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B Vitamins: The Basics
The 8 essential B vitamins
Vitamin B-Complex includes eight individual B vitamins identified to work together as a team or complex in your body. There are also a few helper compounds, called co-factors, which are often associated with the B-complex. They are inositol, choline, and PABA. (Recently, choline was just reclassified as an actual B vitamin but it hasn’t caught on yet!)
As a group, the B vitamins serve a variety of functions. In general, B vitamins act as catalysts”for several vitally important biochemical reactions within your body, facilitating various processes and assisting in the formation of essential compounds. Check out this list of some of the amazing ways B vitamins support us:
- Assists the breakdown of carbohydrates into sugar (providing energy for our bodies)
- Assists the breakdown of fats and protein (also providing energy for our bodies)
- Coordinates muscle tone in the digestive system
- Ensures health of skin, hair, eyes, and mouth
- Supports healthy cellular, brain and cognitive function
- Enhances cell growth and division, including red blood cells
The B vitamins are water-soluble, which means that excess quantities are excreted daily in your urine. So you don’t really have to worry about getting too much. It also means that they need to be consistently replenished daily. In contrast, fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) are stored in body tissues and are more likely to become toxic in surplus amounts.
Meet the Eight B Vitamins
The eight discrete B vitamins include B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folic acid/folate), and B12 (cobalamin). Because they are all intricately related, the B vitamins should be supplemented as a whole team (although certain rare conditions can predispose to particular B vitamin deficiencies, requiring individualized supplementation).
Although they work together synergistically, each B vitamin also has its own identity and function. So let’s meet your Bs!
Thiamin (Vitamin B1)
Vitamin B1 plays a key role in the metabolism of carbohydrates and serves as a coenzyme to support the proper functioning of our nervous system.
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
Riboflavin acts as a coenzyme to metabolize fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. It also provides support for healthy skin and mucous membranes, and promotes antioxidant recycling in our bodies.
Niacin (Vitamin B3)
Niacin is required by over 200 enzymes and is the most important B vitamin for energy production. Additional functions include support of DNA synthesis, control of blood sugar, and regulation of cholesterol levels.
Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5)
Vitamin B5 transforms carbohydrates and fats into usable energy and balances the stress response through support of our adrenal glands.
Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6)
One of the most studied B vitamins, vitamin B6 is involved in more than 100 enzymatic reactions in our bodies and supports a wide range of activities in our nervous system. Additionally, vitamin B6 aids in the synthesis of red blood cells and regulates chronic inflammation and hormone activity.
Biotin (Vitamin B7)
Biotin aids in the synthesis of important fatty acids for nerve, hair, and skin cells. It is a critical co-enzyme for the conversion of sugars and fats into energy.
Folate/Folic Acid (Vitamin B9)
Folate encourages healthy circulation, and cellular repair of your skin and digestive tract. Along with vitamins B6 and B12, folate is integral to the production of red blood cells. Folate is probably best known for its ability to prevent birth defects in early pregnancy.
Cobalamin (Vitamin B12)
Perhaps the most well known function of vitamin B12 is its role in the development of your red blood and nerve cells. In addition, protein, carbohydrates and fats all depend upon vitamin B12 for proper cycling throughout your body.