The "B Complex" is a group of 8 water-soluble vitamins that are not stored in the body and must be consumed each day.
Each one performs a unique and critical function in the body but they are also closely related and work synergistically. It's important to consume them together because taking a lot of only select B vitamins for a long period of time can cause depletion of the other B vitamins.
B vitamins are found in a range of foods, especially green vegetables, dairy and meat, and whole grains.
We'll talk about which vitamins make up the B complex, signs of B vitamin deficiency, benefits of taking a B complex supplement, and how to get B vitamins in your diet.
Which Vitamins are in the B Complex?
The B Complex is made up of:
- Thiamine (B1)
- Riboflavin (B2)
- Niacin (B3)
- Pantothenic Acid (B5)
- Pyridoxine (B6)
- Biotin (B7)
- Folic Acid (B9)
- Cobalamin (B12)
Each of the 8 vitamins above has several different forms that may appear as active ingredients, each with varying effectiveness. For example, B9 may appear as folate (the form found naturally in spinach) or folic acid, the synthetic form that may be ineffective for many people.
Signs of B Vitamin Deficiency
It's possible to get enough of every B vitamin through diet, but deficiencies are common for a number of reasons, including low diversity of food sources, illnesses (especially gut and digestive disorders), medication interactions, poor absorption (for example from genetic conditions), and alcohol consumption which depletes B vitamins).
The most commonly known B vitamin deficiency is a B12 deficiency.
Symptoms of low B12 include:
- Changes to mood (even depression)
- Problems with memory
- Trouble balancing
- Sore or swollen tongue/mouth
- Weakness of muscles
- Numbness or tingling in hands and feet
- Damage to nerves
B12 and folate are closely related and can both come from conditions that prevent one from converting folic acid into its usable form. A folate deficiency causes anemia which comes from having too few red blood cells. The symptoms can be similar to or even exactly the same as low B12.
Symptoms of folate deficiency:
- Sore or swollen tongue/mouth
- Problems with growth
- Gray hair
- Damage to nerves
- Shortness of breath
Folic acid is especially important during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects in babies, such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
While it's best for everyone to consume enough of both B12 and folate, if you have signs of a deficiency and want to know which vitamin you're deficient in, you should see a doctor for a blood test.
Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, is another B vitamin that many people don't get enough of. The root cause is often absorption problems or kidney disease rather than low consumption.
Some signs of low B6 include:
- Low immune function
- Mood changes, like depression
If you're worried you might be low in these B vitamins or any of the others, it's a great idea to consume a B complex supplement. B vitamins work in combination to promote optimal health and reverse deficiency symptoms (great news: almost all signs of low B vitamins are reversible).
B Complex Vitamin Benefits
Taking a B complex has numerous benefits and it's always a good idea to take B vitamins together, as taking too much of one can cause an imbalance of the others. In combination, they've been linked to a reduced risk of stroke by 7%. (1)
B vitamins are also important for healthy metabolism function, as well as maintaining health hair, skin, and nails.
Along with their combined benefits, each B vitamin provides its own unique benefits:
- Thiamine (B1) helps convert nutrients into energy and is known as the "morale vitamin" because of its effect on concentration and energy. It plays a critical role in a healthy metabolism. Too little B1 causes beriberi, which affects the heart, digestive, and nervous systems.
- Riboflavin (B2) also helps convert nutrients into energy. It's a strong antioxidant, meaning it fights free radicals. Helps the immune system.
- Niacin (B3) improves good cholesterol (HDL) and blood pressure. it boosts brain function and helps produce DNA. It helps metabolism as well.
- Pantothenic acid (B5) helps convert food (especially fats) into energy. Helps produce red blood cells, hormones, and cholesterol. This is the one to take for healthy hair, skin, and nails!
- Pyridoxine (B6) improves brain health and mood by helping create red blood cells and neurotransmitters. Helps with amino acid metabolism and fights anemia. Reduces heart disease risk.
- Biotin (B7) stimulates hair keratin production and increases rate of follicle growth. Helps metabolize fats and carbohydrates and can help with diabetes symptoms.
- Folic acid (B9) is necessary for red and white blood cell production, cell growth and function, and is critical for pregnancy for healthy embryo development.
- Cobalamin (B12) helps with DNA and red blood cell production and neurological function (that's why it boosts energy).
In addition to all the benefits above, the B complex helps provide energy especially in those suffering from chronic fatigue, can help fight stress, and improve mood.
There's no upper limit on B vitamin consumption, as they're water-soluble and flushed from the body.
Where to Get B Vitamins
Each B vitamin comes from a different source, although some nutrient-dense foods like leafy greens and animal organs contain several.
Here are the best sources of each:
- Thiamine is found in pork and sunflower seeds
- Riboflavin in found in beef (especially organ meats) and grains
- Niacin comes from chicken, tuna, and lentils
- Pantothenic acid is found in organ meats, fish, and avocados
- Pyridoxine comes from poultry, fih, and chickpeas
- Biotin is found in yeast, eggs, liver, and salmon
- Folic acid is found in dark leafy green vegetables, beans, peas, and nuts
- Cobalamin is found in animal sources like meat, eggs, and dairy
Do you eat a plant-based diet? Don't worry! Why Not Natural has a B complex that contains ALL the B vitamins and is completely vegan. Plus, it has an added stress and energy blend!
(1) Vitamin B supplementation, homocysteine levels, and the risk of cerebrovascular disease: A meta-analysis
(2) Effects of high-dose B vitamin complex with vitamin C and minerals on subjective mood and performance in healthy males