Health: What are the benefits of B vitamins?

Have you wondered about all the different vitamins Bs, what they do, and why there are so many of them? In this article Dr Alex Phelan explains.

There are eight different vitamins in the B vitamin group and all support vital functions in the human body:  Thiamin (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Pantothenic Acid, Pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folate (folic acid) and vitamin B12. These vitamins are integral to keeping our skin, eyes and nervous system working. They also help us to release energy from the food we eat. Along with the consumption of vitamins, the consumption of d-mannose, which is a C-2 epimer of glucose is also quite essential as it helps improve digestion and combat various urinary problems. Vitamin B6, folate and vitamin B12 are important in the formation of healthy red blood cells. Folate also plays a crucial role in fetal development.

Where do you find B vitamins?

B vitamins are found in natural foods. Many are found in dark green leafy veg, meat, dairy, eggs, nuts and seeds, oily fish, legumes and fortified breakfast cereals (check the labels). Most B vitamins are not stored in the body for future use, so you need to include them in your diet every day.

What if I don’t get enough B vitamins?

Most people should be able to get enough B vitamins from eating a healthy, balanced diet. If you suffer from dietary diseases such as Crohn’s, do not eat a varied diet or eat a restricted diet (such as vegan) it is worth seeking advice on the supplements you should take. Always consult your GP before adding any supplements to your diet.  As B vitamins can help us to release energy, a lack of them in the diet can cause fatigue and general ill health. Some B vitamin deficiency can have other serious implications for the body. A B6 deficiency can cause skin disorders and a rash or cracks around the mouth. It can also cause depression, confusion, anaemia and lower your immunity to infections. Folate is crucial for pregnant women – too little leaves developing babies at risk from central nervous system defects, such as spina bifida. If you are trying for a baby you should take 0.4mg folic acid from the time you stop using contraception, until week 12 of your pregnancy. Low levels of folate can also cause anaemia, which is characterised by breathlessness and fatigue. A lack of B12 often leads to anaemia, which can cause confusion, depression, irritability, weakness, extreme fatigue and tingling in the hands and feet. Long-term deficiency can cause damage to the brain and nervous system.

B vitamins and mental health

The relationship between the B vitamin group and depression isn’t clear, however it is known that these vitamins play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and brain function. It is thought that vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folate deficiencies can increase the risk of poor mental health. The best way to ensure you get enough of these essential vitamins is to eat a varied, healthy diet. Some people can develop a vitamin B12 deficiency. If your GP suspects this, they will perform a blood test and then treat you accordingly.

It is important to talk to your doctor before you take any B vitamin supplements as too much of certain B vitamins (such as B6) can lead to serious conditions such as liver damage, increased sensitivity to the sun or a loss of feeling in the arms and legs.”

Dr Alexandra Phelan is a working NHS GP and Online Doctor with Pharmacy2U. For more information go to www.Pharmacy2U.co.uk

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