Our bodies need a broad range of vitamins for optimal health as they perform numerous functions.

Among these, the B-group vitamins are some of the more important micronutrients we need on a daily basis.

Of the 13 vitamins considered essential, eight come from the B-vitamin group (the others include vitamins A, C, D, E and K).

The B-group vitamins include:

  • Thiamin (B1)
  • Riboflavin (B2)
  • Niacin (B3)
  • Pantothenic acid (B5)
  • Pyridoxine (B6)
  • Folic acid (B9)
  • Cobalamin (B12)

B-vitamins are water-soluble, which means they dissolve in water and are carried to your body’s tissues but your body cannot store them (except for some vitamin B12 and folate in the liver).

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Roles and functions

The B vitamins are related to each other and work closely together to regulate various processes in your body.

Primarily, B-group vitamins help to metabolise and produce energy, and some help cells multiply through their role in DNA production.

Other specific B-group vitamin roles and functions include:

  1. Vitamin B1: Aids energy metabolism by helping to convert glucose into energy and has a role in nerve function.
  2. Riboflavin (vitamin B2): Primarily involved in energy production and aids vision and skin health.
  3. Niacin (vitamin B3): Essential for energy metabolism to convert carbohydrates, fats and alcohol into energy. It helps maintain skin health and supports the nervous and digestive systems.
  4. Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5): Required for energy metabolism to convert carbohydrates, proteins, fats and alcohol into energy. Also needed to produce red blood cells and steroid hormones.
  5. Pyridoxine (vitamin B6): Needed for protein and carbohydrate metabolism, red blood cell formation and to produce certain brain chemicals. It influences brain processes and development, immune function and steroid hormone activity.
  6. Biotin (vitamin B7): Needed for energy metabolism and to produce fat and glycogen.
  7. Folate or folic acid (vitamin B9): Needed to produce red blood cells, and is vital for foetal nervous system development, as well as DNA synthesis and cell growth.
  8. Cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12): Helps to produce and maintain the myelin surrounding nerve cells, red blood cell formation and energy metabolism, specifically fatty acids and amino acids

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Cover your B-group bases

You can get all the B vitamins from your diet as they are found in various foods.

  • Vitamin B1: Grains, seeds, legumes, wheatgerm, nuts, yeast, pork.
  • Vitamin B2: Yoghurt, cottage cheese, wholegrain breads and cereals, egg white, leafy green vegetables, meat, yeast, liver, kidney.
  • Vitamin B3: Fish, poultry, milk, eggs, wholegrain breads and cereals, nuts, mushrooms.
  • Vitamin B5: Meats, milk, kidneys, eggs, yeast, peanuts, legumes.
  • Vitamin B6: Grains, legumes, leafy greens, fish and shellfish, meat, chicken, nuts, liver, fruit.
  • Vitamin B7: Cauliflower, egg yolks, peanuts, chicken, yeast, mushrooms.
  • Vitamin B9: Leafy greens, legumes, seeds, liver, poultry, eggs, cereals, citrus fruits.
  • Vitamin B12: Most animal proteins, milk, cheese, eggs,

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Dangers of a deficiency

However, the B-group vitamins are delicate, which means food processing, heat and alcohol can destroy them or reduce the amount we get from the foods we eat.

Poor diets that consist predominantly of processed foods, malabsorption due to certain digestion conditions, certain genetic disorders and interactions with certain medications can also result in a deficiency of one or more of the B vitamins.

Due to the numerous B vitamins and differing roles and functions they perform, symptoms associated with a potential deficiency can take various forms. Some common symptoms include:

  • Anaemia
  • General fatigue and weakness
  • Pale skin colour due to abnormal red blood cell production.
  • Numbness or tingling sensations in the hands, legs or feet.
  • Difficulty walking or balance problems due to dizziness.
  • Disturbed vision.
  • A swollen, inflamed tongue, canker sores or mouth ulcers.
  • Cognitive difficulties, including impaired thinking and reasoning or memory loss.
  • An abnormally high heart rate.
  • Constipation

Get a B-vitamin boost

To avoid a potential deficiency in any of the B-group vitamins, with low vitamin B12 levels a growing issue worldwide, it is important to eat a well-balanced and nutritious diet with an abundance of minimally processed and raw (where possible and appropriate) whole foods.

And food manufacturers are increasingly fortifying foods with certain B vitamins (B12 predominantly) and in a form that offers high bioavailability. These products are particularly beneficial for vegetarians or vegans because vitamin B12 is generally not present in plant foods.

You can also supplement a wholesome and nutritious diet with the B-vitamin complex supplements, like Biogen B Complex Boost Effervescents, or specific standalone B-group vitamins, like Biogen Niacin Vitamin B3, which are available to your local Dis-Chem Pharmacy or online.

Consulting your doctor is always the first step in addressing any potential vitamin or mineral deficiencies, who will recommend the most suitable and effective treatment approach.