We all need vitamins in tiny doses. They are micronutrients, organic compounds that keep us healthy and allow the body to function as it needs to. We generally get our vitamins from food (though this isn’t always the case) as our bodies don’t produce them – or, at least, they don’t do so in sufficient quantities.
There are thirteen vitamins all told. Each of them plays a different role within the human body. Most play several roles, in fact, all of which are vital to our remaining healthy. We need different amounts of each. However, a deficit of any will result in serious health concerns.
Today we will be focusing on the Vitamin B complex.
Vitamin B complex is an important set of eight different B vitamins: B1-3, 5, 6, 9, and 12. Or, in order, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, biotin, folic acid, and cobalamin.
Each of these eight vitamins serves an important role in the body. Together, they will ensure the healthy functioning of many disparate facets of your physical and mental wellbeing.
For instance, they directly affect your energy levels, cognitive ability, brain function, and cell metabolism. A good vitamin B complex can support immune function, cellular health, red blood cell renewal and growth, vision, appetite and digestion, hormonal balance, cardiovascular function, and proper nerve function.
Vitamin B Dosing
So, how much of each B vitamin do you need to maintain your health and wellbeing? It varies between each, with the NIH (National Institute of Health) recommending the following intake per day:
- B1: 1.1 mg
- B2: 1.1 mg
- B3: 14 mg
- B5: 5 mg
- B6: 1.3 mg
- Biotin: 30 mcg
- Folic acid: 400 mcg
- B12: 2.4 mcg
- B1: 1.2 mg
- B2: 1.3 mg
- B3: 16 mg
- B5: 5 mg
- B6: 1.3 mg
- Biotin: 30 mcg
- Folic acid: 400 mcg
- B12: 2.4 mcg
Do note, however, that these are just guidelines. There is also little to fear from going above these amounts (within reason, of course.) If you’re unsure, it may be worth going slightly higher. In fact, older adults and pregnant women may need more.
You should always consult your healthcare provider before starting any supplement regime. They will be able to advise you on the dosing you will need for your own individual needs and circumstances.
There are some health conditions that impair the body’s ability to fully absorb vitamin B. These include HIV, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, alcohol use disorder (AUD), rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and certain kidney concerns.
If you suffer with any of these, speak with your doctor for further advice on how to maintain sufficient vitamin B levels.
What Does Vitamin B Deficiency Look Like?
You should be able to maintain a healthy vitamin B intake through diet and supplementation, as we’ll see below.
However, vitamin B deficiency is of course possible. This be due to certain underlying health factors, as mentioned above. It can also simply be through an oversight in your nutritional plan.
Either way, if you struggle with any of the following symptoms, there is a good chance that you are not getting enough vitamin B in your diet:
- Bad skin or skin rashes, including cracks around the mouth and dry, scaly lips
- Swollen tongue
- Weakness and fatigue
- Mood swings, irritability, or depression
- Confusion or dizziness
- Digestive discomfort, including diarrhea or constipation
- Stomach cramps
- Peripheral neuropathy: numbness or tingling sensations in your extremities
Of course, if you’re suffering with any of the above symptoms, there could be any number of causes or explanations. It need not necessarily be due to vitamin B deficiency – there could be an underlying health factor that needs accounting for.
Either way, speak to your healthcare advisor and be frank about your symptoms. They will be able to arrange any tests you may need, and will be able to test you for vitamin B deficiency.
If you are vitamin B deficient, a change in nutrition will be needed. You will need to rethink your diet, including plenty of the foods listed below. Supplementation may be a good idea, too.
If left unchecked, a lack of B vitamins may lead to a range of health concerns, depending on the severity and range of deficiency, and the specifics of the lacking vitamins. Alongside experiencing the above symptoms, sometimes with increasing severity, you may find yourself more open to infection, with greatly depleted immune function.
There may also be some cognitive or neurological symptoms, such as peripheral neuropathy. A deficiency of vitamin B12 may increase your chances of suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
It is important that women who are pregnant take in plenty of vitamin B, both for their health and the health of the fetus. A B vitamin complex will aid in healthy fetal development, reducing the risks of any kind of birth defects. It will help those expecting by easing nausea, managing energy levels, and decreasing the risk of suffering preeclampsia.
Men need to take in plenty of vitamin B, too. It is vital for hormonal balance with particular reference to testosterone. For this reason, you’ll often see a vitamin B complex included in any kind of testosterone boosting supplement or diet plan. This may become particularly important as men age, as they tend to lose testosterone year on year after the age of about thirty.
Dietary Sources of B Vitamins
Though supplementation is often a good idea for those looking to boost their micronutrient intake, food sources will generally be our main supply of them. There are of course plenty of foods that contain B vitamins. If you eat plenty of the following then you will likely have sufficient or near sufficient levels of at least some of the B vitamins found in a vitamin B complex:
- Dairy sources like milk and cheese
- Meat sources like chicken and red meat, especially from the liver and kidneys
- Fish sources like mackerel, salmon, and tuna, as well as shellfish like oysters and clams
- Vegetables sources like avocados, beetroots, and potatoes
- Dark leafy greens like spinach and kale
- Fruit sources like citrus, watermelon, and banana
- Cereals and whole grains, including wheatgerm
- Nuts and seeds
- Beans, like black beans and chickpeas
- Soy products like tofu and tempeh
Should You Supplement Your Vitamin B Intake?
No vitamin supplement will ever be as good as a whole food source. Whole food sources represent the best way to properly and fully absorb B vitamins into your body. Because of this, a mixed and healthy diet is key for maintaining a healthy vitamin B intake.
It may not be necessary for most people to take vitamin B supplements unless advised to by a doctor. Your healthcare provider will be able to let you know if you need to supplement. They will be able to tell you specifically which B vitamins you are deficient in, if any.
However, there are certain demographics for whom supplementation may be more sorely needed. This includes pregnant and breastfeeding women, those aged over fifty, some men aged over thirty, where testosterone levels are a concern, and those suffering from chronic health concerns or taking certain long-term medications.
Vegetarians and especially vegans may also benefit from vitamin B supplementation. As above, meat, fish, dairy, and eggs are key sources of dietary vitamin B.
Always speak to your healthcare provider if you think you need to supplement, or would benefit from it. Supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (the FDA), so are far more open to variations in quality and dosing than prescription or over the counter drugs. Because of this, you should always shop around for trusted brands. If in doubt, your doctor may be able to recommend a good brand.
Can You Have Too Much Of A Good Thing?
It is highly unlikely that you will take in too much vitamin B complex from either diet or supplementation.
They are water soluble, which means that you will pee out any excess vitamins.
Because of this, you may be tempted to take a vitamin B complex supplement as something of an insurance policy – there is no harm to overdoing it, there are potential harms from taking in too little, so you may as well take a supplement to make sure your levels are all optimized.
This can be a good idea. Vitamin B complexes tend to be relatively low cost, so there really is little to lose from supplementing.
However, do take note of a supplement’s guidelines. Take them as directed. Taking too much in will offer no benefit, but it is at least technically possible to overdo it, especially if you don’t have a pre-existing deficiency.
For example, too much vitamin B6 may lead to peripheral neuropathy, too much folic acid can obscure vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms (which may ultimately lead to damage to your nervous system), and excess niacin may cause skin flushes or, in the long-term, liver damage.
The Take Home
Vitamins are crucial to our wellbeing. Adequate quantities of all will allow the body to function as it ought to – optimally and with far less chance of illness and disease. This includes B vitamins, which take care of a lot of bodily processes.
Deficiencies can lead to a range of health complaints.
It is always better to get your vitamins from dietary sources. Your body will absorb them far more efficiently. A varied, rich and healthy diet will also give you a full range of additional benefits.
As we have seen, there are plenty of animal and plant sources of B vitamins, meaning that most eating plans should allow for a good intake.
However, it isn’t always possible or practical to get sufficient B vitamins from your diet alone. This could be down to an eating plan itself, or it could be because of underlying health factors. Vitamin B complex supplements can be a great resource, here. They can top you up, so to speak. And, though it’s possible, it’s hard to overdose on vitamins, making them a viable possible insurance policy.