Vitamins are substances needed by our body to be able to grow and develop normally. It is not enough to eat anything that we can get our hands on. Rather, we should be vigilant in checking the quality of food that we take.
There are 13 vitamins that the human body needs:
- Vitamin A
- B Vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, biotin, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 and folate)
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
In this article, we will discuss the importance of B Vitamins and what can happen to our bodies if we lack sufficient amounts of these vitamins in our daily food consumption. We will list down the B vitamins, and some of the most common Vitamin B deficiency symptoms.
What is Vitamin B?
The B Vitamins help process our body uses to get or make energy from the food that we eat. They are also important in the formation of red blood cells. Food rich in Vitamin B are:
- Dairy products
- Green, leafy vegetables
- Some breads
It is a must that we are able to take a balanced diet composed of all the required amount of vitamins and minerals. This way, we can avoid some of the most common symptoms of Vitamin B deficiency.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Thiamine is found in food including yeast, cereal grains, nuts, beans and meat. It is often used in combination with other B vitamins. People who are low in thiamine are likely to have beriberi and inflammation of the nerves which is associated with pellagra or pregnancy.
Thiamine is very favorable in treating digestive problems which includes poor appetite, ongoing diarrhea and ulcerative colitis. Thiamine has also been used to boost the immune system for AIDS patients, diabetic pain, alcoholism, heart disease, type of brain damage, aging, canker sores, cataracts and glaucoma, help improve athletic performance, motion sickness. It can also be used to help prevent cervical cancer and progression of kidney disease in patients with Type 2 diabetes.
This vitamin can also be used for maintaining a positive mental attitude, increase energy, fight against stress, prevents memory loss including Alzheimer’s diseases.
The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database has rated thiamine as very effective for the following conditions:
- Taking thiamine by mouth is very helpful in preventing and treating thiamine deficiency.
- Thiamine helps decrease the risk and symptoms of a brain disorder called Wernicke-Korsakoff sundrome. This disorder is common among alcoholics. Giving thiamine shots helps decrease symptoms of WHS during alcohol withdrawal.
- Thiamine is helpful is correcting metabolic disorders that are associated with genetic diseases.
Interactions with Food
Tannins found in coffee and tea can react with thiamin thus converting it to a form that is difficult for the body to take in. However, with enough Vitamin C consumption, it can prevent interaction between tannins and thiamine.
We know that we can get iron from eating fish and shellfish. But eating them raw can destroy thiamine. Cooked fished and shellfish does not have any effect on thiamine.
As a dietary supplement in adults, 1-2 mg per day is suggested. For adults with mild thiamine deficiency, 5-30mg daily in either single dose or divided doses. For severe thiamine deficiency, up to 300mg per day can be given.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Vitamin B2 acts as an antioxidant within the body. It is responsible for maintaining healthy blood cells, helps boost energy levels, facilitate in a healthy metabolism, prevents free radical damage, contributes to growth and protects skin and eye health.
It is a water-soluble vitamin which means it is needed to be replenished often through obtaining a healthy diet to avoid riboflavin deficiency. All B Vitamins are needed to help digest and extract energy from the food that we eat by converting nutrients to carbohydrates, proteins and fats into usable energy in the form of ATP. A decrease or lack of riboflavin in the diet can lead to a number of serious health conditions.
Vitamin B2 Deficiency
Deficiency in Vitamin B2 can occur with a diet that is deficient with riboflavin-rich food like eggs, whole grains, mushrooms, milk, yoghurt, liver, almonds, broccoli and spinach. Glass milk containers may have lesser riboflavin content due to exposure to sunlight.
Clinical Features of Riboflavin Deficiency
Riboflavin deficiency may exhibit the following conditions:
- Fissuring or chapping of the lips
- Sore, red tongue
- Oily, scaly rashes on philtrum, vulva and scrotum
- Red, itchy eyes
- Night blindness
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Sluggish metabolism
- Sore throat
- Changes in mood
Developmental anomalies associated with Riboflavin deficiency include the following:
- Cleft lip and palate deformities
- Growth retardation in infants and children
- Congenital heart defects
The recommended nutrient intake of Vitamin B2 is 0.6 mg/5000 kJ daily. The daily RNI for men is at 1.3 mg while for women at 1.1 mg. There is an increased requirement for pregnant women that depend on each trimester of pregnancy.
Dosage of Riboflavin deficiency treatments are as follows:
Age 3-12 years old: 3-10 mg divided daily
Adults: 6-30 mg divided daily
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Niacin is very helpful in improving cholesterol levels and can lower cardiovascular risks. Niacin helps boost levels of good cholesterol and lower triglycerides. It is often prescribed in combination with statins (Simvastatin) for cholesterol and control such as Lipitor. It can only, however, be effective as a cholesterol treatment if given in fairly high doses. It is not recommended to self-medicate as it can lead to liver damage and gastrointestinal problems.
Niacin is also good in reducing atherosclerosis or the hardening of the arteries. It can somehow prevent a second heart attack to those who already had one. It is also an FDA-approved treatment for pellagra, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoarthritis, cataracts and type 1 diabetes.
The recommended daily allowance for niacin varies with age:
- Children: 2-6 mg daily
- Men: 16 mg daily
- Women: 14 mg daily
- Women (pregnant): 18 mg daily
- Women (breastfeeding) 17 mg daily
- Maximum daily intake for adults of all ages: 35 mg daily
- Higher doses of 2-3 grams daily are used to treat high triglycerides.
Niacin can upset your stomach. It is best recommended to take it with food.
Niacin can be found in many foods including:
- Green vegetables
Interactions with other Drugs
Niacin can interact with medications for diabetes, blood thinners, anticonvulsants, thyroid hormones, antibiotics, and gingko biloba supplements.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
Vitamin B5 is important to convert nutrients from food to energy, balance blood sugar level, reduce bad cholesterol, lower blood pressure, prevent nerve damage and pain, and lower the risk of heart failure.
It plays a role in the synthesis of fat, hormones and carbohydrates that we take in from food thus turning them into usable energy that our body uses in so many ways. The energy that it produces fires the neurotransmitters in your brain that carries out signals to the entire body to keep every system functioning properly.
Vitamin B5 is also in charge of producing sex and stress-related hormones that are produced in the adrenal glands. It is also useful in maintaining a healthy digestive tract that helps boost immunity along the way.
Pantothenic Acid-rich Food
We need to eat the following food that is rich in Vitamin B5 to help combat deficiency:
- Organic meat
- Certain nuts and seeds
The availability of the food rich in Vitamin B5 is not a problem, and so only a few people have this type of Vitamin B deficiency.
Vitamin B5 Deficiency Symptoms
A deficiency is extremely rare especially in Western developed countries where people are uncommonly not acquiring enough calories daily. But for those with Vitamin B5 deficiency, it may occur in combination with other B vitamin deficiencies, the symptoms of which include:
- Burning feet
- Muscle cramps
- Stomach pains
- Upper respiratory infections
People who are most like to develop Vitamin B5 deficiency include women on oral contraceptives, alcoholics, people with severe malnutrition and people with impaired absorption of both vitamins and minerals as a result of drug interaction or intestinal disorder.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Vitamin B6 helps support adrenal function, helps maintain a healthy nervous system and is necessary for major metabolic processes. It acts as a coenzyme in the breakdown and utilization of fats, carbohydrates and proteins.
Vitamin B6 is responsible in the production of neurotransmitters, ensuring that metabolic processes run smoothly and it also plays a significant role in the immune system.
Vitamin B6 is important in the binding and removal of wastes through the liver and kidney.
Vitamin B6 Deficiency
Deficiency of this vitamin may lead to nerve damage in the hands and feet. People with alcoholism, hyperthyroidism, cirrhosis and congestive heart failure may experience deficiencies.
Symptoms of Vitamin B6 deficiency include:
- Cracked and sore lips
- Inflamed tongue and mouth
According to the National Institute of Health, the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance should be the following:
- Males between 19-50 years old: 1.3mg daily
- Males over 50 years old: 1.7 mg daily
- Women between 19-50 years old: 1.3 mg daily
- Women over 50 years old: 1.5 mg daily
- Pregnant women: 1.9 mg daily
- Lactating women: 2 mg daily
- Children from 7-12 months : 0.3mg daily
- Children between 1-3 years old: 0.5 mg daily
- Children between 4-8 years old: 0.6 mg daily
- Children between 9-13 years old: 1 mg daily
- Teenage males between 14-18 years old: 1.0 mg daily
- Teenage females between 14-18 years old: 1.2 mg daily
Great sources of Pyridoxine include:
- Brewer’s yeast
- Cereal grains
- Sunflower seeds
Risks associated with Vitamin B6
Just like everything else, anything taken more than necessary can be bad for our health. With high doses of Vitamin B6, this may cause tingling or numbness on the extremities or can ever lead to nerve damage which can be irreversible. Too much B6 can cause oversensitivity to light which can also lead to numbness as well as development of skin rashes. It may also include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and increased liver function test results.
Interactions with Other Drugs
Birth control pills and effectiveness of levodopa therapy may interact with Vitamin B6 absorption. It is recommended that those taking penicillamine should take Vitamin B6 only under the direct supervision of a physician.
Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
Vitamin B7 occurs naturally among several other forms of biotin and can only be synthesized by molds, yeast, bacteria, algae and certain plant species. It is the coenzyme attached at the active site of carboxylases.
Biotinylation of histones plays a role in regulating DNA replication and gene expression as well as cell division and other cellular processes. Biotin is said to cause the following:
- Normal psychological functions
- Normal macronutrient metabolism
- Maintenance of normal hair
- Normal energy-yielding metabolism
- Normal function of the nervous system
- Maintenance of normal skin and mucous membranes
Biotin is broken down rapidly during the course of pregnancy although it should not cause much of an alarm because the level of biotin depletion is not severe. But in certain cases may cause birth defects, it is estimated that at least one third of women develop marginal biotin deficiency during pregnancy.
Pregnant women are often prescribed with Vitamin B9 (folic acid) to prevent neural tube defects. Intake of multivitamins allows these nursing to also take in biotin even if they don’t need more. Fortunately, there has been no report of any biotin toxicity.
Only little is known regarding the allowable amount of dietary biotin required to promote optimal health or prevent from any chronic disease.
The U.S. Food and Nutrition Board had set an adequate intake level in 1998 which should meet the dietary requirements:
- Infants 0-6 months: 5 mcg/day
- Infants 7-12 months: 6 mcg/day
- Children 1-3 years: 8 mcg/day
- Children 4-8 years: 12 mcg/day
- Children 9-13 years: 20 mcg/day
- Male 14-18 years: 25 mcg/day
- Female 14-18 years: 25 mcg/day
- Male 19 years and older: 30 mcg/day
- Female 19 years and older: 30 mcg/day
- Pregnant women: 30 mcg/day
- Lactating women: 35 mcg/day
Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin)
Vitamin B12 deficiency is known to be the leading nutrient deficiency in the world which shows major health concerns in many parts of the world including the United States of America, Mexico, India and certain areas in Africa.
Vitamin B12 improves your mood, energy level, memory, hair, skin, heart, digestion and so many more. It is essential for addressing adrenal fatigue, multiple metabolic functions and in maintaining healthy nervous and cardiovascular systems.
And because of its wide role in the over-all health of an individual, deficiency of this vitamin often leads to chronic fatigue, mood disorders and chronic stress.
Vitamin B12 Benefits
Vitamin B12 helps the central nervous system in maintaining healthy nerve cells and helps form the protective layer of nerves called the myelin sheath. Low cognitive function is associated with low levels of Vitamin B12.
Cyanocobalamin helps with digestion and cardiovascular health. This means that a deficiency of this vitamin may lead to digestive disorders and an elevated risk of heart diseases.
It is believed that at least 1.5-15 percent of people in the US are suffering from this vitamin deficiency. But according to the American Journal of Council Nutrition in 2000, the number might be even higher with up to 39% of the population.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
To determine if the individual is deficient in Vitamin B12, measurement of serum Vitamin B12 levels in the blood is done. Ironically, studies show that about 50% of patients who showed Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms have normal B12 level when tested.
Precise screening options are available to detect a deficiency but are not usually given unless patients manifest symptoms of anemia or heart disease.
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency can include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Joint pain
- Muscle aches and weakness
- Shortness of breath
- Poor memory
- Inability to focus
- Depression and anxiety
- Poor dental health
- Digestive problems
- Poor appetite
People most at risk of this kind of deficiency are the older people since they produce less stomach acids needed to convert Vitamin B12 properly.
Another set of individuals who may be prone to having such deficiency are those who are on a vegan diet. These people only consume plant-based food which may only have small amount of Vitamin B12.
Smokers can also be at risk of developing this deficiency since nicotine blocks the absorption of cyanocobalamine.
The recommended dietary allowance for Vitamin B12 according to the NIH is as follows:
- Infants 0-6 months: 0.4 mcg/day
- Infants 7-12 months: 0.5 mcg/day
- Toddlers 1-3 years: 0.9 mcg/day
- Children 4-8 years: 1.2 mcg/day
- Children 9-13 years: 1.8 mcg/day
- Adult men and women over age 14: 2.4 mcg/day
- Pregnant women: 2.6 mcg/day
- Lactating women: 2.8 mcg/day
You may have noticed that the required amount is not as much as some of the other B vitamins. But food rich in B12 should always be taken in as to replenish any lost vitamin B12 everyday in order to maintain the proper level needed by the body to aid in performing bodily functions and processes.
Folic acid is typically found in food like beans, lentils, oranges, wheat products, asparagus, liver, beets, broccoli and spinach. It helps the body produce and maintain new cells and prevent changes to DNA that may lead to cancer.
Folic acid is used in combination with other medications to treat pernicious anemia.
Folic Acid Side Effects
Some individuals may have allergic reactions to folic acid which may cause difficulty in breathing, swelling of the face, lips, tongue and throat.
Some less serious side effects include:
- Loss of appetite
- Bitter taste in the mouth
- Sleep problems
Folic Acid Requirement
The following are the recommended dosages by the NHI:
- 400-800 mcg orally, intramuscularly, subcutaneously, IV once a day
- Women of childbearing age, pregnant and lactating are recommended to take more than 800 mcg daily
- For infants, 0.1 mcg daily
- For children between 1-10 years old: 0.1 to 0.4 mcg daily
- For children 10 years and older: 0.5 mcg daily
Interactions with Other Drugs
Folic acid may have some favorable effects in our body but mat cause some adverse reactions when combined with the use of the following drugs: