The Rundown on the B Vitamins (Part 1)


We always hear about how important vitamins are for our bodies and health, yet many of us do not exactly know how they work or why they are good for us. Even least known are the importance of B vitamins. Did you know that there are 8 different kinds of vitamin B? Yes, 8 vitamins all of them with a different name and number. Many people get the names and numbers mixed up, so in this week’s wellness Wednesday and the next, we will get them straight and figured out!

For starters, why are the B vitamins so important? Well they are water soluble vitamins which work together in the body as a group to help make energy from the foods we eat. The B vitamins are responsible for cell metabolism and as well as helping in maintaining cell health. They are also key players in brain function and energy production. Although they all work together in the body, they all have distinct functions. Let’s start off with the first vitamin B.

B1: Thiamine

Thiamine is very important in many body functions. Some of these functions include, nervous system and muscle function such as helping the flow of electrolytes (such as salt, and potassium) in and out of nerve and muscle cells, processing of carbohydrates and digestion. Deficiency in thiamine can lead to what is called beriberi, which causes burning sensation in the hands and feet, confusion, and uncontrolled eye movements. It may also lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome which is a brain disorder that damages cell nerves in the central and peripheral nervous system. This disorder may be present in alcoholics. Dietary sources of thiamine include pork, poultry, beef, whole-grains, enriched cereals, legumes, nuts, and brewer’s yeast.

B2: Riboflavin

Riboflavin helps support cellular energy production and is needed to break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. A lack of riboflavin in the body may lead to light sensitivity, itching and burning yes, and mouth sores. Riboflavin can be found in many foods such as, milk and dairy, fish, whole grain and enriched foods, meats and leafy green vegetables.

B3: Niacin

Niacin, also known as nicotinic acid, also helps with cellular energy production as well as aiding the body in making sex and stress-related hormones. It also helps improve circulation and can be used to support cardiovascular health by potentially lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol. A mild deficiency in niacin can lead to depression, poor circulation, canker sores, fatigue, and indigestion. A vitamin deficiency disease called pellagra may appear in those severely deficient of niacin. Those with pellagra often have cracked, or scaly skim, as well as dementia, and diarrhea. High doses of niacin usually lead to an upset stomach, flushing of the skin, blurred vision, headache, and dizziness. There is also an increased risk of liver damage through high niacin dosing. Food sources of niacin include beets, beef liver, beef kidney, fish, tuna, sunflower seeds, peanuts, and brewer’s yeast.

B5: Pantothenic acid

Pantothenic acid helps support energy production in the body, aids in the manufacture of red blood cells, helps maintain a healthy digestive tract, and aids synthesize cholesterol. It also helps the body in using other B vitamins, in particular vitamin B2 (riboflavin). The deficiency of vitamin B5 is rare but if present, symptoms may include insomnia, depression, irritability, vomiting, and fatigue. Dietary sources of pantothenic acid include lean meats, poultry, whole grain cereals, peas and beans (with the exception of green beans).

This was the first part in the rundown of the B vitamins. As you may now see, they play a very important role in our bodies. Please join us next week for the second part of our B vitamin rundown.

For Further reading:

Created by Ricardo Blanco, Student Asst.
Hospitality Dietitian Mindy Diller, MS, RDN, LD 

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