B vitamins

B vitamins are a group of water-soluble vitamins that play important roles in cell metabolism. Though these vitamins share similar names, research shows that they are chemically distinct vitamins that often coexist in the same foods. In general, supplements containing all eight are referred to as a vitamin B complex. Individual B vitamin supplements are referred to by the specific name of each vitamin (e.g., B1, B2, B3 etc.).

List of B vitamins

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin or niacinamide)
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine, pyridoxal, or pyridoxamine, or pyridoxine hydrochloride)
  • Vitamin B7 (biotin)
  • Vitamin B9 (folic acid)
  • Vitamin B12 (various cobalamins; commonly cyanocobalamin in vitamin supplements)

B vitamin sources

B vitamins are found in whole unprocessed foods. Processed carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour tend to have lower B vitamin than their unprocessed counterparts. For this reason, it is required by law in many countries (including the United States) that the B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid be added back to white flour after processing. This is sometimes called “Enriched Flour” on food labels. B vitamins are particularly concentrated in meat such as turkey, tuna and liver.22 Good sources for B vitamins include whole grains, potatoes, bananas, lentils, chili peppers, tempeh, beans, nutritional yeast, brewer’s yeast, and molasses. Although the yeast used to make beer results in beers being a source of B vitamins,23 their bioavailability ranges from poor to negative as drinking ethanol inhibits absorption of thiamine (B1),2425 riboflavin (B2),26 niacin (B3),27 biotin (B7),28 and folic acid (B9).2930 In addition, each of the preceding studies further emphasizes that elevated consumption of beer and other ethanol-based drinks results in a net deficit of those B vitamins and the health risks associated with such deficiencies.

The B12 vitamin is of note because it is not available from plant products, making B12 deficiency a legitimate concern for vegans. Manufacturers of plant-based foods will sometimes report B12 content, leading to confusion about what sources yield B12. The confusion arises because the standard US Pharmacopeia (USP) method for measuring the B12 content does not measure the B12 directly. Instead, it measures a bacterial response to the food. Chemical variants of the B12 vitamin found in plant sources are active for bacteria, but cannot be used by the human body. This same phenomenon can cause significant over-reporting of B12 content in other types of foods as well.31

Another popular means of increasing one’s vitamin B intake is through the use of dietary supplements. B vitamins are also commonly added to energy drinks, many of which have been marketed with large amounts of B vitamins32 with claims that this will cause the consumer to “sail through your day without feeling jittery or tense.”32 Some nutritionists have been critical of these claims, pointing out for instance that while B vitamins do “help unlock the energy in foods,” most Americans acquire the necessary amounts easily in their diets.32

Because they are soluble in water, excess B vitamins (such as may be ingested via supplements) are generally readily excreted, although individual absorption, use and metabolism may vary…”32 The elderly and athletes may need to supplement their intake of B12 and other B vitamins due to problems in absorption and increased needs for energy production. In cases of severe deficiency B vitamins, especially B12, may also be delivered by injection to reverse deficiencies.33 Both type 1 and type 2 diabetics may also be advised to supplement thiamine based on high prevalence of low plasma thiamine concentration and increased thiamine clearance associated with diabetes.34 Also, Vitamin B9 (folic acid) deficiency in early embryo development has been linked to neural tube defects. Thus, women planning to become pregnant are usually encouraged to increase daily dietary folic acid intake and/or take a supplement.35

Related nutrients

Many of the following substances have been referred to as vitamins as they were once believed to be vitamins. They are no longer considered as such, and the numbers that were assigned to them now form the “gaps” in the true series of B-complex vitamins described above (e.g., there is no vitamin B4). Some of them, though not essential to humans, are essential in the diets of other organisms; others have no known nutritional value and may even be toxic under certain conditions.

  • Vitamin B4: can refer to the distinct chemicals choline, adenine, or carnitine.3637 Choline is synthesized by the human body, but not sufficiently to maintain good health, and is now considered as an essential dietary nutrient.38 Adenine is a nucleobase synthesized by the human body.39 Carnitine is an essential dietary nutrient for certain worms, but not for humans.40
  • Vitamin B8: adenosine monophosphate (AMP), also known as adenylic acid.41 Vitamin B8 may also refer to inositol.42
  • Vitamin B10: para-aminobenzoic acid (pABA or PABA), a chemical component of the folate molecule produced by plants and bacteria, and found in many foods.4344 It is best known as a UV-blocking sunscreen applied to the skin, and is sometimes taken orally for certain medical conditions.4345
  • Vitamin B11: pteryl-hepta-glutamic acid—chick growth factor, which is a form of folic acid. Later found to be one of five folates necessary for humans. Vitamin Bc-conjugate was also found to be PHGA.
  • Vitamin B13: orotic acid.46
  • Vitamin B14: cell proliferant, anti-anemia, rat growth factor, and antitumor pterin phosphate named by Earl R. Norris. Isolated from human urine at 0.33ppm (later in blood), but later abandoned by him as further evidence did not confirm this. He also claimed this was not xanthopterin.
  • Vitamin B15: pangamic acid,46 also known as pangamate. Promoted in various forms as a dietary supplement and drug; considered unsafe and subject to seizure by the US Food and Drug Administration.47
  • Vitamin B16: dimethylglycine (DMG)48 is synthesized by the human body in the Citric acid (or Kreb) cycle.
  • Vitamin B17: nitrilosides, amygdalin or Laetrile. These substances are found in a number of seeds, sprouts, beans, tubers, and grains. While toxic in large quantities, proponents claim that it is effective in cancer treatment and prevention despite a lack of scientific evidence.49
  • Vitamin B20: L-carnitine.48
  • Vitamin Bf: carnitine.41
  • Vitamin Bm: myo-inositol, also called “mouse antialopaecia factor”.50
  • Vitamin Bp: “antiperosis factor”, which prevents perosis, a leg disorder, in chicks; can be replaced by choline and manganese salts.404151
  • Vitamin BT: carnitine.5240
  • Vitamin Bv: a type of B6 other than pyridoxine.
  • Vitamin BW: a type of biotin other than d-biotin.
  • Vitamin Bx: an alternative name for both pABA (see vitamin B10) and pantothenic acid.4045
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References

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: a b National Academy of Sciences. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board., ed. (1998). “Chapter 8 – Folate”. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. pp. 196–305. ISBN 0-309-06411-2. Archived from the original on 18 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-17.

: a b National Academy of Sciences. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board., ed. (1998). “Chapter 9 – Vitamin B12”. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. p. 346. ISBN 0-309-06411-2. Archived from the original on 11 October 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-23.

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