B vitamins are a class of water-soluble vitamins that play important roles in cell metabolism. Though these vitamins share similar names, they are chemically distinct compounds that often coexist in the same foods. In general, dietary supplements containing all eight are referred to as a vitamin B complex. Individual B vitamin supplements are referred to by the specific number or name of each vitamin: B1 = thiamine, B2 = riboflavin, B3 = niacin, etc. Some are better known by name than number: niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin and folate.
B vitamins are found in highest abundance in meat. Most are also found in small quantities in whole unprocessed carbohydrate based foods. Processed carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour tend to have lower B vitamin than their unprocessed counterparts. For this reason, it is required by law in many countries (including the United States) that the B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid be added back to white flour after processing. This is sometimes called "Enriched Flour" on food labels. B vitamins are particularly concentrated in meat such as turkey, tuna and liver. Good sources for B vitamins include legumes (pulses or beans), whole grains, potatoes, bananas, chili peppers, tempeh, nutritional yeast, brewer's yeast, and molasses. Although the yeast used to make beer results in beers being a source of B vitamins, their bioavailability ranges from poor to negative as drinking ethanol inhibits absorption of thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), biotin (B7), and folic acid (B9). In addition, each of the preceding studies further emphasizes that elevated consumption of beer and other alcoholic beverages results in a net deficit of those B vitamins and the health risks associated with such deficiencies.
The B12 vitamin is not abundantly available from plant products, making B12 deficiency a legitimate concern for vegans. Manufacturers of plant-based foods will sometimes report B12 content, leading to confusion about what sources yield B12. The confusion arises because the standard US Pharmacopeia (USP) method for measuring the B12 content does not measure the B12 directly. Instead, it measures a bacterial response to the food. Chemical variants of the B12 vitamin found in plant sources are active for bacteria, but cannot be used by the human body. This same phenomenon can cause significant over-reporting of B12 content in other types of foods as well.
A popular way of increasing one's vitamin B intake is through the use of dietary supplements. B vitamins are commonly added to energy drinks, many of which have been marketed with large amounts of B vitamins with claims that this will cause the consumer to "sail through your day without feeling jittery or tense." Some nutritionists have been critical of these claims, pointing out for instance that while B vitamins do "help unlock the energy in foods," most Americans acquire the necessary amounts easily in their diets.
Because they are soluble in water, excess B vitamins are generally readily excreted, although individual absorption, use and metabolism may vary. The elderly and athletes may need to supplement their intake of B12 and other B vitamins due to problems in absorption and increased needs for energy production.[medical citation needed] In cases of severe deficiency, B vitamins, especially B12, may also be delivered by injection to reverse deficiencies.[unreliable medical source?] Both type 1 and type 2 diabetics may also be advised to supplement thiamine based on high prevalence of low plasma thiamine concentration and increased thiamine clearance associated with diabetes. Also, Vitamin B9 (folic acid) deficiency in early embryo development has been linked to neural tube defects. Thus, women planning to become pregnant are usually encouraged to increase daily dietary folic acid intake and/or take a supplement.
|Vitamin B1||Thiamine||A coenzyme in the catabolism of sugars and amino acids.|
|Vitamin B2||Riboflavin||A precursor of coenzymes called FAD and FMN, which are needed for flavoprotein enzyme reactions, including activation of other vitamins|
|Vitamin B3||Niacin (nicotinic acid), nicotinamide, nicotinamide riboside||A precursor of coenzymes called NAD and NADP, which are needed in many metabolic processes.|
|Vitamin B5||Pantothenic acid||A precursor of coenzyme A and therefore needed to metabolize many molecules.|
|Vitamin B6||Pyridoxine, pyridoxal, pyridoxamine||A coenzyme in many enzymatic reactions in metabolism.|
|Vitamin B7||Biotin||A coenzyme for carboxylase enzymes, needed for synthesis of fatty acids and in gluconeogenesis.|
|Vitamin B9||Folate||A precursor needed to make, repair, and methylate DNA; a cofactor in various reactions; especially important in aiding rapid cell division and growth, such as in infancy and pregnancy.|
|Vitamin B12||Cobalamins||Commonly cyanocobalamin or methylcobalamin in vitamin supplements. A coenzyme involved in the metabolism of every cell of the human body, especially affecting DNA synthesis and regulation, but also fatty acid metabolism and amino acid metabolism.|
Note: other substances once thought to be vitamins were given numbers in the B-vitamin numbering scheme, but were subsequently discovered to be either not essential for life or manufactured by the body, thus not meeting the two essential qualifiers for a vitamin. See section #Related compounds for numbers 4, 8, 10, 11, and others.
|Vitamin B1||Thiamine||Thiamine plays a central role in the release of energy from carbohydrates. It is involved in RNA and DNA production, as well as nerve function. Its active form is a coenzyme called thiamine pyrophosphate (TPP), which takes part in the conversion of pyruvate to acetyl coenzyme A in metabolism.|
|Vitamin B2||Riboflavin||Riboflavin is involved in release of energy in the electron transport chain, the citric acid cycle, as well as the catabolism of fatty acids (beta oxidation).[unreliable medical source?]|
|Vitamin B3||Niacin||Niacin is composed of two structures: nicotinic acid and nicotinamide. There are two co-enzyme forms of niacin: nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP). Both play an important role in energy transfer reactions in the metabolism of glucose, fat and alcohol. NAD carries hydrogens and their electrons during metabolic reactions, including the pathway from the citric acid cycle to the electron transport chain. NADP is a coenzyme in lipid and nucleic acid synthesis.|
|Vitamin B5||Pantothenic acid||Pantothenic acid is involved in the oxidation of fatty acids and carbohydrates. Coenzyme A, which can be synthesised from pantothenic acid, is involved in the synthesis of amino acids, fatty acids, ketone bodies, cholesterol, phospholipids, steroid hormones, neurotransmitters (such as acetylcholine), and antibodies.|
|Vitamin B6||Pyridoxine, pyridoxal, pyridoxamine||The active form pyridoxal 5'-phosphate (PLP) (depicted) serves as a cofactor in many enzyme reactions mainly in amino acid metabolism including biosynthesis of neurotransmitters.|
|Vitamin B7||biotin||Biotin plays a key role in the metabolism of lipids, proteins and carbohydrates. It is a critical co-enzyme of four carboxylases: acetyl CoA carboxylase, which is involved in the synthesis of fatty acids from acetate; pyruvate CoA carboxylase, involved in gluconeogenesis; β-methylcrotonyl CoA carboxylase, involved in the metabolism of leucine; and propionyl CoA carboxylase, which is involved in the metabolism of energy, amino acids and cholesterol.|
|Vitamin B9||Folate||Folate acts as a co-enzyme in the form of tetrahydrofolate (THF), which is involved in the transfer of single-carbon units in the metabolism of nucleic acids and amino acids. THF is involved in purine and pyrimidine nucleotide synthesis, so is needed for normal cell division, especially during pregnancy and infancy, which are times of rapid growth. Folate also aids in erythropoiesis, the production of red blood cells.|
|Vitamin B12||Cobalamin||Vitamin B12 is involved in the cellular metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids. It is essential in the production of blood cells in bone marrow, and for nerve sheaths and proteins. Vitamin B12 functions as a co-enzyme in intermediary metabolism for the methionine synthase reaction with methylcobalamin, and the methylmalonyl CoA mutase reaction with adenosylcobalamin.[failed verification]|
Several named vitamin deficiency diseases may result from the lack of sufficient B vitamins. Deficiencies of other B vitamins result in symptoms that are not part of a named deficiency disease.
|B1||Thiamine||Deficiency causes beriberi. Symptoms of this disease of the nervous system include weight loss, emotional disturbances, Wernicke encephalopathy (impaired sensory perception), weakness and pain in the limbs, periods of irregular heartbeat, and edema (swelling of bodily tissues). Heart failure and death may occur in advanced cases. Chronic thiamin deficiency can also cause alcoholic Korsakoff syndrome, an irreversible dementia characterized by amnesia and compensatory confabulation.|
|B2||Riboflavin||Riboflavin deficiency can cause ariboflavinosis, which may result in cheilosis (cracks in the lips), high sensitivity to sunlight, angular cheilitis, glossitis (inflammation of the tongue), seborrheic dermatitis or pseudo-syphilis (particularly affecting the scrotum or labia majora and the mouth), pharyngitis (sore throat), hyperemia, and edema of the pharyngeal and oral mucosa.|
|B3||Niacin||Deficiency, along with a deficiency of tryptophan, causes pellagra. Symptoms include aggression, dermatitis, insomnia, weakness, mental confusion, and diarrhea. In advanced cases, pellagra may lead to dementia and death (the 3(+1) D's: dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia, and death).|
|B5||Pantothenic acid||Deficiency can result in acne and paresthesia, although it is uncommon.|
|B6||Pyridoxine, pyridoxal, pyridoxamine||Vitamin B6 deficiency causes seborrhoeic dermatitis-like eruptions, pink eye and neurological symptoms (e.g. epilepsy).|
|B7||Biotin||Deficiency does not typically cause symptoms in adults, other than cosmetic issues such as decreased hair and nail growth, but may lead to impaired growth and neurological disorders in infants. Multiple carboxylase deficiency, an inborn error of metabolism, can lead to biotin deficiency even when dietary biotin intake is normal.|
|B9||Folic acid||Deficiency results in a macrocytic anemia, and elevated levels of homocysteine. Deficiency in pregnant women can lead to birth defects.|
|B12||Cobalamins||Deficiency results in a macrocytic anemia, elevated methylmalonic acid and homocysteine, peripheral neuropathy, memory loss and other cognitive deficits. It is most likely to occur among elderly people, as absorption through the gut declines with age; the autoimmune disease pernicious anemia is another common cause. It can also cause symptoms of mania and psychosis. In rare extreme cases, paralysis can result.|
Because water-soluble B vitamins are eliminated in the urine, taking large doses of certain B vitamins usually only produces transient side effects (only exception is pyridoxine). General side effects may include restlessness, nausea and insomnia. These side effects are almost always caused by dietary supplements and not foodstuffs.
|Vitamin||Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL)||Harmful effects|
|B1||None||No known toxicity from oral intake. There are some reports of anaphylaxis caused by high-dose thiamin injections into the vein or muscle. However, the doses were greater than the quantity humans can physically absorb from oral intake.|
|B2||None||No evidence of toxicity based on limited human and animal studies. The only evidence of adverse effects associated with riboflavin comes from in vitro studies showing the production of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) when riboflavin was exposed to intense visible and UV light.|
|B3||US UL = 35 mg as a dietary supplement||Intake of 3000 mg/day of nicotinamide and 1500 mg/day of nicotinic acid are associated with nausea, vomiting, and signs and symptoms of liver toxicity. Other effects may include glucose intolerance, and (reversible) ocular effects. Additionally, the nicotinic acid form may cause vasodilatory effects, also known as flushing, including redness of the skin, often accompanied by an itching, tingling, or mild burning sensation, which is also often accompanied by pruritus, headaches, and increased intracranial blood flow, and occasionally accompanied by pain. Medical practitioners prescribe recommended doses up to 2000 mg per day of niacin in either immediate-release or slow-release formats, to lower plasma triglycerides and low-density lipiprotein cholesterol.|
|B5||None||No toxicity known.|
|B6||US UL = 100 mg/day; EU UL = 25 mg/day||See Vitamin B6 § Toxicity for more information.|
|B7||None||No toxicity known.|
|B9||1 mg/day||Masks B12 deficiency, which can lead to permanent neurological damage.|
|B12||None established||Skin and spinal lesions. Acne-like rash [causality is not conclusively established].|
|B1||Thiamine||Umetaro Suzuki||1910||Failed to gain publicity.|
|B2||Riboflavin||D.T. Smith and E.G. Hendrick||1926||Max Tishler invented methods for synthesizing it.|
|B5||Pantothenic acid||Roger J. Williams||1933|
|B6||Pyridoxine etc||Paul Gyorgy||1934|
|B7||Biotin||Research by multiple independent groups in the early 1900s; credits for discovery include Margaret Averil Boas (1927), Paul Gyorgy (1939, as Vitamin H), and Dean Burk.|
|B9||Folic acid||Lucy Wills||1933|
|B12||Cobalamins||Five people have been awarded Nobel Prizes for direct and indirect studies of vitamin B12: George Whipple, George Minot and William Murphy (1934), Alexander R. Todd (1957), and Dorothy Hodgkin (1964).|
Many of the following substances have been referred to as vitamins as they were once believed to be vitamins. They are no longer considered as such, and the numbers that were assigned to them now form the "gaps" in the true series of B-complex vitamins described above (for example, there is no vitamin B4). Some of them, though not essential to humans, are essential in the diets of other organisms; others have no known nutritional value and may even be toxic under certain conditions.