The vitamin B complex family and you

The letter B written with health foods

A vitamin is an organic compound that our body needs in small amounts for normal and effective metabolic functioning. Most vitamins are essential, as our body can’t make them itself, so we need to get them from our diet and preferably from a variety of foods.

Complex B vitamins are a family of water-soluble vitamins that can be divided into three sub-groups: energy-release influencers, blood-formation influencers and metabolic-activity influencers.

Each vitamin in the B complex has different health benefits:

1. Vitamin B1 (thiamin) – essential for a functional and healthy nervous system. Absorbed in the small intestine by an active transport when it comes from nutritional doses and by passive diffuse when it comes from pharmacologic doses (supplements). Absorption is inhibited by alcohol, so those who drink excessively are at risk of deficiency.

Sources: whole grains, flaxseeds and tahini paste, enriched grains & cereals, lentils


2. Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) – essential for a wide variety of metabolic reactions, helps convert food into energy and acts as an antioxidant. It can easily be destroyed by visible and UV light though, so keep your vitamin B2 rich foods away from the sun.

Sources: dairy products and almonds


Almonds in a dish and milk in a cup


3. Vitamin B3 (Niacin) – takes part in cellular signaling, metabolism, and in DNA production and repair. Niacin can be synthesized in the body from the essential amino acid tryptophan, so if your diet is rich with protein, you shouldn’t worry too much.

Sources: legumes, beef liver, tuna and sunflower seeds


4. Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) – essential for the body to obtain energy from food and in the synthesis of lipids, neurotransmitters, hormones and hemoglobin. Deficiency is rare since many food sources are rich with vit B5.

Sources: lentils and peanuts


5. Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) – involved in amino acid metabolism, red blood cell production and the creation of neurotransmitters. Has an important role in the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin (mood booster). Smokers and women on an oral contraceptive pill might be at risk for deficiency.

Sources: chickpeas, potatoes, bananas and prunes (plums)




6. Vitamin B7 (Biotin) – essential for carbohydrate metabolism, fat synthesis and gene expression – crucial for healthy hair and nails.

Sources: liver, soybean and egg yolk


7. Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid/Folate) – mega-important for cell growth, amino acid metabolism, the formation of red and white blood cells and proper cell division. If you are a woman and you plan on starting a family, supplement a minimum of 400mcg daily ahead of conception and throughout your first trimester to reduce the risk of neural tube defects (ask your doctor for more details!).

Sources: legumes, leafy greens and citrus fruit


8. Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) – vital for neurological function, DNA production and red blood cell development. Deficiency could lead to megaloblastic/macrocytic anemia – the number of red blood cells is lower than normal, but their size is bigger than normal, which means that they RBC can’t exit the bone marrow to enter the bloodstream and deliver oxygen. In turn, this can cause serious health problems, neurological abnormalities and fatigue.

Sources: foods of animal origin

Note that the only way you can be sure if you’re deficient in any vitamin is through a blood test, not by googling “why am I so tired”, so don’t reach any conclusion by yourself, go get checked.

Taking complex B supplements just to get more of those vitamins, isn’t always the right idea. In the Western world, where food sources are varied and rich, it’s rare to have vitamin B deficiencies (apart from B12 in vegans). Over supplementing isn’t going to promise you better health as the extra amounts would be probably excreted in your urine.

Caution! If you are vegan and follow a plant-based diet you must supplement with vitamin B12. The B12 found in spirulina, miso or vegan food products is not nearly enough. Make sure to see your physician and continuously follow up with your B12 levels.

At the end of the day, if you feel your energy levels are a bit lower than usual, your vitamin levels might have something to do with it. Make sure you provide your body the nutrients it needs from a variety of foods and get checked!

Noam Bechar Nature Remedies consultant Noam Bechar Clinical & Sports Nutritionist