A good diet is connected to a good health. It also helps to prevent and treat many pathologies and disorders. A proper daily vitamin intake is an important part of the equation. In this sense, group B vitamins are essential for an optimal care of our health.
Complex B Vitamins
The group B vitamins or Complex B is made up by 8 vitamins: B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12; they play a very important role in the proper functioning of the body. Some of their most remarkable tasks are: supporting the energy metabolism, since they help to obtain energy from food; preserving the health of the hair, skin and nails; and even preventing memory problems.
They are present in green leaf vegetables, whole grains, dairy products and meat. But sometimes we may not be able to get the amounts we need just through food. For example, athletes have higher requirements than the general public. Therefore, they can benefit from taking a vitamin B supplement which will provide an excellent complementary supply.
B vitamins are water-soluble, which means that they tend to be stored. But, if there is an excess, they will be easily excreted through the urine.
Benefits and Properties of Vitamin B
The group B vitamins are regarded as “multitaskers” due to the fact that they are involved in several physiological processes. For example, they can either support the cognition or the energy metabolism and cardiovascular health.
Vitamin B12 is necessary for a proper energy-yielding metabolism. It is involved in the transformation of the carbohydrates that we consume into glucose. This kind of energy will be the one available for our body in situations with a certain intensity. A vitamin B12 deficiency can cause fatigue symptoms. Moreover, it is also involved in the signalling process of neurotransmitters, and it helps with the muscle contraction.
Improving the mood
Folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 make up a group that helps to improve the mood and the feeling of well being. These micronutrients and other neurotransmitters play a crucial role in the synthesis of serotonin, which regulates the mood.The B group is not used in isolation in order to treat certain disorders, like depression. Rather, they act as cofactors that improve the efficacy of other substances.
B12 and folate are necessary to produce an element called SAM (S-adenosylmethionine). It is crucial for the neurological function in order to deal with stress. Moreover, it relieves the symptoms related to anxiety and depression. In addition, B12 is necessary for those cognitive processes that demand concentration and focus, like studying and learning. It also helps to prevent pathologies that are as severe as the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Preventing cardiovascular diseases
Homocysteine is a type of amino acid that is synthesized from others, like cysteine and methionine. When we consume proteins, they are broken down into amino acids during the digestion. These are the elements that make up proteins and, from there, they are discharged into the bloodstream. In this sense, when there are high blood levels of homocysteine (hyperhomocysteinemia), we can use them as health markers. Therefore, we will be able to diagnose certain pathologies, such as blood clots and the onset of atherosclerosis.
Those foods that are rich in the amino acid methionine will increase homocysteine in the blood. It can be transformed into cysteine as long as there is a cofactor that produces this reaction, like vitamin B6. Homocysteine can be transformed again (recycled) into methionine through the enzymatic support of vitamin B12. Cysteine performs important functions in the body, like being a source of sulfur and supporting the metabolism of iron, zinc or copper. Moreover, it has an important antioxidant effect.
If we cannot recycle homocysteine into cysteine or “return” it as methionine, its levels will increase. This can cause serious disorders (coronary risk, heart attack, artery obstruction…). If we supply the two necessary vitamins and folic acid, we will be able to stabilize said levels.
The passing of time involves a series of problems that affect the brain, like cell aging. This can lead us to experience certain symptoms of dementia, diseases like Alzheimer or memory loss.B vitamins, particularly folic acid or vitamin B9, along with B6 and B12, can play an important role. This is due to the fact that they can help to prevent the cognitive deterioration. In the worst cases, this problem can even trigger severe dementia.
Occasionally, the symptoms of a vitamin deficiency can lead to mild memory loss or mental confusion, which are related to a vitamin B12 deficit.
At the same time, suffering hyperhomocysteinemia can also entail serious risks for health. This is due to the fact that high levels of homocysteine could become toxic for our brain.
Strengthening the bones
Low vitamin B12 levels can have a negative impact on bone health. The bone system is a complex matrix of connective fibers, like collagen and minerals like calcium and phosphorus. So, a good diet that includes products rich in these micronutrients will support the maintenance of the bones.
Vitamin B12 plays an important role with those cells involved in the formation of bone tissue and in the synthesis of blood cells. A B12 deficiency could be related to a loss of bone density. This means that the bones lose their regenerative capacity, resulting in fragile bones and osteoporosis in the worst cases.
Supporting the sight
The B complex contributes to reducing the chronic inflammation and preventing high blood levels of homocysteine. Both problems have been related to vascular problems that can damage the retina. They can also reduce the risk of macular degeneration and treat and prevent uveitis. This disease involves the inflammation of the middle layer of the eye and it is a common cause of blindness.
Hair, Skin, and Nails
The skin cells are called keratinocytes. They are in charge of producing a protective layer that provides flexibility, hardness and hydration to the skin. These elements provide this strength by producing keratin, a resistant protein chain with a triple helix structure. Keratin is the main constituent of the skin, hair, nails and tooth enamel.Hair loss or aging are symptoms of a keratin deficiency. Even though it affects several parts of the body, a lack of this substance is more noticeable on the skin. A lack of keratin can lead to a loss of brightness, flaccidity and wrinkles.
An increased intake of complex B vitamins can enhance the production of keratin. Moreover, said vitamins are involved in the synthesis of red cells. This means that they can improve the nutrient and oxygen transport to the scalp and the hair follicles to stimulate their growth. The B12, B3, and B6 vitamins are especially involved in the growth and improvement of the hair, skin and nails.
Which are the Complex B Vitamins?
Now, we will provide a brief description of each one of the vitamins that make up this group. Moreover, we will also provide their recommended daily amounts according to the 2008/100/CE regulation from the 28th of October, 2008, and their main food sources.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Vitamin B1 is known as Thiamine because it binds to phosphate in the body to form thiamine pyrophosphate (TPP). It is not absorbed as such, rather, it is transformed in a coenzyme that participates in the metabolism of carbohydrates. Athletes consume more carbs than other people, which is why they also need a higher level of thiamine to stay healthy.
Vitamin B1 is also indispensable for the formation of RNA and DNA, as well as to stimulate the appetite. Another one of its important functions in the organism is to preserve the integrity of the nervous system. This is an essential aspect for sports, especially endurance sports.
Sources of Vitamin B1
Whole grains, wheat germ, peanuts, beans, spinach, kale…
RDA of Vitamin B1
It is advisable to take 1.1mg of vitamin B1.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Like vitamin B1, Riboflavin behaves like a coenzyme. It is essential for a good mitochondrial functioning. The mitochondria is an organelle that belongs to the cell and it is in charge of supplying most of the energy. The importance of this vitamin lies in the fact that it is a part of two coenzymes, the flavin mononucleotide and the flavin adenine dinucleotide. Both are involved in a lot of oxidation and reduction reactions, which are processes related to the production of energy from carbohydrates, fats, even proteins. Their role in cell energy processes is important to preserve the good state of the tissues, especially the nerves, eyes and skin.
The requirements for this vitamin increase with physical exercise. It also works as an antioxidant agent and contributes to producing red blood cells.
Sources of Vitamin B2
Almonds, wild rice, milk, yogurt, eggs, Brussels sprouts, spinach and soy beans…
DRA of Vitamin B2
It is advisable to take 1.4mg of vitamin B2.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
It is also known as niacin and it is also involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fat, and proteins to produce energy. It performs another important task: reducing the LDL cholesterol. Niacin is also involved in the proper maintenance of the liver, skin, hair, eyes and the nervous system.
Sources of Vitamin B3
Yeast, red meat, milk, eggs, beans and green vegetables…
RDA of Vitamin B3
It is advisable to take 16mg of Vitamin B3.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
Vitamin B5 or Pantothenic acid can be found in many foods. This feature is reflected in its Greek name pantothen “everywhere”. Like it happens with any other vitamin, it is important to consume proper quantities to stay healthy and achieve an optimal physical performance. It works as a coenzyme on the cell metabolism to obtain energy from fats, proteins and carbs. Moreover, it stimulates the health of the skin by reducing the signs of aging of the skin, like skin patches or reddening.
Sources of Vitamin B5
Avocados, yogurt, eggs, meat and legumes…
RDA of Vitamin B5
It is advisable to take 6mg of Vitamin B5.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Pyridoxine is used by the body to form coenzymes and to improve the metabolism of proteins. This is due to the fact that it is necessary for the absorption of amino acids. Another fundamental aspect is its role in the formation of the red cells and the glycogen phosphorylase enzyme. The latter is in charge of breaking down the muscle glycogen to produce energy.
The main functions of pyridoxine are transamination reactions. These are processes through which one or several amino acids are transferred to a molecule, usually to produce a new one. An increase of protein in the diet increases the needs of vitamin B6 due to the importance of pyridoxine in the protein and amino acid metabolism.
It helps to regulate high homocysteine levels. In addition, it contributes to producing hormones and neurotransmitters like serotonin, melatonin and norepinephrine.
Sources of Vitamin B6
Chicken, turkey, tuna, salmon, lentils, sunflower seeds, cheese, rice and carrots…
RDA of Vitamin B6
It is advisable to take 1.4mg of Vitamin B6.
Vitamin B8 (Biotin)
It is also known as Vitamin H or biotin and it is responsible for the metabolism of lipids and glucides. This is due to the fact that it is involved in the formation of glucose from carbohydrates. It is also related to the health and maintenance of the hair, skin and nails, which is why it is known as “the vitamin of beauty”. It can help to control the blood glucose levels.
Sources of Vitamin B8
Barley, yeast, liver, pork, chicken, fish, potatoes, cauliflower, egg yolk and nuts…
RDA of Vitamin B8
It is advisable to take 50mcg of vitamin B8.
Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid, Folate)
Its name is folic acid, from the Latin word “folia” which means leaf. This is due to the fact that its main sources are the leaves of vegetables. It transports the coenzymes that control the metabolism of amino acids. Folic acid is essential for a fast-regeneration of tissues, like the muscles of blood cells.
It is an essential factor for the formation of RNA and DNA, and to regenerate the walls of the intestinal tract. This vitamin is especially important during pregnancy since it helps to prevent a premature labor and defects on the fetus. It can also treat or work as a cofactor for depression and memory loss.
Sources of Vitamin B9
Green leaf vegetables, asparagus, beet root, salmon, root vegetables, milk, wheat and beans…
RDA of Vitamin B9
It is advisable to take 200mcg of Vitamin B9.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin/Methylcobalamin)
This vitamin is one of the essential coenzymes for all the cells. Particularly for those that regenerate quickly, including red blood cells, the walls of the intestinal tract and the bone marrow. It is involved in multiple metabolic functions, like the development of nervous cells and nerve growth, DNA synthesis, energy production, the hormone balance, the maintenance of the cardiovascular system…
Those who follow a vegan diet can suffer a deficiency of this vitamin, since it comes from animal products. In this case, it is advisable to use supplementation.
There are two types of vitamin B12, cobalamin and methylcobalamin. The first one is the most used for nutritional supplements, but Methylcobalamin is being more studied and it is gaining a lot of popularity.
Differences between Cobalamin and Methylcobalamin
Both are very similar, the only difference lies in their chemical composition. Methylcobalamin has a methyl group (carbon and hydrogen) while cobalamin has a cyanide group.
The body will transform cyanocobalamin in methylcobalamin (active form), since it needs the methyl group for its proper functioning. In said process, a toxic byproduct is produced, cyanide, which is quickly excreted.
Nevertheless, it is not enough to be harmful. Another difference is that methylcobalamin can remain and at a higher level in the body longer than cobalamin.
Sources of Vitamin B12
Fish, seafood, dairy products, eggs, beef and pork…
RDA of Vitamin B12
It is advisable to take 2.5mcg of Vitamin B12.
Choline and Inositol
For years, they have been classified as B vitamins, but this has changed lately. Choline can make up part of the cell walls since it has phosphatidylcholine. Actually, it is also known as a methyl donor in the energy metabolism.
It is also involved in the metabolism of fats and it prevents their accumulation in the liver. It is a component of lecithin and it helps with the formation of acetylcholine in the brain. This is a very important neurotransmitter for the memory and the functioning of the nervous impulses.
Inositol is involved in the metabolism of fats and carbs, calcium and insulin. It also makes up the cell lipid membranes like myo-inositol, which is the organic form of inositol.
Taking vitamin B is recommended for:
- Gastrointestinal diseases
- High alcohol consumption
- Pregnancy and menstrual cramps
- Contraceptive pills and estrogen treatments
- Hair loss
- Nervousness, insomnia and irritability
- High levels of stress
- Regular physical exercise
- A lack of concentration
Who can especially benefit from Vitamin B?
- Pregnant women and lactating mothers
- Those who suffer from chronic fatigue
- People with hair and nail growth problems
- Alcoholic people
- All those who do demanding physical exercise and who undergo stress
Sources of Vitamin B
Complex B vitamins are not a homogeneous group, they differ in their chemical composition and their effects.
Unlike other B vitamins, vitamin B12 is only available in foods of animal origin.
How to take Vitamin B
How to take B complex? Is it possible to take it from other sources? What is the B complex useful for?
We can find B vitamins available in what we know as B complex products, either in tablets or capsules.
Either way, they are also available in some foods, which is why we suggest eating foods rich in vitamin D.
Dose of Vitamin B
People usually wonder what is the recommended daily dose of B complex vitamins?
The RDA of vitamin B1 is between 1 and 2 mg, while vitamin B2 is between 9 to 15 mg. 1 or 2 mg daily is usually enough for vitamin B6. The RDA of vitamin B12 is 5 micrograms daily, which equals 150g of camembert.
Symptoms of a Vitamin B Deficiency
- Headaches (B1)
- Memory and concentration problems (B1)
- Nerve and muscle excitability disorders (B1)
- Redness and dry skin (B2 and B6)
- Appetite loss, vomits and diarrhea (B6)
- Lack of red blood cells (B12)
- Sore mouth and throat (B12)
The importance of vitamin B in sport
Complex B vitamins are indispensable for a proper macronutrient metabolism. More specifically, they are necessary to transform carbs into glucose to obtain energy. Cooking easily destroys B vitamins because they are water soluble.
Some complex B vitamins can be stored in the lean tissues for some time. However, these tissues are constantly exchanging fluids, which is why the vitamins are easily lost through the urine or sweat.
Why do athletes need higher Vitamin B requirements?
There is no doubt that an athlete will have higher nutritional requirements than a sedentary person. This will be both in terms of macronutrients (protein, fat, carbs) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). As we have previously explained, complex B vitamins are directly involved in the energy metabolism.
- Due to the loss of other nutrients
- Because of the biochemical adaptations that result from the energy demands produced by a workout session
- Due to an increase in enzymes and mitochondria that in turn will need more nutrients
- To solve the demand resulting from tissue repair, regeneration and maintenance
Vitamin B Complex
Thiamine or Vitamin B1 is important for all athletes alike. Although it is specially relevant for endurance athletes. Low levels of this vitamin can hinder the metabolism of carbohydrates and, consequently, hinder the performance.
In general, endurance athletes are the great beneficiaries of vitamin B1. Sometimes, they do a B1 loading for five days before a competition (between 300 and 600mg a day). Those who do this feel more energized throughout the effort. Other sports that seem to benefit from B1 are those that require focus and aim, since it improves the cognition and mood.
The recommended daily dose is 1.1mg of vitamin B1. However, between 50 and 100mg is effective and still safe.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) is generally advised to stay healthy. Above all, this vitamin is necessary for the proper functioning of vitamins B, B3 and B6. Therefore, it will also contribute to the physical performance. It is involved in the production of red cells, apart from ensuring the health of the immune, respiratory and digestive system. Moreover, it participates directly in the energy metabolism of three macronutrients: protein, fats and carbs.
One of the main reasons why the B2 levels drop is due to intense physical exercise in hot environments. These factors will make us sweat more. However, despite not having specific studies to prove its utility, we can deduce that it can improve the well being and sport performance.
The RDA is 1.4mg, but athletes can take between 50 and 100mg without experiencing any side effect.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) is beneficial for the carbohydrate energy cycle. Therefore, it improves their conversion into energy, which is great for athletes in general. Part of the vitamin B3 that the body produces comes from the intestinal flora in the colon. To do so, it uses L-tryptophan, vitamin B6 and vitamin B2; that is why a lack of this amino acid will result in a B3 deficiency.
Among other functions, vitamin B3 is in charge of producing red cells. These elements transport oxygen to the muscle tissues, for the synthesis of sex hormones and neurotransmitters. The vitamin B3 requirements increase if we do intense physical exercise.
The RDA of B3 for sedentary people is 16mg, but athletes can use up to 100mg. Moreover, it does not trigger side effects since it is water soluble and our body can excrete it easily. Athletes can take between 50 and 100mg without any issue.
Like any other vitamin, a proper intake of vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) ensures a good health and, therefore, the physical performance. It is known as the “anti-stress” vitamin, since it is extremely important for functioning of the adrenal glands.
Vitamin B5 makes up coenzyme A (CoA), which is involved in the Krebs cycle, related to the cell energy production (ATP). It performs an important tasks when it comes to the formation of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Moreover, scientists believe that it is necessary to produce cortisol in the cortex of the adrenals glands in order to combat stress.The tests performed on groups of athletes proved that it reduced the lactate accumulation in a 17% and the oxygen consumption in an 8%. Consequently, it considerably improves the performance by decreasing the tiredness.
Other benefits consist of: shortening the recovery periods; relieving the overtraining syndrome; reducing the physical and mental stress caused by tests or competitions; strengthening the body against infections; supporting the synthesis of steroidal hormones.
The DRA is 6mg, but endurance athletes can use between 500 and 1000mg. The average dose for someone who does exercise regularly is around 20 and 50mg.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) is necessary for the metabolization of muscle glycogen in order to obtain ATP. If we suffer a B6 deficiency, we may experience anemia because this vitamin also helps to produce red cells. Female athletes that take oral contraceptive pills should increase their vitamin B6 intake. Other symptoms can be a loss of muscle power and resistance when it comes to using glycogen during the workout.
Vitamin B6 stimulates the anabolism, that is, the synthesis of proteins and new tissues. Moreover, it also improves the functioning of the nervous system and neurotransmitter formation.
It has provided similar results to niacin. To put it simply, its use tends to increase the use of muscle glycogen while reducing the fatty acids. Therefore, it will release energy from stored carbohydrates (glycogen) while slowing down the one that comes from fatty acids.
Glycogen does not run out that easily, so vitamin B6 can improve the performance of those sports that need a sudden and short energy boost. For instance, weightlifting, powerlifting, speed running, jumping, aerobic activities in general. On the contrary, it can be a disaster for endurance or resistance sports.
Does this mean that endurance athletes should avoid taking pyridoxine? Not at all. This vitamin is necessary to produce hemoglobin, the red blood cells that transport oxygen.
The RDA is 1.4mg. Endurance athletes should avoid taking a big dose before a competition; from 25 to 50mg it will not have bad consequences. Including between 50 and 100mg in sports that rely on anaerobic strength will be quite convenient. Specially when following a high protein diet.
Vitamin B7 (Biotin) has a series of benefits for athletes. It enhances the metabolic functions by stimulating the elimination of carbon dioxide through the lungs. Consequently, we will also help to preserve our cell health by reducing the oxidative damage caused by toxins.
The main benefit of taking biotin supplementation are: improving the macronutrient oxidation, specially carbs and fats in order to obtain energy. Therefore, our metabolism will be more efficient, helping us to lose weight and regulating the blood sugar levels.
The RDA is a dose of 50mcg, even though athletes can take two or three times this amount without any issue.
Vitamin B9 (Folate or Folic acid) is another vitamin that belongs to the group B vitamins. Above all, it supports the cell regeneration, protecting the DNA structure, reducing the possible cases of anemia (lack of red cells). Moreover, it even helps to treat nutrient absorption problems on the intestine.
When it comes to its benefits for athletes, folic acid can produce a great antioxidant effect. Therefore, it can combat the damage produced by the free radicals. This mainly result from high intensity exercise, which stimulates the production of this harmful substances.
The RDA of folic acid is 200mcg, although athletes can take between 800 and 1200mcg a day.
Cobalamin or cyanocobalamin (vitamin b12) is essential to preserve our health and balance with other vitamins. Consequently, it improves the physical performance while being an excellent energy activator. Moreover, it supports the digestion of proteins and their subsequent absorption.
This vitamin allows the body to produce heme, a chemical component from hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein that transports oxygen in the blood. In addition, vitamin B12 also supports the production of myelin, a fatty substance that stimulates the nerve function. It is the one that transfers nerve impulses quickly and efficiently through the neurons.Some of the symptoms of vitamin B12 are: muscle weakness, spams and cramps, fatigue, mood swings or instability. Athletes who follow vegan or vegetarian diets should take B12 supplementation, since it is only available in animal products.
The RDA is 2.5mcg. An athlete who perform very intense physical efforts can take between 15 and 100mcg.
- Yoshii K, Hosomi K, Sawane K, Kunisawa J. Metabolism of Dietary and Microbial Vitamin B Family in the Regulation of Host Immunity. Front Nutr. 2019 Apr 17;6:48. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2019.00048. eCollection 2019.
- Demirdas E, Atilgan K. Addition of Vitamin B Complex to Prime Solution in Cobalamin-Deficient Patients to Prevent Postoperative Delirium. Heart Surg Forum. 2019 Feb 25;22(2):E082-E087. doi: 10.1532/hsf.2171.
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