Sarah is a caregiver in the infant room of a childcare program. She has always felt energized by her work but lately has gone home feeling tired and worn-out. In the parent information area, Sarah examines a vitamin chart. She notices the B-vitamins are mentioned as important to energy. Sarah decides to do some research on vitamins, especially those in the B-complex group.
The “B-complex group” is a set of related vitamins that provide cells with energy from food and also perform specialized jobs in the body. There are eight vitamins in this group: thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, biotin, and pantothenic acid. The B-complex vitamins dissolve in water and are eliminated in urine; so the body needs a continuous supply of them.
The B Vitamins
Thiamin (vitamin B1) breaks down carbohydrates into energy, helps produce a normal appetite, and contributes to the function of the nervous system. A deficiency of thiamin causes a disease called beriberi. Beriberi is rare today because thiamin is added to processed grain products and is found in most multi vitamins. Symptoms of a thiamin deficiency include loss of muscle control, fatigue, and confusion. Good sources of thiamin in the diet include pork, liver, whole grains, nuts, peas, legumes, and enriched grain products.
Riboflavin, or vitamin B2, helps transform carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into energy. It also helps the body use niacin, folate, and vitamin B6 properly and contributes to eye health. Riboflavin deficiency is uncommon; but when it does occur, the symptoms include mouth and tongue sores, anemia, dry, flaky skin around the nose, lips, and hairline, and eye disorders, such as cataracts and sensitivity to light. The best sources of riboflavin are dairy products. Other foods rich in riboflavin include enriched grain products, meat, and eggs.
Niacin, or vitamin B3, helps the body break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. It also helps the body use calcium, aids in digestion and appetite, and maintains healthy red blood cells, skin, and nerves. Pellagra, a disease caused by a deficiency of niacin, is rare today, thanks to modern foods rich in niacin. An excess of niacin can cause rashes, liver damage, and flushed skin. Consumption of too much niacin is usually the result of taking dietary supplements that contain large amounts of this vitamin. Food sources rich in niacin include whole grain foods, enriched grain products, peanuts, and seafood.
Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, helps the body use proteins and fats and aids in forming healthy red blood cells. A person with a vitamin B6 deficiency may have symptoms such as nausea, skin disorders, cracked skin around the mouth, anemia, kidney stones, and irritability. Good food sources of vitamin B6 are pork, poultry, fish, and whole grain products.
Vitamin B12 is important to the formation of red blood cells and genetic material as well as to the health of the nervous system. Unlike the other vitamins, it is found only in foods that come from animals, including liver, meats, fish, eggs, milk, oysters, and shellfish. A vitamin B12 deficiency can be serious, resulting in nerve damage and pernicious anemia. Symptoms of pernicious anemia include fatigue, shortness of breath, weakness, and diarrhea.
Folic Acid & Folates
Folic acid is a B vitamin that has many important health benefits. It helps prevent certain kinds of birth defects and may also help prevent heart disease, strokes, cancer of the colon, cervix, and breast, and neural tube defects in an unborn child.
Folate is a folic acid that occurs naturally in foods. Foods that are rich in folate include orange juice, oranges, bananas, spinach, dried navy beans, peanuts, broccoli, asparagus, peas, and lentils. Many grain products are fortified with folic acid. For women in the reproductive years, folic acid found in foods is not enough–a multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid may be recommended in addition to a healthy diet.
B vitamins are present in many foods. However, because they are water-soluble, B vitamins are broken down and destroyed during food preparation and storage. Refrigerating fresh produce and storing milk and grains away from sunlight will lessen vitamin loss during storage. Microwave cooking or steaming are good preparation techniques for retaining vitamins because foods are typically cooked in covered dishes, which keep vitamins from escaping; and cooking times tend to be short, which also lessens vitamin loss. Other ideas include leaving the skins on fruits and vegetables when possible, cooking foods in small amounts of liquid, and eating fruits and vegetables raw when appropriate.
The B vitamins are important to your health. They help your body take energy from food and also perform many other functions. Because they leave the body in urine, they need to be replaced daily. Fortunately, a healthy diet provides most of the body’s vitamin B needs.
Some people, such as women of childbearing age or people on restrictive diets, may need to take a daily vitamin supplement too. Eating healthy can add some “B” to your life and help provide needed energy.