B-Complex Vitamins: Why You Must Have Them

Although many people consume foods fortified with vitamin B, the typical American diet that is high in processed, cooked and microwavable food provides only a fraction of the B-vitamins we need for good health. Because these vitamins are vital to a vigorous long life, not getting them can lead to serious problems. B vitamins are easily flushed out of the body, and people on weight-loss diets, alcoholics or those who take antibiotics or seizure drugs are even more inclined to haw: vitamin B deficiency.

While it is safe for many people to take three times or more of the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for B-vitamins, each of us has unique requirements based on our own individual physiology and lifestyle. Consequently, it is important to check with a knowledgeable health professional before beginning a vitamin regimen in order to determine your proper dosage. Because deficiencies usually include more than one B-vitamin, and because the B-vitamins work best as a team, we should take a B-complex supplement along with any single B-vitamin in order to achieve their synergistic effects.

B1-Thiamin: Thiamin is naturally found in whole grains, egg yolks, fresh legumes and meat. It is necessary for adrenal gland function, proper immune performance and the synthesis of neurotransmitters. Additionally,, it plays a role in the metabolism of food and alcohol. Although 25 mg is usually sufficient, increasing your daily thiamin intake to 50-100 mg may increase your energy and improve your mood.

Symptoms of thiamin deficiency include poor memory, fatigue, muscle weakness and blindness Over time, thiamin deficiency, can lead to heart disease, brain damage or even death.

The RDA for thiamin is very low and does not consider increased thiamin requirements that result from an unhealthy lifestyle, old age or disease. Older folks typically have lower thiamin levels and should be aware of symptoms. Because thiamm, in combination with alpha lipoic acid (ALA), encourages the nerves of the skin and the blood vessels to regenerate, people with diabetic neuropathies often feel relief from pain when they increase their thiamin intake along with ALA.

B2-Riboflavin: Riboflavin is found in organ meats and whole grains. It is required for energy production and oxygen utilization. The symptoms of low riboflavin include fatigue, blindness, anemia and crusting around the mouth.

Doctors sometimes prescribe riboflavin to prevent migraine headaches and to alleviate arthritis pain. Recent research suggests that riboflavin may also play a role in the prevention of cancer, and that most people require 25 mg of riboflavin daily.

B3-Niacin: Like B1 and B2, niacin is necessary for the body's production of energy. It is also useful in treating high cholesterol, schizophrenia, neurological disease and Raynaud's syndrome (a blood vessel disorder). It is found in fresh organ meats and whole grains and is available in two supplemental forms, niacin and niacinamide.

The RDA for niacin is 14-16 mg, however 200 mg or more, in three daily doses, is commonly prescribed as a cholesterol-lowering agent. Although 25 mg is usually sufficient, if you plan to take high doses of niacin, you should use "flush free" niacin. Besides lowering LDL (low-density lipoprotein or "bad") cholesterol, niacin, in combination with vitamin C, can reduce the body's production of lipoprotein (a), a risk factor for heart disease. A physician should monitor anyone taking high doses of niacin.

Pellagra is the name given to the medical condition that results from a lack of niacin and symptoms include weakness, sore mouth and irritability.

B5-Pantothenic Acid: Pantothenic acid is obligatory for energy production. It is also required for proper immune function and adrenal stress hormone production. It is sometimes referred to as the "anti-stress" vitamin.

While most whole foods contain some pantothenic acid, people who are under a lot of stress, or who experience stress-related chronic fatigue, shingles or genital and oral herpes may benefit from taking pantothenic acid (under a physician's supervision.)

Also, during cold weather, cells increase their consumption of pantothenic acid, which can make your body more susceptible to a cold or the flu.

The best dietary sources of this vitamin are meats, chicken and fish, whole grains, eggs, broccoli and cauliflower.

B6-Pyridoxine and Folic Acid: Pyridoxine and folic acid work together to regulate homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is a byproduct of protein breakdown that damages arteries and makes them vulnerable to cholesterol deposits. Individually, pyridoxine is necessary for the manufacture of proteins, and folic acid is necessary for repairing DNA.

There is evidence that pyridoxine can prevent migraines and reduce the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Because both folic acid and pyridoxine are important for proper immune function, people with HIV infection or cancer may benefit from daily, supplementation.

Symptoms of pyridoxine and folic acid deficiencies include: fatigue, susceptibility to infection, sore mouth, seizures and "pins-and-needle" feelings. Most people need 10-25 mg daily of pyridoxine and can get this amount from B-complex supplements.

Folic acid is especially important for women of childbearing age, as deficiencies of this nutrient have been linked with birth defects. Women on birth control pills, pregnant women, all women of childbearing age, as well as alcoholics, heart disease patients and people taking antibiotics should make sure they take between 400-800 mcg of folic acid per day.

Pyridoxine is found in a variety of foods, such as fresh meats, fish, spinach, carrots, bananas and whole grains. Folic acid is found in leafy greens, organ meats, oranges, legumes, and whole grains. Because folic acid is sensitive to heat, light, cooking and long term storage, most of it is lost in food preparation.

B12-Cobalamin: Cobalamin is required for normal gene function, energy production, the formation of blood cells and proper immunity. Because the best sources of B12 are fresh meat products, vegetarians and junk food eaters may require B12 supplementation.

Symptoms of B12 deficiency are fatigue, anemia, forgetfulness, numbness of toes and a burning sensation in the feet. The RDA of 2 meg is relatively low and since the body' does not store excess B12, it is safe to take 100-500 meg of the vitamin each day.

Choline and Inositol: Choline is necessary for building your cells and severe deficiency can cause death. Because of its antiinflammatory nature, choline supplements of 1,000 mg are effective and safe for treating asthma and arthritis. Eggs and fresh legumes are especially good sources of this vitamin. Choline is also generated in the body by your intestinal bacteria.

Inositol deficiency can lead to severe mental problems. This makes inositol promising in the treatment of depression, panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, with daily does as high as 12-18 gm. Doctors also use this vitamin to prevent hardening of the arteries, protect the heart and treat cancer. Most people can get sufficient amounts of inositol from whole grains, fruits, meats, and dairy products. Two daily B-complex capsules should provide sufficient amounts of these two vitamins for most people.

Biotin and Paraminobenzoic acid (PABA): Biotin is required for fat and protein metabolism, effective immunity and gene function. Biotin deficiency is most common in the elderly, people with diabetes and in those who take too many antibiotics. Anemia, muscle pain, dermatitis and pins-and-needles in the toes mark biotin deficiency. Biotin occurs naturally in organ meats, egg yolks, whole grains and dairy foods.

PABA is necessary for the metabolism of amino acids and in the formation of blood. It is found in fresh meats, wheat germ, whole grains and eggs. In very excessively high doses PABA can cause liver damage.

Biotin and PABA deficiencies are rare and people can usually get enough from a good B-complex supplement.

Little talked about stars

The B-complex vitamins receive less media press than the other vitamins, nevertheless they are fundamental for life. They work together as team members, which keep your body functioning normally. B-complex vitamins can help prevent many diseases because they repair nucleic acids and immune cells.

Depending on a person's state of physical health, diet and amount of physical and mental stress different doses are required. I personally take four B-complex capsule.s (50's) each day along with the other necessary supplements. I also make sure that I store my B-complex capsules in a dark, cool and dry place because they spoil easily.

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By Burt Berkson, M.D., Ph.D.

Adapted by M.D., Ph.D.

Burt Berkson, M.D., Ph.D., practices integrative medicine and is involved in various research programs in cell biology and mycology. He is President of the Integrative Medical Centers of New Mexico, and has worked as a professor for New Mexico State University. Dr. Berkson is the author of All About B Vitamins and The Alpha Lipoic Acid Breakthrough.

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