Know Your B Vitamins

Modified on by Kaitlin Goodrich

A great source of many of the B vitamins

B Vitamins are vital to our health. They help us process the food we eat into energy. They help our minds and memories stay sharp. They even help regulate our moods. But what are they, exactly? Most people don’t even know how many B vitamins there are. Let’s fill that gap.

The B vitamins are a chemically-related family of nutrients that work together to ensure that several key processes in our bodies go smoothly. Without the B vitamin complex, we wouldn’t be able to survive. Most people think about the B vitamins as a unit, and tend to forget that each of the 8 essential B vitamins has a unique function and unique sources. While the B vitamins do work together, they also perform key functions on their own. In order to truly appreciate each B vitamin, it’s important to know what each one does (and why it’s important).

Read on for a handy breakdown of B vitamin basics.

The Functions of the B Vitamin Complex

Vitamin B1 – Thiamine

Vitamin B1 is key to a healthy mind. Thiamine has been shown to help Alzheimer’s patients have better mental function, less senility, and fewer memory problems. Even for those of us yet to have memory problems, thiamine helps to sharpen our minds and make them function more efficiently. Thiamin also plays a key part in the reaction that turns nutrients into energy. Because of this, many energy supplements claim that the inclusion of Vitamin B1 will improve your energy levels, although this is unlikely to be true unless you already have a mild deficiency. Since Vitamin B1 is in a variety of foods, thiamine deficiency is rare.

Vitamin B2 – Riboflavin

Vitamin B2 is often associated with the prevention of free radicals, because it helps in the regeneration of glutathione, an enzyme that rids the body of free radicals. Riboflavin also helps the body better absorb and process iron, making it very important in combating anemia. Large doses of riboflavin have been shown to prevent migraines and cataracts, as well.

Vitamin B3 – Niacin

Vitamin B3 was originally discovered because it is the key to preventing the disease pellagra, but it has other important uses in the body. Niacin has been prescribed for those at risk of heart disease, because it’s effective in lowering the levels of triglycerides and the “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in your blood, while increasing the levels of the “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Niacin has also proven highly effective in preventing a number of diseases, but should not be supplemented without a doctor’s supervision. When your niacin levels get too high, you suffer severe side effects and toxicity.

Vitamin B5 – Pantothenic Acid

Known as the “everywhere” vitamin, vitamin B5 is found in almost every food. For this reason, it is difficult to separate the job it does from those of other B vitamins. Still, pantothenic acid is strongly associated with its anti-stress properties: since pantothenic acid helps regulate the adrenal gland, it does play an important role in regulating our stress hormones.

Vitamin B6 – Pyridoxine

In reality, B6 is synonymous with three compounds: pyridoxine, pyridoxamine, and pyridoxal (although pyridoxine is the most commonly recognized). Vitamin B6 can treat over 100 health conditions! Most importantly, B6 helps prevent the buildup of chemicals in the body that can lead to heart disease and kidney stones. It also is key in combating anemia and nerve pain and numbness. There is even some evidence that Vitamin B6 can help regulate hormones, which in turn diminishes the symptoms of PMS. B6 is commonly found in meats, grains, vegetables, nuts, and other foods.

Vitamin B7 – Biotin

Vitamin B7 is a coenzyme in the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates, the breakdown of proteins to urea, and the conversion of amino acids from protein into blood sugar for energy. Without biotin, the body couldn’t metabolize lipids, proteins, and carbohydrates. B7 also combats dermatitis and reduces inflammation in the small intestines. Generally, you don’t have to worry about eating vitamin B7, since it’s produced in sufficient quantities by bacteria in our gut.

Vitamin B9 – Folic Acid

As any pregnant woman knows, folic acid is key in helping prevent birth defects. Women must increase their daily intake drastically while pregnant. Folic acid isn’t just important for developing fetuses, though. High levels of folic acid can aid in mental function, and even act as a mild anti-depressant. Folic acid is even known to prevent the growth of abnormal cells on a woman’s cervix, helping prevent and even slow the growth of cervical cancer.

Vitamin B12 – Cobalamin

Vitamin B12 plays a key role in brain function and our nervous system. It is especially important in DNA synthesis and regulation, and without enough B12, our brains start to feel “foggy” and less sharp. Vitamin B12 also helps keep red blood cells healthy, and its deficiency can cause severe anemia. Another way people use B12 is directly on the skin to help with eczema or other skin conditions.

B Vitamins: Too Many Benefits to Know Them All

As you can tell, the B vitamins serve as some of the most important in the body. Without even one, we couldn’t function. Because of this, it’s important to know some of the best sources for each B vitamin. Explore the Health section of the Brainscape Knowledge Rehab subject to learn which foods are the best source for each vitamin in the B vitamin complex, and make sure to eat a balanced diet.  You may also want to browse all our flashcards to see if other users have created study materials for your specific Nutrition-related studies.

You may even discover more B vitamin functions! Do you know any other important ones? Let us know in the comments!

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