The B vitamins are a group of vitamins that are SUPER important to our bodies, especially with energy production.
They are water-soluble, meaning that they dissolve in water. This is a reason why vegetables should not be overcooked in water, in an effort to preserve its water-soluble vitamin contents, the B vitamins and vitamin C, by preventing them from leaching into the water. Being water-soluble, there is no posed danger on taking an excess of B-vitamins since they cannot be stored in the body (McGuire & Beerman, 2013).
There are eight B vitamins in total. The reason for there being 8 of these vitamins is because they all function very similarly to each other, but possess unique chemical structures. They were also each discovered by different scientists at different points in time. Together, they play an important role in converting food into energy.
Vitamin B1, also known as thiamin, is essential for assisting in the metabolizing of glucose and alcohol. A serious deficiency of B1 can result in beriberi, which was more common in the last century, especially amongst populations in impoverished areas. Less severe levels of deficiency can result in neurological disorders like irritability, depression and memory loss, and gastrointestinal issues like loss of appetite (Low Dog, 2016).
Our cells turn riboflavin, or vitamin B2, and niacin, or vitamin B3, into coenzymes that are required for many energy production processes, such as the reduction-oxidation reaction, aka redox, which is used to produce ATP (when food converts into energy), and to help convert vitamins A and folate into their useable forms (McGuire & Beerman, 2013). Some symptoms of severe riboflavin deficiencies include glossitis, stomatitis and cheilosis, which are all disorders of the mouth and tongue.
Nutritionist Elizabeth Lipski draws the conclusion that cracks in the corners of the mouth is caused by a lack of B vitamins; this caught my attention because it is something I have personally suffered. It is a painful and uncomfortable situation, and until I read Lipski’s Digestive Wellness (2012), I did not know how to heal it except for using chapstick to keep my lips moist which just temporarily alleviated the pain.
From a personal standpoint, the B vitamins have helped to considerably improve my oral health. When I started to follow Lipski’s advice last year by fortifying my diet with a B-complex supplement, it reversed the condition and it has not recurred since. I take either a multivitamin or a B-complex supplement every single day.
An additional benefit that I now enjoy from taking a daily B-complex is improved gum health. Since I have had three root canals that I know of, I have been experiencing issues with my gums, especially in areas by the teeth that have had the root canals. Every once in a while a flare-up will occur in a specific area of the gum, which becomes inflamed and painful. The B-complex supplement and the adaption of a plant-based diet with meat have significantly reduced the frequency of gum flare-ups.
Before I started to eat meat again in my adulthood, I was living on a pescatarian diet but primarily ate vegan and vegetarian meals most days with fish only on occasion. I was also not taking any supplements. I believe this was the cause of the downfall of my oral health, as well as the root canal procedures that I’ve had done over the years. Since meat and dairy are rich sources of B vitamins, I can see in retrospect that I was lacking in these essential nutrients by not eating foods or taking the supplements that offer the complete set of B vitamins.
Since the B vitamins are crucial for converting food into energy, it explains why I used to experience lower energy levels during my days of being mostly vegetarian. One of the very first changes I noticed when I began to eat meat again was the sustained levels of higher energy. In fact, this was the main reason why I decided to eat meat again. At 32 years old, I am really enjoying having higher levels of energy for longer periods of time, which enables me to function in all areas of my life better, especially in my work and physical exercise.
Please note that this is my own personal experience. I do not judge others for what they want to eat, and completely respect those who choose vegetarianism and veganism. Pantothenic acid, or vitamin B5, is found in almost every animal and plant, which is why it was derived from the Greek word, pantos, which means “everywhere”. Also essential for ATP production, B5 is also directly responsible for synthesizing CoA which is necessary for glycolysis. Vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B5 can be found in meat and dairy, but vitamin B6 differs in that it is especially available in chickpeas and fish. Vitamin B6 comes in three forms: pyridoxine, pyridoxal and pyridoxamine. B6 has the operational duty of making nonessential amino acids which the body produces on its own without needing it from food.
Biotin, or vitamin B7, is also crucial for ATP production. Nuts and eggs are both great sources of biotin. The small intestine is the site where the B-vitamins are separated from the protein in order to get absorbed in through the intestinal lining. Eggs contain a protein called avidin which is bound to the egg white and prevents the biotin from being bioavailable. Thankfully, avidin can be destroyed with heat, which is why eggs should always be consumed after being cooked. Remember how blending raw eggs into your protein shake was trendy in the 80s/90s? Well, they just didn’t know.
Folate, or vitamin B9, is abundantly available in dark, leafy greens. The importance of maintaining adequate folate levels by pregnant women is always emphasized because folate is responsible for DNA synthesis and cell division. Folate deficiency in pregnant mothers can cause neural tube defects like anencephaly and spina bifida in the baby. Women are recommended to start taking folate, which is always included in a prenatal supplement, as soon as they learn they are pregnant to support the development of the baby.
B12 plays a big role in maintaining mental wellness. Since it helps to produce myelin, which helps transport nerve impulses by wrapping around the nerve cords, and the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, B12 is absolutely crucial for preserving our brain health and emotional wellbeing for the long-term. B12 is the one B vitamin that is found exclusively in animals and not plant foods, which is why vegans have to be especially mindful of getting adequate levels of B12. An option for vegans is to supplement in the form of capsules or getting injections.
The B vitamins are a powerful pack that is crucial for the production of energy and stabilizing mental and emotional health. They are best taken together, because many of their functions involve the other B vitamins.
Lipski, E. (2012). Digestive wellness: strengthen the immune system and prevent disease through healthy digestion. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
McGuire, M. & Beerman, K. (2013). Nutritional sciences: from fundamentals to food. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Low Dog, T. (2016). Fortify your life: your guide to vitamins, minerals, and more. Washington, DC: National Geographic.