Making Sense of B Vitamins

B vitamins are a class of water (as opposed to fat) soluble vitamins which play an essential role in many cellular processes. They are often called “the energy vitamins,” but they function more like keys that unlock the body’s energy. When present in supplements individually, B vitamins are referred to by their name, for example, vitamin B1, or Thiamin. When all together they are known as “Vitamin B complex.”

The B vitamins contribute in numerous ways to overall health and vitality.

The compounds in a B-complex are needed for everything from the healthy maintenance of brain cells to the metabolism of carbohydrates, the brain’s
source of fuel. B’s are also necessary for the production of neurotransmitters, which regulate mood and conduct messages throughout the brain. A deficiency in any one of them can lead to a host of health problems.

Q & A With AOR

Q. There are so many different B vitamins – what are their names and numbers?


Converts protein, carbs, and fat from into energy; nervous system function; proper muscle function; synthesis of DNA.


Converts protein, carbs, and fat from food into energy, skin health and eye health. Also required for normal cell growth and functionand for mobilization of other B-Vitamins.


Converts protein, carbs, and fat from food into energy, fatty acid synthesis, improves cholesterol and helps regulate many metabolic processes.


Converts carbs, and fat from food into energy, production of red blood cells, healthy digestion, hormone production.


Protein and amino acid metabolism, release stored glucose, hormone production, immune support, and also helps in the production of neurotransmitters essential for brain and mood health.


Converts protein into energy, carb metabolism, fat synthesis, hair and nail health.


Protein and amino acid metabolism, DNA synthesis, formation of red blood cells, essential for human growth and development (especially during pregnacy).


Food metabolism & energy production, DNA synthesis, formation of red blood cells, brain and nervous system function.


Q. Which B vitamins are foundational?

Picking the most important B vitamins is like picking the most important parts of the body—they all work in synergy.

The eight individual members of the B family are commonly referred to as a B-complex. Although each B vitamin is unique, they have closely interrelated functions. The body does not store B- vitamins well, and its need for them is increased by stress, smoking, use of alcohol and drugs, unhealthy dietary practices, shift work, illnesses, and demanding travel schedules.

If you choose to supplement, there is no reason not to take the whole complex of eight B vitamins, but there are also instances where taking additional individual B vitamins may be appropriate. You do not want to take a single B-vitamin in the absence of a complex for too long, however, because their inter-relational ratios are essential for the maintenance of good health. When the need arises for a single B-vitamin, you could take the single as well as a B-complex for a temporary period until the issue is resolved and then revert to supplementing only the B-complex again.

As we can see, it is crucial to select a B-complex vitamin that has the most biologically active forms in scientifically balanced doses.

Q. Is it possible to consume too many vitamins? What is the appropriate amount?

Taking too much of anything – even vitamins – can cause problems. Although some vitamins are relatively harmless in unlimited quantities because your body excretes the excess, others can only be taken in limited amounts before you risk harming your health.

B vitamins are water-soluble, which means the body excretes excessive amounts through urination.

However, massive doses of B vitamins carry the potential to create some temporary adverse reactions. For example, high levels of niacin (vitamin B3) may cause blurred vision, nausea and vomiting.

Recommended daily allowances (RDA) for B vitamins vary according to age, overall health and other factors, and are established by Canadian and American scientists through a review process overseen by the U.S. National Academies. Talk to your health care provider if you have concerns about your B vitamin intake, as supplements containing some B vitamins may interact with certain medications

Q. Is it possible to eat well and still have a Vitamin B deficiency?

Despite a high intake of foods containing B-vitamins, it is still possible to have a deficiency in one or more of them as your body may not be absorbing the nutrient.

Anyone suffering from digestive problems, or pancreatic issues, someone who takes antacids and other medications such as oral contraceptives, cholesterol-lowering drugs, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or anyone who has gone through weight loss surgery may not have enough

stomach acid to properly break down those foods and absorb the nutrients from them.

Age is another factor, more specifically in B12 absorption. As we age, the stomach does not produce as much hydrochloric acid (HCL) which can result in a decline of the amount of B12 that is absorbed.

Furthermore, extended cooking, food processing and alcohol can reduce the availability of many of these vitamins.

The definition of a healthy daily intake of B vitamins isn’t set in stone, and it is likely to change over the next few years as data from ongoing randomized trials are evaluated. 95px;width:61

Q. Does it matter where I source my B Vitamin supplements?

A sure-fire way to assess the quality of your supplements is to check if the vitamins and mineral are in the most biologically active and absorbable forms. Most formulations contain vitamins and minerals in their most commonly used and often cheapest form. To the untrained eye, this may seem like an attractive option, especially if the formulation is low-cost. However, choosing a supplement with the most active forms of vitamin B can make the difference between a positive or negative effect on your health.

The body’s physiology is complex; it may convert orally absorbed nutrients many times before they are in a useable form. A good example is vitamin B9 which is found in different forms in folate and folic acid. Whereas folic acid is a synthetic compound used in common dietary supplements and food fortification, folate refers to the various tetrahydrofolate (L-5-MTHF) derivatives naturally found in leafy greens or biologically active supplementsAny folic acid we ingest must be metabolized (converted) into Dihydrofolate (DHF), Tetrahydrofolate (THF), and then finally into L-methylfolate (5-MTHF) to be used by the body. However, issues can arise during the metabolism for people with a genetic polymorphism leading to an enzyme issue, such as an MTHFR mutation. For those individuals, folic acid supplements are ineffective and potentially harmful in the long run.


Thiamine pyrophosphate; Thiamine triphosphate, Benfotiamine.


Riboflavin-5-phosphate; Flavin mononucleotide (FMN).


Pantethine, calcium D-pantothenate.




Folinic acid; 5-methyl tetrahydrofolate, calcium L-5-MTHF.


Methylcobalamin; Adenosylcobalamin.




Supplementing with 5-MTHF bypasses the entire folic acid metabolism cycle, which is good news if you have an MTHFR mutation. It’s an example of how the sourcing of your B-vitamin supplements makes an essential difference to whether that product has a positive or potentially adverse effect on your health.

The majority of B vitamins on the market are synthetic. For these synthetic products, the dose is not necessarily a good indicator of a quality supplement. Naturally-sourced vitamins, on the other hand, are referred to as active B vitamins and are superior. The commonly used active B vitamins are listed below.

If you read the label and don’t find these active names for the B vitamins, most likely they’re synthetic. Some synthetic vitamins may convert to their active forms once in the body, but they require additional nutrients. For example, in order for the body to utilize synthetic folic acid additional vitamin C, niacin and vitamin B12 are required.

Q. What is methylation and why does it matter?

Methylation is the essential biochemical process through which folate and B12 help to form ‘methyl’ groups that attach to proteins, modifying their function. It controls hormones, neurotransmitters, growth and cellular replication, keeping the processes orderly. We will deal with Methylation in detail later in this issue.

Q. Some practitioners give Vitamin B from a IV drip. When is that necessary?

Proponents say IV vitamin therapy delivers a high concentration of vitamins, minerals and amino acids directly to the body’s cells, bypassing the digestive system to allow more rapid and effective absorption of nutrients than could be achieved by swallowing them. There are legitimate situations where you would give vitamins intravenously when people are either severely sick or cannot absorb vitamins properly.


About The Author

CHNC, BCoMS, Scientific Consultant

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