depression and may be useful for treating hepatitis.

Inositol – We need inositol to make healthy cell membranes and messenger chemicals. It’s also helpful for relieving nerve damage from diabetes.

PABA – The initials stand for Para-aminobenzoic acid. This powerful antioxidant protects our skin from sun damage and is found in many sunscreen lotions and creams.

Lipoic acid – A helper for the B vitamins, lipoic acid works closely with thiamin, riboflavin, niacin. And pantothenic acid to convert carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in our food into energy. Lipoic acid is also a powerful antioxidant and helps recycle vitamin C and vitamin E.


Age                Thiamin   Riboflavin   Niacin   Pyridoxine   Folic acid  Cobalamin

0 – 5 m           0.3 mg    0.4 mg        5.0 mg    0.3 mg       25 mcg      0.3 mcg

5 m – 1 yr        0.4 mg    0.5 mg       6.0 mg     0.6 mg       35 mcg     0.5 mcg

1-3 yrs            0.7 mg    0.8 mg       9.0 mg      1.0 mg       50 mcg    0.7 mcg

4-6 yrs            0.9 mg    1.1 mg     12.0 mg       1.1 mg       50 mcg   0.7 mcg

7- 10 yrs         1.0 mg    1.2 mg     13.0 mg        1.4 mg    100 mcg   1.4 mcg

Males, 11-14   1.3 mg     1.5 mg    17.0 mg        1.7 mg    150 mcg   2.0 mcg

Males, 15-18   1.5 mg     1.8 mg    20.0 mg        2.0 mg     200 mcg  2.0 mcg

Females 11-18  1.1 mg     1.3 mg   15.0 mg        1.4 mg     100 mcg 1.4 mcg

Men, 19-50        1.5 mg     1.7 mg   19.0 mg        2.0 mg     200 mcg 2.0 mcg

Men 50+             1.2 mg      1.4 mg   15.0 mg       2.0 mg     200 mcg 2.0 mcg

Women, 19-50    1.1 mg      1.3 mg   15.0 mg       1.6 mg     180 mcg 2.0 mcg

Women 50+         1.0 mg      1.2 mg   13.0 mg       1.6 mg    180 mcg 2.0 mcg

Pregnant Women   1.5 mg     1.6 mg    17.0 mg      2.2 mg    400 mcg 2.2 mcg

Nursing Women     1.6 mg     1.8 mg    20.0 mg       2.1 mg    280 mcg 2.1 mcg



Biotin Pantothenic acid

Biotin and pantothenic acid do not have RDA’s because they are found so widely in our food, they instead have a safe and adequate dosage intake.

Safe Dosage

The B vitamins are water-soluble, which means we need a daily dose to keep our levels high. It also means the body excretes what we don’t absorb. For the most part there are no toxic effects even with large doses but there are two important exceptions: Niacin and Pyridoxine. Large doses of Niacin (over 1,00 mg) in the form of nictinic acid can give us niacin flush. It’s sort of like blushing badly: our face turns red and feels hot or tingly. The flush goes away fairly soon with no lasting harm. Super large doses (over 3 g per day) could cause liver problems. Pyridoxine might do real damage if taken in megadoses. More than 2,000 mg a day for a long time will give a tingling sensation in our neck and feet, lose coordination, and have permanent nerve damage. Some may have these reactions at doses of 200 mg a day.

Make Them Work Better

Any good multivitamin supplement contains all the extra B vitamins we need. Pick one that has at least 400 mcg of folic acid. There are also separate supplements available for each B, depending on your needs. Choline is found in most good multivitamins but usually only contain a small percentage of the RDA. To get extra Lipoic acid or inositol, buy separate supplements. Lipoic acid may help diabetics. The best use for PABA is in sunscreen products.

B vitamins can interfere with medicines for some conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. Light can destroy some of the B’s. To preserve the B;s store foods and supplements out of the light. Pyridoxine is easily destroyed by freezing. We need vitamin C for folic acid to work efficiently. Other vitamins are also needed to make the B’s work.

Good Sources

Thiamin: Oranges, peas, peanut butter, wheat germ, beans, whole grains, and brewer’s yeast (nutritional yeast).

Riboflavin: beans, nuts, green leafy vegetables, avocados, and brewer’s yeast (nutritional yeast).

Niacin: beans, peas, peanut butter, nuts, and brewer’s yeast (nutritional yeast).

Pantothenic acid: whole grains, beans, and brewer’s yeast (nutritional yeast).

Pyridoxine: peanuts, beans, peas, bananas, avocados, potatoes, and brewer’s yeast (nutritional yeast).

Biotin: oatmeal, eggs, peanut butter, bananas, and brewer’s yeast (nutritional yeast).

Folic acid: dark-green leafy vegetables, orange juice, beans, avocados, beets, and brewer’s yeast (nutritional yeast).

Cobalamin: yogurt, cheese, and brewer’s yeast (nutritional yeast).


If your diet is poor or you have a digestive problem, you might be deficient in B’s because you aren’t able to absorb enough B vitamins through your intestines.. Alcohol blocks our ability to absorb B vitamins and also makes us excrete them faster. Alcoholics are most likely to be deficient in thiamin, riboflavin, pyridoxine, and folic acid. As we age we absorb some of the B’s poorly. Tobacco smoke decreases our absorption of B vitamins. People on strict diets (vegetarians and vegans) may not get enough B vitamins, there is a need to consciously add them to your daily diet.

A shortage of any one B vitamin will cause a deficiency in all the other B vitamins.



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