Are your B Vitamin Levels Sapped or Soaring?

Factors that affect your B status

The eight B vitamins really are the “busy B’s,” playing a crucial role in the maintenance of good health, from energy production to immune function.

Unfortunately, many factors conspire to steal away our optimal supply of B vitamins. From food processing, everyday stress, to common medications to exercise, you may be surprised to learn what things may compromise our stock of B vitamins.

It’s not just what you eat, but what you absorb

Of course, eating a healthy whole foods diet is essential to getting enough B vitamins each day. Many plant- and animal-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, meat and nuts are rich in B vitamins. However, many foods, especially processed ones, are nutritionally compromised. White grains and flours which have been refined and are used ubiquitously in many breads, cereals, pastas, and dessert items are stripped of the B vitamin containing bran that once made it whole. Although these processed grains are often fortified or enriched with synthetic B-complex vitamins, they are a far cry from nature’s genuine version of a B vitamin rich food.

Perhaps of equal importance to what we eat is how much our bodies absorb. Any condition that damages the lining of your stomach or small intestine may contribute to inadequate absorption of certain B-complex vitamins. Colitis, heartburn, gastritis, celiac disease, food allergies, and other inflammatory disorders of your gut can prevent adequate absorption, leading to B vitamin deficiencies. Even just the basic process of aging can lead to decreased absorption.

Medications meddle with your B vitamin levels

There is a long list of medications that can affect our B vitamin levels and increase our need for more. Among them are certain blood pressure medications, antidepressants, birth control pills, asthma medications, and antacids. This list varies for each B vitamin so it is recommended that you check with your healthcare provider for more information.

How your lifestyle plays a role in B vitamin levels

If you smoke, exercise vigorously, have a chronic illness, drink large amounts of coffee, black tea or alcohol, or are under chronic stress you may be unknowingly depleting your B vitamin levels. Thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, and folate are especially susceptible to alcohol consumption. Coffee drinkers may also be at risk. A study completed in 2008 showed that over 4 cups of coffee per day resulted in 11.7%, 14.1%, and 5.5% lower plasma concentrations of folate, B6, and riboflavin, respectively, most likely due to increased excretion in urine.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should be aware that their requirement for certain B vitamins — especially folate, biotin and B12 — are amplified.

Your dietary patterns also influence your B vitamin status. As the best forms of bioavailable B12 are only found in animal sources, vegans often require a supplemental source. High protein diets that restrict all grains and grain-based products which are naturally high in B vitamins may result in decreased levels — especially of riboflavin. And unbalanced diets that are extremely elevated in refined sugars and processed foods may be not only fundamentally lacking in B vitamins, but may also deplete your levels even further due to increased metabolic need to process these types of foods.

So whether you’re a coffee aficionado, an exercise enthusiast, under stress (aren’t we all!), following a vegan or low-carb diet, or any one of the B-sapping culprits mentioned in this article, it’s time to pay attention to your B vitamins. Whether it’s through supplementation or upping the amounts in your diet or both, your body will thank you if you refill your B vitamin supply every day!

Ulvik A, Vollset SE, Hoff G, Ueland PM. Coffee consumption and circulating B-vitamins in healthy middle-aged men and women. Clin Chem. 2008 Sep;54(9):1489-96. Epub 2008 Jul 7.

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