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What are B vitamins and why are they important?

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23 December 2021|3 min read

Did you know that there are over 8 different B vitamins that play a vital role in human health? Let’s dive into each one in more detail and discover what you need to know about B vitamins and their role in human health.

You’ll notice these vitamins are often referred to as different names but bear with us, we’ll make sure it’s easy to understand! 

What are the different B vitamins? 

B vitamins are a group of water-soluble vitamins and because they are not naturally stored in the body, consistent daily intake is important through a healthy and varied diet.

Good sources of B group vitamins from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and cereal and whole grains.   

Vitamin B1 (thiamin)

Dietary sources

Beef liver and red meat, eggs, dark green vegetables, brewer’s yeast, whole grains  

Recommended dietary intake (RDI):

  • Men: 1.3mg/day 
  • Women: 1.1mg/day
  • Pregnancy and lactation: 1.4mg/day  

Vitamin B2 (ribofalvin)

Dietary sources

Beef liver and red meat, eggs, dark green vegetables, nutritional yeast

RDI

  • Men: 1.2mg/day
  • Men > 70yo: 1.6mg/day
  • Women: 1.1mg/day
  • Women > 70yo: 1.3mg/day
  • Pregnancy and lactation: 1.4mg/day

Vitamin B3 (niacin)

Dietary sources

Beef liver and red meat, poultry, salmon, tuna, wholegrains

RDI

  • Men: 16mg/day
  • Women: 14mg/day
  • Pregnancy: 18mg/day
  • Lactation: 17mg/day 

Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)

Dietary sources

Beef liver, fortified cereals, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, tuna, poultry 

AI (adequate intake)

  • Men: 6mg/day
  • Women: 4mg/day
  • Pregnancy: 5mg/day
  • Lactation: 6mg/day 
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B group vitamins are found in a wide variety of foods including wholegrains, green leafy vegetables and legumes.

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)

Dietary sources

Chickpeas, tuna, salmon, beef liver, starchy vegetables, non-citrus fruits, nutritional yeast

RDI

  • Men: 1.3mg/day
  • Men > 50yo: 1.7mg/day
  • Women: 1.1mg/day
  • Women > 50yo: 1.5mg/day
  • Pregnancy: 1.9mg/day
  • Lactation: 2mg/day 

Vitamin B7 (biotin)

Dietary sources

Beef liver and red meat, eggs, salmon, tuna, sweet potato, sunflower seeds  

AI

  • Men: 30 microgram/day
  • Women: 25 microgram/day
  • Pregnancy: 30 microgram/day
  • Lactation: 35 microgram/day 

Vitamin B9 (folic acid)

Dietary sources

Green vegetables, legumes, fortified grains, wholegrains, avocado, asparagus, beef liver, fruit 

RDI

  • Men: 400 microgram/day
  • Women: 400 microgram/day
  • Pregnancy: 600 microgram/day
  • Lactation: 500 microgram/day 

Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin) 

Dietary sources

Beef liver and red meat, clams, oysters, tuna, salmon, dairy , fortified nutritional yeast

RDI

  • Men: 2.4 microgram/day
  • Women: 2.4 microgram/day
  • Pregnancy: 2.6 microgram/day
  • Lactation: 2.8 microgram/day 

Why are B group vitamins important? 

Each individual vitamin B plays its own role in the body. As a group, they are essential for the formation of red blood cells, brain function and energy metabolism. They are co-enzymes in cellular respiration and cellular energy production and help the body effectively use carbohydrates, fats, and proteins as fuel.

They have an integral role in supporting the nervous system and assisting with a healthy stress response. Studies suggest that supplementation with B complex vitamins may have a positive outcome on mood and perceived stress levels. 

B vitamins including vitamin B1, B2 B5, and B6 are involved in energy production and support nervous system health. Vitamin B6 also plays a role in supporting immune system health.

Vitamin B12 is involved in red blood cell production. Vitamin B3 and B2 support skin health and biotin helps with strong nails.

Maintaining adequate folate levels pre-pregnancy may help to reduce the risk of some birth defects if taken daily for one month before conception and during pregnancy.

Vitamin B6, B9 and B12 are important factors in maintaining healthy homocysteine levels as they work together in cellular turnover, and deficiency of these can lead to a build-up of homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid that is present in very small amounts in all cells of the body. In healthy cells, homocysteine is quickly converted to other products.

Studies suggest that supplementation of Vitamin B6, B9 and B12 together may help lower homocysteine levels in association with lowering the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Should you consider supplementation?  

B vitamins are grouped together because they work closely with each other. If supplementation may be required, it may be one specific B vitamin or, more commonly, as a collective.

Other nutrients, such as magnesium and iron complement B vitamins in supporting health and wellbeing, and these may also be included in products including multivitamins. 

During intense periods of work and stress, our bodies churn through energy more frequently. Given the fast-paced world we find ourselves in, it’s no surprise our bodies may require a little additional support.

If you aren't getting enough B group vitamins through your diet, a supplement can be a great way to boost your energy levels and support a healthy stress response. 

When looking at particular B vitamins on their own, vitamin B6 may help support premenstrual comfort with studies suggesting that supplementation may help to improve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. 

Vitamin B9, more commonly known as folic acid is a widely known essential nutrient for women planning and during pregnancy. The World Health Organisation recommends supplementation during preconception and prenatal care to help prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly. 

Vitamin supplementation should not replace a balanced diet. They can only be of assistance if the dietary intake is inadequate, or in times when requirements are increased, such as pregnancy. Always consult your health professional first if you are considering supplementation. 


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