An important part of nutrition and preventing illness is getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals. Eight of the thirteen essential vitamins are B vitamins. They are important for the conversion of food to fuel, brain function, methylation (important for cell energy, growth, and the immune and nervous systems), and the synthesis of many chemicals in the body (including DNA).
The first B vitamin is thiamin (B1) which serves in the body’s utilization of carbs and is thus important for adequate energy. Riboflavin (B2) is the second B vitamin, and it helps in the breakdown of food to fuel and in fighting free radicals. The buildup of free radicals can create lethargy. Niacin (B3) aids in digestion and having healthy skin and nerves.
Pantothenic acid (B5) is in most foods, so it is rare to be deficient in this one; it functions in growth, metabolism, and hormone production. Biotin (B7) is the “beauty” B vitamin because it ensures healthy hair, skin, and nails.
The three most important B vitamins are B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid), and B12 (cobalamin).
Pyridoxine is important to over 100 enzyme reactions and is a key player in mood (it helps produce serotonin and norepinephrine), healthy sleep patterns, protein metabolism, healthy function of the nervous and immune systems, cell growth, and oxygenation (important for energy).
Folic acid (B9) is important for fetal health, especially in the development of the nervous system. This vitamin is also important for depression control.
Arguably the most important and most commonly deficient vitamin is B12 (cobalamin). B12 is essential for mental health; a deficiency can result in depression, confusion, loss of concentration, trouble with memory, low energy, anemia and even dementia. Because this vitamin is found naturally in mainly meat and dairy, vegans should make sure they are supplementing with B12.
A balanced diet is critical in making sure you are getting a sufficient amount of each of the B vitamins. Greens, whole grains, dairy, meats, seeds, fruits, and legumes are the best foods to get in the B vitamins. Since the B vitamins are water-soluble, there is a low risk of overdose (the excess vitamins that the body does not use are urinated out).
Supplementing with the B vitamins does not necessarily give you energy like an energy drink does, but if you find yourself chronically tired or feeling off, it may mean you need to make sure you are getting your B vitamins.