› What is it?
A B-complex vitamin usually contains the eight B vitamins vital for maintaining health and energy levels: B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folate) and B12 (cobalamin). The gaps in the numbering sequence represent substances that are no longer considered to be vitamins because they have been found to have no nutritional value.
› Health benefits
The eight B vitamins support the body in many vital ways, including the conversion of food into energy, the prevention of cell damage, DNA production and repair, cholesterol and hormone production, red and white blood cell production, neurological function, and gene expression.
Studies have shown that B-complex supplementation in adults can lead to improvement in depression and anxiety symptoms, and they may also improve the effectiveness of antidepressants. Deficiencies of certain B vitamins, including B6, B9 and B12, have been linked to increased risk of depression. Other research found that B-complex and mineral supplementation led to lower stress and enhanced performance on cognitive tests.
B-vitamin supplementation can also help with fatigue caused by vitamin deficiency.
B vitamins are readily found in food, but some types of people may benefit from supplementation, including pregnant or nursing women, vegetarians, older adults, and people with deficiencies because of a health condition.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Pregnant and breastfeeding women—particularly those who don’t eat much meat—are often encouraged to supplement with B vitamins. The body’s need for B vitamins, especially B9 and B12, increases during pregnancy to support the growing fetus, and these vitamins can help prevent birth defects or neurological damage to the baby.
Our bodies’ ability to absorb some B vitamins declines over time, making it more difficult to get enough through diet alone. Deficiency in B12 has been linked to depression in older people, and B6 and B9 deficiencies are also more common in that population.
Vegetarians and vegans
Because meat, fish, dairy and eggs are such good sources of B vitamins, vegans and vegetarians may be at higher risk of deficiencies, particularly of vitamin B12.
Some diseases or genetic mutations can contribute to B-vitamin deficiencies, including celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, alcoholism, hypothyroidism, an MTHFR genetic mutation or history of weight-loss surgery.
› How much do I need?
The needed doses of B-complex vitamins vary depending on many factors, so talk to a health care professional about your specific needs. High doses of vitamins B3 and B6 have been known to cause side effects, but since B vitamins are water soluble and any excess excreted with urine, it’s difficult to get dangerously high levels.
› In food
Meat, eggs and dairy are key sources of several B vitamins. For example, salmon contains 50% of the RDI of vitamin B3, as well as ample amounts of B1, B2, B5, B6 and B12. Liver and other organ meats are packed with B vitamins, including more than 100% of the RDI of B2, B7 and B12. Other notable meat sources include poultry, trout, pork, beef and shellfish. Vegetarian and vegan food sources include leafy greens (including spinach, collard greens, turnip greens and romaine lettuce); legumes (including black beans, chickpeas, green peas and lentils); fortified cereals; and nutritional and brewer’s yeast.
› Dietary supplements
B vitamins are present in most multivitamin formulas, and you can also take a B-complex supplement containing appropriate amounts of all eight B vitamins.
Source: National Institutes of Health, Healthline, Wikipedia
Please consult your health care provider before making changes to your vitamin/supplement regimen.