There are eight B-vitamins in vitamin B-complex as well as several related substances. The eight vitamins are thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), cobalamin (B12), folic acid, pantothenic acid and biotin. The other related substances include choline, inositol and para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA).
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Historically the B-vitamins were discovered from what was know originally as vitamin B, and hence they were grouped together as B-complex. Although each individual vitamin or related substance performs a different function in the body, they all work together to maintain good health and vitality.
The B-vitamins help to maintain the health of the nerves, skin, eyes, hair, liver, and mouth, as well as healthy muscle tone in the gastrointestinal tract and proper brain function. B-Complex vitamins are coenzymes involved in energy production, and may be useful in alleviating depression or anxiety. Adequate intake of the B-vitamins is very important for elderly people because these nutrients are not as well absorbed as we age.
The B-complex has a wide range of properties, including:-
- B1 (thiamine) – needed for release of energy from carbohydrates; aids in functioning of nervous system; helps maintain stomach acidity and normal appetite. Thiamine enhances circulation and assists in blood formation, carbohydrate metabolism, and the production of hydrochloric acid which is important for proper digestion. Thiamine also optimizes cognitive activity and brain function.
- B2 (riboflavin) – needed for converting proteins, fats and carbohydrates into energy; necessary for healthy skin and eyes. Riboflavin is necessary for red blood cell formation, antibody production, and growth. It is important in the prevention and treatment of cataracts. Riboflavin also facilitates the use of oxygen by the tissues of the skin, nails and hair.
- B3 (niacin, niacinamide) – needed for release of energy from food; maintains health of skin, mouth and digestive tract; necessary for normal mental function; can increase circulation and reduce high blood pressure. Vitamin B3 aids in the functioning of the nervous system; in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and also lowers cholesterol. It is helpful against schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, and is also a memory enhancer.
- B5 (pantothenic acid) – needed for release of energy from food; helps in the functioning of the adrenal gland and in the formation of antibodies. Known as the "anti-stress'' vitamin, pantothenic acid plays a role in the production of the adrenal hormones and aids in vitamin utilization. It also helps to convert fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, into energy. It is required by all cells of the body and is concentrated in the organs.
- B6 (pyridoxine) – needed for metabolism of protein, hence requirements related to protein intake; helps to maintain fluid balance, a requirement for healthy red blood cells. Pyridoxine is involved in more bodily functions than almost any other single nutrient. It is beneficial against water retention, and is necessary for the production of hydrochloric acid and the absorption of fats and protein. It is required by the nervous system, and is needed for normal brain function and for the synthesis of the nucleic acids RNA and DNA, which contain the genetic instructions for the reproduction of all cells and for normal cellular growth. It activates many enzymes and is important for immune system function and in antibody production.
- B12 – needed for red blood cell production and maintenance of protective sheath around nerves. Vitamin B12 is needed to prevent anemia; it aids folic acid in regulating the formation of red blood cells, and helps in the utilization of iron. This vitamin is also required for proper digestion, aids in cell formation, helps prevent nerve damage, and promotes normal growth and development by maintaining the fatty sheaths that cover and protect nerve endings. B12 is linked to the production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that assists memory and learning.
- Folic acid – Essential for growth and reproduction of cells, particularly red blood cells. Considered a 'brain food', folic acid, is needed for energy production and the formation of red blood cells. Folic acid is very important during pregnancy. It helps to regulate embryonic and fetal nerve cell formation, which is vital for normal development. It also strengthens immunity, and may also help depression and anxiety.
- Biotin – involved in carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism. Required for healthy skin and hair. Biotin aids in cell growth and in fatty acid production. Sufficient quantities are needed for healthy hair and skin, and may prevent hair loss.
Signs and Symptoms
Deficiency can cause fatigue, anxiety and poor hair and nail condition.
Treatment and Prevention
A well-balanced diet should provide us with all the B-vitamins that we require, but because they are water-soluble and therefore not retained by the body, we need a daily dietary source.