Vitamin B - A gang of cofactors just looking for trouble, or: Is B9 benign?
Note: This article discusses supplementation. Always consult your health care provider before taking any dietary supplement.
What are the B vitamins, and what do they do?
Vitamin B, or more accurately, the vitamins B, are a group of coenzymes, cofactors, and/or precursors that are necessary for cell metabolism. The best sources of B vitamins are from meat, especially liver, turkey, and tuna. Other good primal-approved sources are eggs, almonds, and leafy greens. Other Vegan/vegetarian options include molasses, chili peppers, bananas, and sweet potatoes, although one should make note that B12 is not found in plant sources. be careful of those plant-based foods that list B12 content, as they are not actually directly measuring the presence of the compound, rather a bacterial response to it, which can be misleading. Brewer's yeast also contains B vitamins, however drinking alcohol reduces the absorption rate, and enough consumption of alcohol will result in a B vitamin deficit. Sorry beer lovers!
There are currently eight players on Team Vitamin B (the common names are listed):
- B1 - thiamine
- B2 - riboflavin
- B3 - niacin
- B5 - pantothenic acid
- B6 - pyridoxal
- B7 - biotin
- B9 - folate (folic acid)
- B12 - cobalamin
So what do they do, exactly?
Well - a lot. B vitamins are heavily involved in energy production inside the cells. They move electrons and hydrogen, oxidize and release energy from fatty acids and carbohydrates. They are essential for the production of red blood cells, neurotransmitters and nerve sheathing, ketone bodies, and antibodies. They support brain health and brain activity. Basically, they are essential for life.
Who needs to supplement, and what are the risks?
Even though they are all classified as B vitamins, they are different compounds that are found in the same foods. Usually, supplements containing all eight of the compounds are listed as a vitamin B complex. Supplementation of B vitamins is a common tactic used when trying to increase energy levels (many "energy drinks" have high B content), the effectiveness of which is debatable. Although, as B vitamins are water-soluble (as opposed to fat-soluble, meaning they cannot be stored in the body when not in use), athletes who are burning lots of energy during workouts may benefit from supplementation.
The compounds are excreted in urine, which means that a large intake of vitamin B supplements may result in temporary side effects. These can include nausea, insomnia, and agitation. A high level of B9 in the system can also mask a deficiency in B12, which indicates that anyone taking additional folic acid, or eating foods with added folic acid, should also make sure that cobalamin levels are also appropriate.
How do I know I am getting enough B vitamins?
Well, basically, if you're eating a balanced diet, you pretty much are. Barring any medical complications or unusual training habits, your B levels are probably just fine. A simple blood test can ascertain whether or not your levels are within normal range. Again, any supplementation should be conducted under the advisement of your medical practitioner.
Ok, so why are there missing numbers? Where's B4, B8, B10 and B11?
Some of the compounds once thought to be in the B vitamin group were discovered to not actually be vitamins (defined as an essential micronutrient that cannot be synthesized in the body). B17, for example, known as amygdalin, is a poison commonly found in apricot pits, which can form hydrogen cyanide in the intestines. B10, also called PABA, is used in some UV-blocking sunscreens. B52 has been used extensively by the Air Force since the 1950s.
So to sum up - eat a lot of whole foods, include some of the B sources we have mentioned, and you should be just fine. If you have any doubts, or experience significant drops in energy levels, see your healthcare provider.
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Published on July 8, 2019.