Vitamin B

Vitamin B

Vitamin B

B-group vitamins help our bodies use the energy-yielding nutrients (such as carbohydrates, fat and protein) for fuel. Some B-group vitamins are needed to help cells to multiply by making new DNA.

Except for B-12 and folate which are stored by the liver, most B-group vitamins can’t be stored by the body. They must be consumed regularly in a healthy diet that includes a range of wholefoods (such as lean meatfishwholegrains, fruit, vegetables and legumes) and limits the intake of alcohol and processed foods.

The 8 types of vitamin B are:

  • Thiamin (B1)
  • Riboflavin (B2)
  • Niacin (B3)
  • Pantothenic acid (B5)
  • Pyridoxine (B6)
  • Biotin (B7)
  • Folate or ‘Folic acid’ (B9)
  • Cyanocobalamin (B12).

Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)

Vitamin B1 or thiamin is essential for glucose metabolism and nerve, muscle, and heart function. People may need supplements if their diet does not provide enough B vitamins, during hemodialysis, and for other reasons.

vitamin B1 intake in foods that naturally contain thiamin, while the rest comes from foods that manufacturers fortify with the vitamin.

The following foods are a source of vitamin B1.

Animal source:

  • pork
  • nuts
  • eggs
  • trout
  • black beans

Fruits and vegetables that contain vitamin B1 include:

  • cauliflower
  • oranges
  • potatoes
  • asparagus
  • kale


Vitamin B1 helps prevent complications in the:

  • nervous system
  • brain
  • muscles
  • heart
  • stomach
  • intestines

It is also involved in the flow of electrolytes into and out of muscle and nerve cells.

A vitamin B1 deficiency can lead to conditions such as beriberi, which involves disorders of the heart, nerves, and digestive system

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

Vitamin B2 is an essential B vitamin for human health. People may also refer to it as riboflavin. Health benefits of vitamin B2 include supporting cellular functions that provide the body with energy, allowing it to work efficiently.

Vitamin B2 helps break down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. It plays a vital role in maintaining the body’s energy supply.


Vitamin B2 comes from food.

Sources of B2 include:

  • Fish, meat, and poultry, such as turkey, chicken, beef, kidneys, and liver
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Asparagus
  • Artichokes
  • Avocados
  • Cayenne
  • Currants
  • Fortified cereals
  • Kelp
  • Lima beans, navy beans, and peas
  • Molasses
  • Mushrooms
  • Nuts
  • Parsley
  • Pumpkins
  • Rosehips
  • Sage
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, dandelion greens, and watercress
  • Whole-grain breads, enriched breads, and wheat bran
  • Yeast extract
  • Vitamin B2 is water soluble, so cooking foods can cause it to be lost. About twice as much B2 is lost through boiling as it is through steaming or microwaving.


Vitamin B2 deficiency is a significant risk when diet is poor, because the human body excretes the vitamin continuously, so it is not stored. A person who has a B2 deficiency normally lacks other vitamins too.

Signs and symptoms of deficiency include:

  • Angular cheilitis, or cracks at the corners of the mouth
  • Cracked lips
  • Dry skin
  • Inflammation of the lining of the mouth
  • Inflammation of the tongue
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Red lips
  • Sore throat
  • Scrotal dermatitis
  • Fluid in mucous membranes
  • Iron-deficiency anemia
  • Eyes may be sensitive to bright light, and they may be itchy, watery, or bloodshot
  • People who drink excessive amounts of alcohol are at greater risk of vitamin B deficiency.

vitamin B3 (Niacin)

Niacin, or vitamin B3, is a water-soluble B vitamin found naturally in some foods, added to foods, and sold as a supplement. The two most common forms of niacin in food and supplements are nicotinic acid and nicotinamide. The body can also convert tryptophan—an amino acid—to nicotinamide. Niacin is water-soluble so that excess amounts the body does not need are excreted in the urine. Niacin works in the body as a coenzyme, with more than 400 enzymes dependent on it for various reactions. Niacin helps to convert nutrients into energy, create cholesterol and fats, create and repair DNA, and exert antioxidant effects.

Food Sources

A niacin deficiency is rare because it is found in many foods, both from animals and plants.

  • Red meat: beef, beef liver, pork
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Brown rice
  • Fortified cereals and breads
  • Nuts, seeds
  • Legumes
  • Bananas


A niacin deficiency is rare in the United States and other industrialized countries because it is well-absorbed from most foods (with the exception of some cereal grains in which niacin is bound to its fibers, decreasing the absorption) and is added to many foods and multivitamins. A severe niacin deficiency leads to pellagra, a condition that causes a dark, sometimes scaly rash to develop on skin areas exposed to sunlight; bright redness of the tongue; and constipation/diarrhea. Other signs of severe niacin deficiency include:

  • Depression
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Memory loss
  • Hallucinations

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)

Vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid, is naturally present in foods, added to foods, and available as a supplement. It is used to make coenzyme A (CoA), a chemical compound that helps enzymes to build and break down fatty acids as well as perform other metabolic functions, and acyl carrier protein, which is also involved in building fats. [1] Pantothenic acid is found in a wide variety of foods. Bacteria in the gut can also produce some pantothenic acid but not enough to meet dietary needs.

Food Sources:

Pantothenic acid is found in almost all plant and animal foods to some degree, because the vitamin is found in all living cells. The best sources are beef, chicken, organ meats, fortified cereals, and some vegetables.

  • Fortified cereals
  • Organ meats (liver, kidney)
  • Beef
  • Chicken breast
  • Mushrooms
  • Avocados
  • Nuts, seeds
  • Dairy milk
  • Yogurt
  • Potatoes
  • Eggs
  • Brown rice
  • Oats
  • Broccoli

Deficiency :

Because pantothenic acid is found in a wide variety of foods, a deficiency is rare except in people who have other nutrient deficiencies, as seen with severe malnutrition. Other rare cases are seen in persons with genetic mutations in which pantothenic acid cannot be metabolised.

Symptoms of deficiency may include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps
  • Numbness or burning sensation in hands or feet
  • Muscle cramps

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)

Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, is a water-soluble vitamin found naturally in many foods, as well as added to foods and supplements. Pyridoxal 5’ phosphate (PLP) is the active coenzyme form and most common measure of B6 blood levels in the body. PLP is a coenzyme that assists more than 100 enzymes to perform various functions, including the breakdown of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats; maintaining normal levels of homocysteine (since high levels can cause heart problems); and supporting immune function and brain health.

Food Sources:

Vitamin B6 is found in a variety of animal and plant foods.

  • Beef liver
  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Fortified cereals
  • Chickpeas
  • Poultry
  • Some vegetables and fruits, especially dark leafy greens, bananas, papayas, oranges, and cantaloupe

Deficiency :

A vitamin B6 deficiency most often occurs when other B vitamins in the body are low, particularly vitamin B12 and folic acid. A mild deficiency may have no symptoms, but a more severe or prolonged deficiency can exhibit the following:

  • Microcytic anemia
  • Skin conditions
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Lowered immunity

Certain conditions can increase the risk of developing a deficiency by interfering with the absorption of vitamin B6:

  • Kidney disease
  • Autoimmune intestinal disorders like celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease
  • Autoimmune inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Alcoholism

vitamin B7 (Biotin)

You may recognise vitamin B7 by its popular name of biotin. It is a water-soluble B vitamin found naturally in some foods and also in supplements. Biotin plays a vital role in assisting enzymes to break down fats, carbohydrates, and proteins in food. It also helps to regulate signals sent by cells and the activity of genes. 

Food Sources

  • Beef liver
  • Eggs (cooked)
  • Salmon
  • Avocados
  • Pork
  • Sweet potato
  • Nuts, seeds

Deficiency :

A biotin deficiency in the U.S. is rare, as most people eat enough biotin in a varied diet. Alcoholism can increase the risk of biotin deficiency and many other nutrients as alcohol can block their absorption, and also because alcohol abuse is generally associated with a poor dietary intake. About a third of pregnant women show a mild biotin deficiency despite eating adequate intakes, though the exact reason is not clear.

Symptoms appearing with a biotin deficiency:

  • Thinning hair
  • Scaly skin rashes around eyes, nose, mouth
  • Brittle nails

Vitamin B9 (Folate)

Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9, water-soluble and naturally found in many foods. It is also added to foods and sold as a supplement in the form of folic acid; this form is actually better absorbed than that from food sources—85% vs. 50%, respectively. Folate helps to form DNA and RNA and is involved in protein metabolism. It plays a key role in breaking down homocysteine, an amino acid that can exert harmful effects in the body if it is present in high amounts. Folate is also needed to produce healthy red blood cells and is critical during periods of rapid growth, such as during pregnancy and fetal development.

Food Sources:

A wide variety of foods naturally contain folate, but the form that is added to foods and supplements, folic acid, is better absorbed. In January 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required food manufacturers to add folic acid to foods commonly eaten, including breads, cereals, pasta, rice, and other grain products, to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. This program has helped to increase the average folic acid intake by about 100 mcg/day. [38,39] Good sources of folate include:

  • Dark green leafy vegetables (turnip greens, spinach, romaine lettuce, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli)
  • Beans
  • Peanuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Fresh fruits, fruit juices
  • Whole grains
  • Liver
  • Aquatic foods
  • Eggs
  • Fortified foods and supplements

Deficiency :

A folate deficiency is rare because it is found in a wide range of foods. However, the following conditions may put people at increased risk:

  • Alcoholism. Alcohol interferes with the absorption of folate and speeds the rate that folate breaks down and is excreted from the body. People with alcoholism also tend to eat poor-quality diets low in folate-containing foods.
  • Pregnancy. The need for folate increases during pregnancy as it plays a role in the development of cells in the fetus.
  • Intestinal surgeries or digestive disorders that cause malabsorption. Celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease can decrease the absorption of folate. Surgeries involving the digestive organs or that reduce the normal level of stomach acid may also interfere with absorption.
  • Genetic variants. People carrying a variant of the gene MTHFR cannot convert folate to its active form to be used by the body.

Signs of deficiency can include: megaloblastic anemia (a condition arising from a lack of folate in the diet or poor absorption that produces less red blood cells, and larger in size than normal); weakness, fatigue; irregular heartbeat; shortness of breath; difficulty concentrating; hair loss; pale skin; mouth sores.

Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin)

Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is naturally found in animal foods. It can also be added to foods or supplements. Vitamin B12 is needed to form red blood cells and DNA. It is also a key player in the function and development of brain and nerve cells.

Vitamin B12 binds to the protein in the foods we eat. In the stomach, hydrochloric acid and enzymes unbind vitamin B12 into its free form. From there, vitamin B12 combines with a protein called intrinsic factor so that it can be absorbed further down in the small intestine.

Food Sources

  • Fish, shellfish
  • Liver
  • Red meat
  • Eggs
  • Poultry
  • Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Fortified nutritional yeast
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Enriched soy or rice milk

Deficiency :

Measuring vitamin B12 in the blood is actually not the best way to determine whether someone is deficient, as some people with a deficiency can show normal B12 blood levels. Blood levels of methylmalonic acid, a protein breakdown product, and homocysteine are better markers that capture actual vitamin B12 activity. These values increase with a vitamin B12 deficiency. It is estimated that up to 15% of the general population has a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Factors that may cause vitamin B12 deficiency:

  • Avoiding animal products. People who do not eat meat, fish, poultry, or dairy are at risk of becoming deficient in vitamin B12, since it is only found naturally in animal products. Studies have shown that vegetarians have low vitamin B blood levels. For this reason, those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet should include B12-fortified foods or a B12 supplement in their diets. This is particularly important for pregnant women, as the fetus requires adequate vitamin B12 for neurologic development and deficiency can lead to permanent neurological damage.
  • Lack of intrinsic factor. Pernicious anemia is an autoimmune disease that attacks and potentially destroys gut cells so that intrinsic factor is not present, which is crucial for vitamin B12 to be absorbed. If vitamin B12 deficiency ensues, other types of anemia and neurological damage may result. Even the use of a high-dose B12 supplement will not solve the problem, as intrinsic factor is not available to absorb it.
  • Inadequate stomach acid or medications that cause decreased stomach acid. A much more common cause of B12 deficiency, especially in older people, is a lack of stomach acid, because stomach acid is needed to liberate vitamin B12 from food. An estimated 10-30% of adults over the age of 50 have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12 from food. People who regularly take medications that suppress stomach acid for conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or peptic ulcer disease—such as proton-pump inhibitors, H2 blockers, or other antacids—may have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12 from food. These drugs can slow the release or decrease production of stomach acid. In theory this can prevent the vitamin from being released into its free usable form in the stomach; however, research has not shown an increased prevalence of a deficiency in people using these medications. Anyone using these medications for an extended time and who are at risk for a vitamin B12 deficiency for other reasons should be monitored closely by their physician. They may also choose to use fortified foods or supplements with vitamin B12, as these forms are typically absorbed well, and do not require stomach acid.
  • Intestinal surgeries or digestive disorders that cause malabsorption. Surgeries that affect the stomach where intrinsic factor is made, or the ileum (the last portion of the small intestine) where vitamin B12 is absorbed, can increase the risk of a deficiency. Certain diseases including Crohn’s and celiac disease that negatively impact the digestive tract also increase the risk of deficiency.
  • Medications that interfere with absorption. Long-term use of metformin, a drug commonly prescribed for type 2 diabetes, is strongly associated with vitamin B12 deficiency and lower folic acid levels as it can block absorption, which may lead to increased homocysteine levels and risk for cardiovascular disease. Proton pump inhibitors and histamine blockers prescribed to reduce stomach acid are also associated with lower vitamin B12 levels.

Signs of deficiency may include:

  • Megaloblastic anemia—a condition of larger than normal sized red blood cells and a smaller than normal amount; this occurs because there is not enough vitamin B12 in the diet or poor absorption
  • Pernicious anemia—a type of megaloblastic anemia caused by a lack of intrinsic factor so that vitamin B12 is not absorbed
  • Fatigue, weakness
  • Nerve damage with numbness, tingling in the hands and legs
  • Memory loss, confusion
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Seizures

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