‘B’ is for energy! The low down on B Vitamins.

Also known as the full Vitamin B-Complex, the wonderful family of eight B vitamins are primarily used to produce energy from the food we eat.  However, they are also used in a wide range of the body’s systems.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, provides the detail on why the B vitamins can support your energy levels all day long!

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THE BACKGROUND

The B vitamins are a family of water-soluble vitamins that often exist in the same foods, and also play very specific roles in overall health. They are all eliminated by the body in our urine, so a regular supply, either through our daily diet or supplementation, is required.

B vitamins are also easily destroyed through cooking, food processing and exposure to ultra-violet light.  Additionally, they are quickly depleted from the body particularly during stressful periods. So ensuring you are getting enough B vitamins every day is an essential part of maintaining a healthy body.

WHAT DO THEY DO?

B vitamins don’t provide energy themselves but enable the food we eat to be turned into energy.  They also help a variety of enzymes to do their jobs, as well as transporting oxygen and energy-containing nutrients around the body.

Here is a quick go-to guide of their main functions:

Thiamin (Vitamin B1)

Supports proper energy release from the brain and good functioning of the nervous system.

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)

Crucial for energy release but also helps to keep our main antioxidant system in good working order.

Niacin (Vitamin B3)

Essential for well over 50 enzyme reactions in the body and particularly involved in blood sugar regulation, cholesterol metabolism and detoxification.

Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5)

Utilises fats and carbohydrates for energy production but is also known as the ‘anti-stress’ vitamin, helping to keep the adrenal or stress hormones in good working order.

Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6)

Supports the functioning of many enzyme systems and plays a key role in normal cell multiplication and hormone balance.

Biotin (Vitamin B7)

Key in the manufacture of fats and proteins, needed for healthy hair and skin.

Folic acid (Vitamin B9)

Essential for supporting DNA production and the formation of a healthy nervous system.  It is crucial for the developing baby to have sufficient in the womb which is why most women are recommended to take a folic acid supplement during pregnancy.

Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12)

Needed for the production of red blood cells, supports good brain and immune function, and of course energy production.

RESEARCH SUPPORTING BRAIN BENEFITS

Whilst we know they are a very busy ‘family’ of vitamins, more recent research has established a link between daily supplementation of B vitamins and slowing the rate of brain shrinkage.

Scientists at Oxford University carried out a two-year randomised, double-blind controlled trial[1] to determine whether a vitamin pill containing folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 could reduce the rate of brain shrinkage.  The results were encouraging, showing an average of around 30% less brain shrinkage per year than those given a placebo. This suggests that these particular B vitamins could support ageing brain disorders such as dementia.

Suffice to say, whatever your age, ensuring you’re getting sufficient B vitamins on a daily basis is certainly going to keep the brain as sharp as possible.

WHICH FOODS CONTAIN B VITAMINS?

The good news is that the B Vitamins are widely available in many different foods including fish, poultry, meat, eggs, dairy products, vegetables, legumes and whole grain foods, including cereals. So if you are eating a well-balanced, healthy diet you should have most of them covered. Brewer’s yeast also provides a rich source of B vitamins, hence the reason Marmite is hailed as providing energy!

One thing to note is that vitamin B12 is only found in animal produce, therefore if you are vegan you will certainly need to supplement to ensure you are not deficient.  Taking a daily vitamin B-complex supplement, alongside a well-balanced diet, can help plug the nutrient holes that can plague even the most careful of eaters. Look out for specific B-Complex supplements, or a multi-vitamin such as Alive! which contains all eight B vitamins; this is a great insurance policy to ensure you are getting enough of the B vitamins and to keep your energy levels at their optimum.

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[1] Smith AD et al.  Homocysteine-lowering by B vitamins slows the rate of accelerated brain atrophy in mild cognitive impairment: a randomised controlled trial.  PLoS One 2010; 5:e12244. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012244

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