B vitamins were originally thought to just be one vitamin as they are often found together in nature, however, developments in science have shown that there are actually 8 chemically distinct vitamins – B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12. B vitamins are all water soluble, and unlike most vitamins, are abundant in a both vegetables and meat, however, there are some exceptions to this rule. In this article you will discover the role of b vitamins!
The role of each B vitamin in the body
Vitamin B1 (thiamine) – The primary role of thiamine is the production of energy from carbohydrates, and it is because of this it is often found in sports drinks. Thiamine is also needed for the proper function of nerves – making it essential for your health. A deficiency in thiamine is characterised by a disease called beriberi, which affects a range of biological systems, especially the cardiovascular system and the nervous system, and if left untreated it will ultimately result in death. Thiamine can be found in a variety of foods such as dark leafy greens, pork and nuts. A number of foods are also fortified with thiamine, and so deficiency is very rare in the UK and other developed countries.
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) – Riboflavin is the only B vitamin to have color, and is golden, which can cause urine to be very bright and fluorescent if taken in large dosages. Riboflavin has a more integral role in energy production than thiamine, and is required in two stages – the citric acid cycle and the electron transport chain, and is also added to sports drinks. Riboflavin is also needed to breakdown fats, which allows them to be converted into energy, which leads people to believe it can help with fat loss. A deficiency of riboflavin will cause a sore and inflamed throat and sensitivity to sun light, it is also associated with a deficiency in a number of other water soluble vitamins, and is often very serous. Foods high in riboflavin include cheese, eggs, dark leafy greens and some fortified cereals. As it is found in such a diverse number of foods deficiency is very rare.
Vitamin B3 (niacin) – Niacin exists in 2 forms: NAD and NADP. NAD acts as an electron carrier in the production of energy, where as NADP is a co-enzyme which is required in the metabolism of sugars, fats and alcohol. Deficiency in niacin results in weakness, aggression and ultimately death, as the body becomes unable to produce energy. Niacin is found in legumes (such as peas), fish and poultry, all of which are very common foods and so a deficiency is very rare.
Vitamin B5 (panthenoic acid) – Unlike the previous 3 B vitamins, panthenoic acid doesn’t play a critical role in the production of energy. Panthenoic acid is needed for the synthesis of specialised proteins such as hormones, antibodies and neurotransmitters. It is also needed to make specialised fats such as phospholipids (the lipid which makes the membrane of all our cells) and cholesterol. Deficiency of panthenoic acid results in decreasing nerve function, which will initially be recognized as a sensation called ‘pins and needles’. Panthenoic acid is found in a number of foods such as organ meats (e.g liver), seeds, cheese and fish.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) – Plays a similar role to panthenoic acid, and is needed in the synthesis on neurotransmitters. Pyriodoxine is also needed for the formation of hemoglobin, which is needed for the transport of oxygen around the body, which makes it an indirect but vital nutrient for energy production. Pyridoxine is also needed for gluconeogenesis, which is a process where glucose is created from non-carbohydrates such as lipids and amino acids. This allows the body to control blood sugar levels during periods of fasting or periods of intense exercise. A deficiency of pyridoxine can lead to anemia, high blood pressure and retention of water throughout the body. Pyridoxine is abundant in many meats and leafy greens which means that deficiency is rare.
Vitamin B7 (biotin) – Biotin is often known for its benefits in strengthening hair and nails. It is required for the synthesis of fatty acids, the production of energy and cell growth. Cells (such as hair follicles) which require large amounts of energy have a high demand for biotin, and so increasing available biotin will improve the function of these cells. Biotin is particularly high in egg yolk, but is also found in dark leafy greens such as swiss chard. A deficiency of biotin will be characterised by weak and brittle hair, and if deficiency persists hallucinations and ultimately death will follow.
Vitamin B9 (folate) – Also know as folic acid, which is the synthetic form, folate is essential for the creation of DNA, and so is needed for cell synthesis. This makes it vital for rapidly growing cells such as a developing foetus, and so it is important for pregnant women to ensure they are consuming enough folate. A deficiency of folate can cause a baby to be born with neural tube defects, and deficiency in adulthood can cause anemia. Folate is not very abundant in meat products, and must be sourced from vegetables, in particular dark leafy greens.
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) – Cobalamin is needed to break down fats, carbohydrates and proteins as well as the synthesis of bone marrow and nerve cells. A deficiency of cobalamin will result in nerve damage which can affect cognitive function, and the cardiovascular system. Cobalamin can only be found from animal products (with the possible exception of some algae), such as fish and beef, which makes deficiency a concern for vegans, but rare for the majority of the population.
The Role Of B Vitamins – Summary
B vitamins are essential for the function of vital biological systems such as cell production and energy production, which is why a deficiency of B vitamins is very serious. However, because they are often found together in a variety of foods (both vegetable and animal sourced), deficiency is uncommon. The exceptions to this rule is folate, which must be obtained from vegetables, and cobalamin, which must be obtained from animal sources.
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