Vitamin B is great due to its ability to work synergistically and has a dynamic effect on our health. It helps the body metabolise the food we eat into energy and ensure correct nervous system function.
All B vitamins are water soluble and, apart from B12, are not stored by the body. This means we have to ensure we get the right amount through diet and supplementation (if necessary).
Vitamin B1 or thiamine
It is found in asparagus, beef, sunflower seeds, legumes, lamb, nuts, pork, rye, peas oats and other wholegrains. It is prone to destruction when cooking as it is unstable in heat and light and a high alkaline environment. Thiamine plays a key role in energy production from carbohydrates and fats energy metabolism. It is also crucial for correct sugar metabolism, nervous system support and the production of blood vessels and hydrochloric acid.
Factors which increase demand include high level of sporting activity, excessive alcohol intake, AIDS and HIV infection, excessive caffeine, sugar and raw fish intake, pregnancy and diabetes.
Vitamin B2 or riboflavin
B2 plays a key role in the recycling of glutathione, the endogenous antioxidant found in the body. It also promotes iron metabolism by mobilising in from stores in the body to incorporate into cells. Riboflavin also plays a role in the maintenance of mucosa, epithelial and eye tissues and keeps the nervous system healthy. It is also used in high doses for migraine therapy.
Most people can see their urine turn quite yellow when there is a lot of this in the diet or as a supplement. Best sources of riboflavin include mushrooms, green leafy vegetables, sardines, eggs and turkey. Legumes, soy, cruciferous vegetables and asparagus also contain good amounts. Riboflavin is also unstable to light and alkali. Factors which increase demand include excessive processed food, sugar, caffeine and alcohol intake, thyroid disease, lactose intolerance and stress.
Vitamin B3 or niacin
It is found in almonds, chicken, beef, eggs, fish, legumes, oily fish, sunflower seeds and peanuts. Unlike thiamine and riboflavin, it is stable to heat. Niacin plays a role in energy production, hormone and lipid synthesis and the metabolism of fat, carbohydrate and protein. Niacine helps the body synthesis hormones.
Vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid
It is found in avocados, beans, egg yolks, green vegetables, legumes, organ meats, mushrooms, peas, sweet potatoes and wholegrains, although the milling process reduces levels by up to 50%.
Pantothenic acid is also unstable to heat or an environment that is either too alkaline or too acidic.
This vitamin is involved in the synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, cholesterol steroid hormone and antibody production for immune system function. It plays a crucial role in the metabolism of fat, carbohydrate and protein for energy.
Vitamin B6 or pyridoxine
It is found in avocado, bananas, walnuts, carrots, chicken, egg yolks, legumes, oatmeal, organ meats, peanuts and sunflower seeds. It is unstable to light and much is lost in the cooking process.
It plays a role in elimination of toxins via the liver, healthy immune function, the production of heme, an important section of the haemoglobin protein present in red blood cells which helps to carry oxygen around the body. It is also required to pull stored carbohydrate or glycogen from storage to use as energy so it is an important nutrient to maintain healthy energy levels.
Pyridoxine plays a crucial role in the production of neurotransmitters for healthy brain and nervous system function, in particular serotonin, dopamine and GABA. Low levels of B6 often correlate with depressive symptoms and the risk of developing ADHD in children.
Vitamins B9, B6 and B12
They are all co-factors in the methylation cycle, an essential cellular process in which homocysteine is converted into cysteine, a semi-essential amino biosynthesisd in the human body. High levels of homocysteine are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular and potentially Alzheimer’s disease.
Vitamin B9 or folate
Vitamin B9 or folate sources include green leafy vegetables, broccoli, asparagus, organ meats, barley, yeast and lentils. It is unstable to heat, acid and light and cooking and storage can reduce levels by up to 75%.
Folate plays a key role in DNA repair and the differentiation of embryonic nervous system, which is why deficiency is associated with spina bifida and other birth defects affecting the brain, nervous system and spinal cord.
Deficiency may be associated with megaloblastic or microcystic anaemia, when there is improper red blood cell production
Vitamin B12 or cobalamin
It is synthesised by bacteria and is found in animal sources such as meat, fish, seafood, eggs and cheese. Mushrooms may also contain B12 but generally, vegans would need to supplement.
This vitamin plays a key role in red blood cell production and deficiency may cause pernicious anaemia, in which immune system antibodies interfere with the production of intrinsic factor, a glycoprotein required for the correct metabolism of B12 which is produced in the parietal cells of the stomach, so low stomach acid is a factor which might need to be corrected, particularly in those under chronic stress. B12 also plays a role in DNA production and nervous system health.