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Vitamin B Smart

Most of us know vitamins play an essential role in maintaining good health, but what they do exactly isn’t always understood.  If you’re like most people, you pop a vitamin or two everyday and trust you’re getting what you need.  But are you?

Education is key to making informed and educated choices about what to consume, and vitamins are no exception.  I believe we would take better care of ourselves if we knew more about vitamins; making food and supplement choices smarter and easier.  So, I’ve written this article about a group of my favorite friends: the all-important B vitamins that each of us need everyday in order to perform, feel, and look our best.

There are eight different B vitamins, each having their own name, and when grouped together are called B-complex vitamins.  If you take a multivitamin they’re probably all in there.  B vitamins are water soluble vitamins, meaning they dissolve in water, or mix well with water.  What that means to us is they leave our body after just a few hours.  Our body does not store them for longer periods like it does with oil soluble vitamins, so they essentially get washed out.  Have you ever noticed how yellow pee gets a few hours after you take a multivitamin or B complex?  That neon yellow urine means your body’s eliminating B vitamins.  Interesting little fellows!

Yes, they are interesting and very powerful, as well.  B vitamins are known as the “energy vitamins” because you can actually feel their effect shortly after consuming them.  However, they do much more for us than keep us going on the dance floor, and the list goes something like this: B vitamins help maintain the health of our nerves, liver, eyes, skin, hair, mouth, and brain.  They aid in the digestion of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, and promote muscle tone in the gastrointestinal track… I can definitely see the benefit of that!  B-complex vitamins act as coenzymes, assisting enzymes in converting food into energy.  It’s believed these vitamins help relieve depression and anxiety, also.  They are essential for growth and development and a host of other bodily functions.

B vitamins are found in both animal and plant sources, and are best consumed as a group versus taking them individually – in order to keep them balanced.  Basically, they work as a team.  Consuming more of one B than another for an extended amount of time will throw their ratios off and cause deficiencies, which can adversely affect your health.  This is more of a concern when taking supplements than it is with food.  Nature has a way of balancing nutrients in whole (real) foods.

We actually don’t need high levels of B vitamins to satisfy our body’s recommended daily requirement; just enough of them.  According to nutritionists, 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day, in addition to grains, should be enough to meet our needs.  The problem is most of us don’t have an optimal diet, and there lies the dilemma.  So, if you fall into this category, you might want to consider taking supplements.

If you’re going to go the supplement route, know that amounts are usually higher in supplements than food.  The body doesn’t absorb vitamins from supplements as well as it does from food, so the dosage is upped in an attempt to give the body enough.  Does that make sense?   The exception to this rule is “whole food” vitamins, whose levels are much lower than synthetic brands, since the body absorbs them better and easier.

Each B vitamin plays a specific role and has certain jobs to do.  Here’s a partial list of what each one is responsible for:

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamin) and vitamin B2 (riboflavin) help the body produce energy and affect enzymes that influence the muscles, nerves, and heart.  It assists circulation, is necessary for red blood cell formation, and helps make hyrochloric acid (stomach acid).
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin) has a role in energy production in cells and helps keep the skin, nervous system, and digestive system healthy.  It helps metabolize proteins, carbs and fats, and synthesize sex hormones.  Hormones?! Going out to buy myself a big bottle right now!
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) is known as the “anti-stress vitamin.  It influences normal growth and development, aids in the formation of antibodies and in the utilization of vitamins.  It’s involved in the production of neurotransmitters.
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is involved in more bodily functions than any other B vitamins.  It helps the body break down protein and helps maintain the health of red blood cells, the nervous system, and parts of the immune system.
  • Vitamin B7 (biotin) aids in cell growth, and helps break down protein and carbohydrates.  It helps the body make hormones, and is needed for healthy hair and skin.  Biotin can help with hair loss in men.  There’s a reason to take it, if I ever heard one!
  • Vitamin B9 (folic acid) is considered brain food, helps the cells in the body make and maintain DNA, and is important in the production of red blood cells.
  • Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) plays a role in the body's growth and development. It also has a part in producing blood cells, in the utilization of iron, nervous system function, and how the body uses folic acid and carbohydrates.


I don’t think there’s any one B vitamin I’m willing to miss.  Deficiency of certain B vitamins can cause serious health problems including anemia, tiredness, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, depression, numbness and tingling in the arms and legs, muscle cramps, respiratory infections, hair loss, and eczema.  Vegans, especially, need to make sure they get adequate amounts of B12 in order to avoid anemia.

Here’s a list of some of the richest food sources of B vitamins:

  • B1 and B2 are found in cereals, wheat germ, whole grains, and brown rice.  B1 is also found in potatoes, pork, peas, legumes, egg yolks, seafood, liver, kidney beans, brewer’s yeast, raisins, and most nuts.
  • B2 is found in enriched bread, dairy products, liver, fish, legumes, molasses, nuts, mushrooms, and green leafy vegetables.
  • B3 is found in beef liver, fish, chicken, lean red meat, nuts, whole grains, carrots, broccoli, potatoes, tomatoes, and dried beans.
  • B5 is found in almost all foods including: beef, eggs, liver, kidney, saltwater fish, pork, royal jelly, whole rye flour and whole wheat.
  • B6 is found in fish, liver, pork, chicken, eggs, peas, potatoes, spinach, carrots, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, walnuts, cabbage, bananas, and dried beans.
  • B7 is made by intestinal bacteria and is also in soybeans, saltwater fish, peanuts, liver, cooked egg yolks, brewer’s yeast, milk, bananas, mushrooms, watermelon, grapefruit, and whole grains.
  • B9 is in green leafy vegetables, liver, lamb, salmon, tuna, asparagus, barley, brewer’s yeast, lentils, citrus fruits, mushrooms, root vegetables, nuts, peas, dried beans, whole wheat and whole grains.
  • B12 is found in eggs, clams, herring, mackerel, kidney, liver, meat, poultry, shellfish, milk, and milk products. B12 is not found in many vegetables, which is why vegans need to find a reliable source to avoid anemia.  Sea vegetables: kemp, kombu, nori, and dulse do contain B12, as does soybeans.


Fulfilling our daily requirement of B vitamins should not be difficult based on the number of foods that contain them.  If you think your diet is lacking, try a B-complex supplement, or, better yet, take a multivitamin and get more of everything you need.  Taking care of our health is really the first place to start when improving our image and life.  Without a healthy foundation not much else matters.  So, gentleman, if you want to feel on top of the world, take care of business by taking your Bs!

by Aaron Marino

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