In terms of human health, B vitamins are known as the ‘energy’ vitamins of the body. They are active and required to help boost mitochondrial health in order to sustain energy and metabolism.
Our mitochondria is an organelle aka an ‘element’ which resides in every human cell, and helps to facilitate the energy required for the chemical processes to sustain life. B vitamins help to support the mitochondria aka ‘the powerhouse’ component of every cell, to function effectively.
However, the health benefits that B vitamins tout are heightened when taken together. A famous quote which springs to mind when discussing the synergistic effects of B vitamins is “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team”.
All B vitamins are water soluble, therefore it is essential to get your daily needs through diet or supplements.
Why do B vitamins work so harmoniously when taken together might you ask? Let’s discuss the individual benefits of B vitamins before we outline how and why their collaborative effects are the ultimate nutrient combo to support overall health.
B1 – Thiamin
Thiamine, aka B1, is used by the body to properly utilise carbohydrates and is a vital nutrient when it comes to maintaining proper nerve function.
B1 is also used to create neurotransmitters and is an important nutrient to help boost brain function1. A common condition associated with thiamine deficiency is beriberi which affects nerve, heart and brain health.
Common food-rich sources of B1 are fortified cereals, beans, lentils pork and sunflower seeds.
B2 - Riboflavin
One of riboflavin’s key roles is to convert proteins, fats and carbohydrates from our diet into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the bodies energy ‘currency’2.
Whilst b2 deficiency is rare, common symptoms of deficiency are itchy red eyes, anaemia, sore lips, glossitis, and anaemia. If a B2 deficiency is present, this usually indicates poor absorption in the gut and will likely indicate other nutrient deficiencies.
B3 - Niacin
Niacin plays a key role in keeping our gut, skin and nervous system healthy. What makes this B vitamin unique is its use in the holistic treatment of diabetes due to its positive effects on insulin sensitivity3.
B3 helps to release energy from the foods we eat, which helps us fight fatigue. Food rich sources of this nutrient are red meat, mushrooms, poultry, brown rice and legumes.
B5 – Pantothenic Acid
Pantothenic acid has commonly been used in functional medicine practices to help support those with acne. One of the theories behind this is the anti-inflammatory properties of B5.
This nutrient also helps the body to make various stress and sex related hormones in the adrenal glands and is an often-underrated nutrient when it comes to its impact on hormone health.
B5 rich foods include dairy, meat, fish and wholegrains.
B6 - Pyridoxine
Pyridoxine, aka B6, has many touted health benefits:
- Helps to prevent anaemia
- Improves mood and brain function
- Heart protective
- Helps to reduce the risk of eye infections & diseases
- An important co-factor in many bodily processes to promote overall health
Vitamin B6 also helps to reduce inflammation in the body, making it such a crucial nutrient for health and vitality.
B6 rich foods include beef liver, chickpeas, salmon, tuna and poultry.
B7 – Biotin
Biotin plays a crucial role in maintaining nervous, liver, eyes, hair and skin health. studies again show that this nutrient may play an important role in helping to boost insulin sensitivity and potentially reduce the risk of diabetes.
It is known as the ‘hair nutrient’ with studies linking biotin deficiency to hair loss. A study looking into the literature around biotin and hair loss found that biotin supplementation helped improve hair loss and nail growth in all cases4.
Biotin can be found in organ meats, eggs, nuts and fish.
B9 – Folate/Folic Acid
Many supplements contain the synthetic form of folate which is folic acid.
Folate is especially important during periods of rapid growth such as infancy, pregnancy and adolescence as it has a crucial role to play in making DNA.
Folate deficiency is commonly linked to neural tube defects in new-borns, and many commercial foods have been fortified with B9 in order to reduce the risk of deficiency.
Folate can be predominantly sourced from dark leafy greens.
B12 – Cyanocobalamin
B12 is the nutrient, which is commonly agreed on by all health professionals to be needed in supplemental form for those on a plant-based diet. B12 is found in trace amounts in plant foods, therefore if you are vegan or eat a plant-based diet, do ensure that you supplement with this nutrient.
This nutrient is also poorly absorbed if you don’t have enough stomach acid, therefore if you eat animal products and you suffer with a B12 deficiency, it’s important to work on digestion5.
B12 deficiency can also result from medications which affect stomach acid and digestion and medications used to treat conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or peptic ulcer disease. If you’re taking proton-pump inhibitors or H2 blockers or other antacids, and think you may be suffering with a B12 deficiency, speak to your doctor before discontinuing any medications.
So, in combination, what does a B complex, or a diet rich in various B vitamins do to the human body?
Help to Manage Inflammation
Vitamins B6, Folate and B12 work synergistically to regulate the levels of homocysteine in the body. Homocysteine is an amino acid which is broken down by B vitamins to create other chemicals that the body requires. If this amino acid isn’t broken down effectively it can lead to increased inflammation in the body and increased risk for dementia and heart disease6.
A meta-analysis of eight randomised controlled trial studies highlighted the effects of B6, B9 & B12 supplements on stroke patients. The study found that a B complex reduced a combined risk of stroke, myocardial infarction and vascular death by an average of 11% on study patients7.
Work as Co Factor Nutrients
B vitamins work together to help support many enzymatic reactions to support DNA/RNA synthesis and methylation, which is a process in which ‘old cells’ are recycled to create ‘new cells’.
B vitamins quite literally work together to help support with the creation of healthy cells and are a key component to longevity and physical ageing8.
Vitamin B Complex
Support Brain Health
B vitamins work synergistically to support brain function and energy output. Deficiencies in B complex vitamins have even been shown to delay development or worsen symptoms of learning and attention difficulties in children9.
Creates Red Blood Cells
Folate works with B12 to help make red blood cells and to help with iron absorption and utilisation. If we are deficient in any of these nutrients, then our risk for anaemia is increased10.