Vitamins naturally occur in food and are needed in very small amounts for various bodily functions such as energy production and making red blood cells. There are 13 vitamins that our body needs, eight of which make up the B-group or B-complex vitamins.
The B-group vitamins do not provide the body with fuel for energy, even though supplement advertisements often claim they do. This is because the B-group vitamins are needed to help the body to use the energy-yielding nutrients such as carbohydrates, fat and protein for fuel.
Other B-group vitamins are needed to help cells to multiply by making new DNA. Even though the B-group vitamins are found in many foods, they are water soluble and are generally quite delicate. They are easily destroyed, particularly by alcohol and cooking.
Food processing can also reduce the amount of B-group vitamins in foods — either by destroying them, or in white flours, white breads and white rice removing the parts that contain the most B-group vitamins. This is one of the reasons white flours, white breads and white rice are less nutritious than their wholegrain counterparts.
The body has a limited capacity to store most of the B-group vitamins except B12 and folate, which are stored in the liver. A person who has a poor diet for a few months may end up with B-group vitamins deficiency. The body only needs small amounts of vitamins and most of these needs can be met by eating a nutritious diet.
Taking vitamins that your body does not need can mean, at a best-case scenario, that your body gets rid of the excess in your urine so you waste your money.
But some vitamins can also be toxic if taken incorrectly, so you could also be damaging your body instead of helping it. Some B-group vitamins also work together in the body for example, vitamin B12 and folate or folic acid. This means taking supplements can sometimes hide deficiencies of other vitamins, which can also lead to health problems.
Thiamin is also known as vitamin B1. It helps to convert glucose into energy and has a role in nerve function. Thiamin deficiency is generally found in countries where the dietary staple is white rice. Symptoms include — confusion, irritability, poor arm or leg or both coordination, lethargy, fatigue and muscle weakness.
Beriberi is a condition caused by thiamin deficiency and affects the cardiovascular, muscular, gastrointestinal and nervous systems. Alcohol reduces thiamin absorption in the gut and increases its excretion from the kidneys. Riboflavin deficiency or ariboflavinosis is rare and is usually seen along with other B-group vitamin deficiencies. People at risk include those who consume excessive amounts of alcohol and those who do not consume milk or milk products.
People who drink excessive amounts of alcohol or live on a diet almost exclusively based on corn are most at risk of pellagra. Others causes are associated with digestive problems where the body does not absorb niacin efficiently. The main symptoms of pellagra are commonly referred to as the three Ds — dementia, diarrhoea and dermatitis. This disease can lead to death if not treated. Large doses of niacin produce a drug-like effect on the nervous system and on blood fats.
While favourable changes in blood fats are seen, side effects include — flushing, itching, nausea and potential liver damage. Pantothenic acid is needed to metabolise carbohydrates, proteins, fats and alcohol as well as produce red blood cells and steroid hormones. Pantothenic acid is widespread and found in a range of foods, but some good sources include liver, meats, milk, kidneys, eggs, yeast, peanuts and legumes.
Pyridoxine is needed for protein and carbohydrate metabolism, the formation of red blood cells and certain brain chemicals. It influences brain processes and development, immune function and steroid hormone activity. Pyridoxine deficiency is rare. People who drink excessive amounts of alcohol, women especially those on the contraceptive pill , the elderly and people with thyroid disease the most at risk.
Pyridoxine toxicity is mostly due to supplementation and can lead to harmful levels in the body that can damage the nerves.
Biotin B7 is needed for energy metabolism , fat synthesis, amino acid metabolism and glycogen synthesis. High biotin intake can contribute to raised blood cholesterol levels. Over-consumption of raw egg whites over periods of several months by bodybuilders, for example can induce deficiency because a protein in the egg white inhibits biotin absorption.
Folate, or folic acid the synthetic form of folate which is used extensively in dietary supplements and food fortification is needed to form red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. It helps the development of the foetal nervous system, as well as DNA synthesis and cell growth.
Women of child-bearing age need a diet rich in folate for this reason. This is important to reduce the risks of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in the baby.
Since , all bread sold in Australia except organic has been fortified with folic acid. Although folic acid is generally considered non-toxic, excessive intakes above 1, mcg per day over a period of time can lead to malaise, irritability and intestinal dysfunction.
Cyanocobalamin or vitamin B12 helps to produce and maintain the myelin surrounding nerve cells, mental ability, red blood cell formation and the breaking down of some fatty acids and amino acids to produce energy. Vitamin B12 has a close relationship with folate, as both depend on the other to work properly.
Because vitamin B12 is only found in foods from animal sources, people following strict vegan diets , as well as breastfed babies of vegan mothers, tend to be most commonly affected.
Absorption of B12 from the gut also tends to decrease with age, so the elderly is another group who are more at risk of deficiency. This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:. I share ideas for being happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative. Start here with the most read posts of all-time. Take my Four Tendencies quiz. Get good tips here. Find any post based on month, year, or topic. Get monthly book recommendations from me. Our Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so understanding your Tendency lets us make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burnout, and engage more effectively.
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