Every day, your body relies on the nutrients you consume to facilitate proper cell function and fuel its various systems and unique tasks. B vitamins serve as the foundation for good health, but do you know what, exactly, they do?
Working both separately and together to manage important bodily functions, the eight essential B vitamins are responsible for helping your body convert food into energy, generate new blood cells and maintain the health of your brain and skin cells as well as other tissues in your body. Get to know these important nutrients and what they’re necessary for.
What are B vitamins?
Forming the vitamin B complex, this group of eight vitamins works together to contribute to your natural bodily functions. Equally as important, however, is what each vitamin can do for your body on its own.
- Thiamin (B-1): Thiamin, also known as vitamin B-1, is best known for its abilities to break down sugar molecules from food, produce fatty acids and synthesize hormones. High amounts of thiamin can be found in the heart, liver and kidneys.
- Riboflavin (B-2): Helping to generate energy and breaking down fats, steroid hormones and drugs are among some of riboflavin’s most important functions in the body. Interacting directly with two other vitamins in the B complex, riboflavin also transforms the B-6 vitamin, pyridoxine, into essential coenzymes and converts tryptophan into the third essential B vitamin, niacin.
- Niacin (B-3): Derived from the B-3 vitamin, niacin (the coenzyme nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD)) can be found in more than 400 different enzyme reactions in the body. These enzymes play a key role in cell function and the metabolic processes that take place in these cells, including transforming the energy in fats, carbohydrates and proteins into a form the body can use. Vitamin B-3 is also responsible for the communication and expression of DNA in various cells.
- Pantothenic acid (B-5): Equally essential to the body’s metabolic processes, the fourth vitamin in the B complex is pantothenic acid. Transported throughout the body via red blood cells, pantothenic acid creates new coenzymes, proteins and fats and is used in several different processes for energy.
- Pyridoxine (Vitamin B-6): Present in more than 100 enzyme reactions, pyridoxine is critical for brain development and immune function. The body also uses the B-6 vitamin to metabolize amino acids and break down carbohydrates and fats.
- Biotin (Vitamin B-7): Much like the other vitamins in the B complex, biotin plays a key role in the decomposition of fats, carbohydrates and protein. Biotin also regulates DNA and generates communication and activity amongst the body’s cells. This last function is why biotin is commonly included in many hair and nail growth supplements and is referred to as the “beauty vitamin.”
- Folate (Vitamin B-9): Folate, the natural form of the B-9 vitamin, is well-known for its role in DNA replication and cell division, as well as its ability to metabolize other vitamins and amino acids. Women who are pregnant or looking to conceive are encouraged to consume at least 400 mcg of folic acid per day, as high levels of folate have been shown to lower the risk of birth defects that affect the brain and spinal cord in newborns. The synthetic form of the vitamin, folic acid, is commonly found in many fortified foods.
- Vitamin B-12: Vitamin B-12 helps create new blood cells and synthesize DNA. Also responsible for the health of nerve tissue, B-12 is essential for healthy brain and neurological function, as well. Vitamin B-12 is one that many vegans and vegetarians lack because of its large presence in animal products. A deficiency in vitamin B-12 can cause anemia.
Supplementing with B vitamins
Experiencing a deficiency of any one of the B vitamins is common and can easily be remedied with a healthy and varied diet. Animal-based foods such as red meat, poultry and seafood can combat deficiencies for several different vitamins, including B-12, biotin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, niacin and riboflavin.
Plant-based diets are rich in thiamin, and fruits and vegetables contain substantial amounts of naturally occurring folate. Almost all of the B vitamins can be found in fortified grain cereals, and dairy products can be used to boost the amount of B-12 and riboflavin in your body.
Vitamin supplements also work well to reduce the occurrence of deficiencies and the diseases and illnesses that are associated with them. While you can find individual supplements for each vitamin you may need more of, a full B complex or multivitamin supplement ensures that you are receiving 100 percent of each of the B vitamins your body needs daily. By getting adequate amounts of vitamin B each day, you’ll help keep your energy consumption, red blood cell production and hair, skin and nail health in great shape!