B Vitamins—And Why They’re Essential

One of the most essential vitamins, the B’s are also the most confusing—because there are a lot of them. Whether it’s B12, B6 or folate, they each serve a very distinct function. We asked our resident doctor Mauro Zappaterra, MD, Ph.D. to explain the difference, and the best ways to incorporate each one.

What are B vitamins?

The B-vitamins are an essential group of vitamins to help the body function. In total, there are eight B-vitamins: B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folate), and B12 (cobalamin). These are water-soluble vitamins which means they are not readily stored in the human body and are easily excreted by the kidneys. B vitamins function as either cofactors for enzymes for optimal performance, or as precursors to other important molecules.

What role do B Vitamins play in the body? 

The B vitamins have a number of essential roles in the human body.  In one way or another, they all support cellular energy production and proper metabolism. They function in life-sustaining chemical reactions that occur in the body on a daily basis and help you make and use energy. They improve mitochondrial function, and with optimal mitochondrial function, one gets optimal energy. They are well known to support the function of the nervous system.  We need these vitamins for a number of different roles including converting carbohydrates into energy, helping break down fats and protein, allowing the muscles and nervous system to function properly, allowing the red blood cells to grow and bring blood to our organs, supporting our digestion and helping convert food to energy.  They are also essential in the production of hormones, important for cognitive development and function, maintaining a sharp and focused mind, nervous system development, and DNA synthesis.

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Are all of the B vitamins equally important? Which ones are the most important and why?

Picking the most important B vitamins is like picking the most important parts of the body—They all work in synergy. With that being said, there is a significant emerging role of the B vitamins in preventing diseases of aging including cardiovascular diseases, bone health, and cognitive dysfunction. A number of studies have looked at the role of B vitamins, separately or in combination, and showed that supplementation with B vitamins—especially B6, B9, and B12—decreased the risk of cognitive decline and brain atrophy.

What are the causes of B Vitamin deficiency?

There are a number of causes of B vitamin deficiency including decreased intake, increased metabolic requirements, poor absorption, drug interactions, genetic disorders, and medical conditions. The most common cause is poor dietary intake due to the decreased eating of whole unprocessed foods, as the processing of foods has removed a lot of the natural vitamins from the whole food itself, and that is why we are fortifying cereals and bread with a lot of B vitamins.  Another common cause of vitamin B deficiency is malabsorption through the gut.  As we age, some of the most common deficiencies are deficiencies in vitamin B2, B6, B9 (folate), and B12.

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What foods are Vitamin B-rich?

B vitamins are found in whole unprocessed foods. Good sources of B vitamins include legumes, whole grains, potatoes, fruit, chili peppers, nutritional yeast or brewer’s yeast, molasses, dairy, egg, green leafy vegetables, organ meats such as liver and kidney, avocado, broccoli, kale.   

Experience the effects of B vitamins yourself with our Restore Tonic, which includes vitamins B6, B3, and B12.   

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