Getting to Know B Vitamins

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vitamin-bThe second installment of Vitamins and Minerals: From A to Zinc, is all about the Bs. Actually, four of the Bs, particularly B1, B2, B3 and B5. Watch for the B6, B7, B9 and B12 in a blog next week. B vitamins are complicated because there are 8 of them, and although they are all lumped under the term vitamin B, each one has individual properties that are vital to your health. The group of Bs is also known as B complex and when taken as a whole, it can provide protection against deficiencies. The whole group of Bs is often found in a multivitamin/multimineral complex. There are instances, though, where you may need an extra boost of a particular B vitamin, and in this case it is best to consult with a healthcare practitioner.

So here are the first four B vitamins, what they do, and why you need them.

B1 (thiamine): Vitamin B1 helps the body break down and release energy from carbohydrates in our food and also helps keep the nervous system healthy. Although not common in the US, a thiamine deficiency can be caused by excessive alcohol intake and/or a very poor diet; symptoms can include confusion, irritability, poor coordination, lethargy, fatigue and muscle weakness. Foods that are good sources of B1 are soybeans, soy products, green peas, beans, lentils, squash, wheat germ, oatmeal and sunflower seeds.

B2 (riboflavin): Vitamin B2 is important for skin, eye, and nervous system health. It’s involved in the process of energy production from fat, protein and carbohydrates and helps in the production of vitamins B3 (niacin) and B6 (pyridoxine). Deficiencies of this vitamin are not common either but can also be caused by excessive alcohol intake, as well as a diet that doesn’t include milk or milk products. Symptoms can include inflamed tongue or cracks/redness on the tongue and corners of the mouth, anxiety, inflamed eyelids, sensitivity to light, reddening of the cornea, hair loss and skin rashes. To get B2, include the following in your diet: tempeh, dairy, eggs, mushrooms and leafy green vegetables.

B3 (niacin): Niacin is important for nervous system and skin health, proper digestion and healthy appetite. B3 helps in the process of energy production from fat, protein and carbohydrates. Taken as a supplement, it is used to support healthy cholesterol levels. Deficiencies can be caused by heavy alcohol consumption or diets heavily based on corn, and symptoms can include dementia, diarrhea, dermatitis, swollen tongue, weakness and dizziness. Foods that are good sources of niacin are mushrooms, whole grains (oatmeal, wheat, barley), soybeans/soy products (tempeh, tofu), dairy, eggs, poultry, fish/seafood, and
nuts and seeds.

B5 (pantothenic acid): Vitamin B5 is responsible for metabolizing carbohydrates, proteins and fats, and producing red blood cells and steroid hormones. One of the rarest B deficiencies, symptoms can include fatigue, insomnia, depression, irritability, vomiting, stomach pains,
burning feet, and upper respiratory infections. B5 can be found in fish and seafood,
beef and pork, dairy, eggs, avocados, beans, lentils, mushrooms and sweet potatoes.

Photo from here, with thanks.

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February 2023