In Praise of the B Vitamins

Photo: Tom Magliery

My son, Devin, is home from college this week on spring break and has been singing the praises of the B vitamins to anyone who will listen, and maybe some people who won’t.  So, I thought I would take the time to discuss the Bs here on TheVeganAsana, in his honor.

The B-complex vitamins are actually a group of eight vitamins, which include:

    Photo: Biscarotte

  • thiamine (B1)
  • riboflavin (B2)
  • niacin (B3)
  • pantothenic acid (B5)
  • pyridoxine (B6)
  • biotin (B7)
  • folic acid (B9)
  • cyanocobalamin (B12)

Each of the B vitamins has different impacts on the body, though connections can be seen.

Thiamine impacts the bodies energy production as well as several enzymes related to muscle (including the heart) function and the nervous system.  It’s unusual to have a thiamine deficiency, unless an individual consumed excess alcohol, because alcohol interferes with thiamine absorption.  The most dramatic result of thiamine deficiency is beriberi, a disease that creates anemia, muscle spasms/weakness/atrophy, and even paralysis. Other conditions related to lack of thiamine cause problems with short-term memory and coordination.  In less serious effects, small thiamine deficiencies can create sensitive teeth and gums, and lip dryness and cracking. Thiamine can be found in many whole grains, potatoes, pork, seafood, liver, green leafy vegetables, sweet corn, berries, yeast, and kidney beans.

Riboflavin helps the body produce energy and affect enzymes that influence the muscles, nerves, and heart. Deficiencies of t his vitamin can create dermatitis, swelling around the mouth and nose tissues, light sensitivity, lesions in the corners of the lips, tongue inflammation, and anemia. B2 is found in cereals and whole grains, enriched bread, dairy products, eggs, peas, liver, and green leafy vegetables.

Niacin has a role in energy production in cells and helps keep the skin, nervous system, and digestive system healthy. Niacin deficits can be related to the disease pellegra, which causes digestive issues, skin and mouth problems, dementia, and can be fatal.  B3 is found in liver, fish, chicken, lean red meat, nuts, brewer’s yeast, peanuts, potatoes, whole grains, and dried beans.

Photo: Silvia di Natale

Pantothenic acid influences normal growth and development.  In developing children, these issues may be impacted by deficiency, but little other effect has been shown.  The vitamin is found in abundance in meats, legumes and whole-grain cereals.

Pyridoxine, better known as B6, helps the body break down protein and helps maintain the health of red blood cells, the nervous system, and parts of the immune system. Most people in the United States take in adequate B6, but lack of this vitamin can create skin problems, swelling of the tongue, anemia, nervous system abnormalities, insomnia, poor coordination, and even mental issues when severe enough. Pyridoxine is found in many foods, including liver and other organ meats, fish, dairy products, wheat germ, whole grains, soybeans, squash, peppers, turnip greens, avocado, sunflower seeds, and walnuts.

Biotin helps break down protein and carbohydrates and helps the body make hormones. Biotin deficiencies are rare, but may cause dermatitis.  Biotin is made by intestinal bacteria and is also in peanuts, liver, egg yolks (interestingly, eating too many egg whites can actually inhibit the ability to use B7 effectively), bananas, mushrooms, watermelon, brewer’s yeast, peanuts, cauliflower, mushrooms, and grapefruit.

Photo: chrisinplymouth

Folic acid assists the body in the creation and maintenance of DNA material and is active in the production of red blood cells.  Some increased cancer risk has been seen with low levels of folic acid, and folic acid deficiencies are correlated with anemia, mouth irritation, and poor growth in children.  Folic acid is present in many foods, but can be weakened in cooking.  Sources for folic acid include yeast, green leafy vegetables, liver, citrus fruits, mushrooms, nuts, peas, dried beans, and wheat bread.

Cyanocobalamin, better known as B12, plays a role in the body’s growth and development. It also has a part in producing blood cells, nervous system function, and how the body uses folic acid and carbohydrates.  As I have covered in more depth here, B12 deficiency can have many symptoms including is exhaustion and weakness, loss of appetite and weight loss, anemia, sores of the mouth and tongue, and even mental issues such as depression, confusion, poor memory, and dementia. In children, B12 lack can additionally create failure to thrive and developmental delays.  Because medical conditions, medications, and aging can impact the ability to process B12, and it is largely found in animal products, supplementation is frequently necessary. found in eggs, meat, poultry, shellfish, milk, and milk products.

So, eat your fruits and veggies, supplement where needed, and B the best you can B.

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