Become Your Healthiest Self with the B Vitamins

Strip away the frills and thrills of the latest “it” supplement and you’ll find something surprising—our bodies were made to function with just the essentials—essential vitamins and minerals that is. And at the seat of health, you’ll find the tried-and-true B vitamins. In fact, the body was made for their energy-producing, brain-supporting, stress-busting, mood-boosting, immune-strengthening, and blood sugar-balancing effects—in other words, in order to function and be healthy through every phase of life, our bodies need the B’s.

The body needs the B’s much like it needs air—without them, and even with suboptimal amounts, the structures our bodies are built upon crack and eventually collapse, causing colossal damage in its wake.

Illustration of a family being active outdoors

B’s at work in the body

The B’s are a family of vitamins and include of B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folate/folic acid), and B12 (cobalamin).1 They work in harmony in the body to ensure everything runs smoothly. The B vitamins are necessary for the utilization of protein and the conversion of amino acids from protein into hormones, neurotransmitters, and enzymes required by the body to function. They are also required to help the body break down and use carbohydrates and fats for energy-producing fuel.2 In simple terms, every cell in the body—making up all of our tissues and organs—requires the B vitamins for energy. For as important as they are, the B vitamins are also water-soluble, which means our bodies don’t store them, so they must be replenished daily. Without sufficient B’s, the cells simply don’t have the energy they need to function, which can cause dysfunction in a number of body systems.3 The B vitamins are quite literally the spark of life your body needs to function at its finest.

Could you be insufficient in the B vitamins?

Before modern agriculture, our diets were comprised of fruits and veggies, fresh fish and meat, and a few whole grains, supplying an abundant supply of B vitamins. Our modern, over-processed, micronutrient-depleted diets simply don’t provide optimal amounts of any of the B vitamins (or other nutrients, for that matter).4 5 6 Eating a diet high in processed carbohydrates also burns through reserves of B vitamins quickly, since they are required to metabolize carbs; enriching processed foods with B vitamins doesn’t do the trick either, as any added B vitamins will quickly be used by the body to metabolize those enriched grains.7

Poor dietary habits and factors such as chronic stress, excessive alcohol consumption, medication use (both prescription and OTC), and age can all lead to insufficient levels of the B vitamins, requiring us to supplement with a B-complex to ensure we get balanced and optimal amounts of all of these crucially important vitamins.8 9 10

When you support your best health with the B’s, these are some of the benefits you can expect.

Be smart, be focused

Optimal amounts of the B vitamins are critical for maintaining overall brain and nervous system health, and are required for the production of certain neurotransmitters as well as for the synthesis of the myelin sheath, the protective covering of our nerves, critical for healthy nerve function. They are also brain-protective: One of the dramatic consequences of a B deficiency is the interference of the natural breakdown and recycling of the amino acid homocysteine. Elevated levels of homocysteine have been linked to brain atrophy (shrinkage) and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), as high plasma levels can lead to a build-up of toxic amyloid plaques.11 Vitamins B12, B6, and B9 (folate) are required by the body to break down homocysteine.12 (Elevated homocysteine is also a factor in cardiovascular disease.)13

Researchers studying the brains of 732 elderly individuals with AD noted, “Vitamin B supplements, such as folate, may help prevent homocysteine-related atrophy in Alzheimer’s disease by possibly reducing homocysteine levels. These atrophy profiles may, in the future, offer a potential biomarker to gauge the efficacy of interventions using dietary folate supplementation.”14

A three-year-long Swedish study of 370 healthy adults 75 and over found that even those with slightly low levels of vitamin B12 and folate had twice the risk of cognitive and memory concerns as those with normal levels. They concluded, “Monitoring serum B12 and folate concentration in the elderly may be relevant for prevention of AD.”15

Another study of 107 healthy participants, ranging from 61 to 87 years old, measured the effect of B12 on brain volume/shrinkage over a five-year period. Findings revealed that those with higher vitamin B12 levels were less likely to experience brain shrinkage than those with lower levels, concluding that “Low vitamin B12 status should be further investigated as a modifiable cause of brain atrophy and of likely subsequent cognitive impairment in the elderly.”16

Be calm and stress less

The B vitamins also support the brain and body’s ability to cope with stress. A 2019 review and meta-analysis sought to examine and quantify the effects of B vitamin supplementation on mood in both healthy and “at-risk” populations due to poor nutrition or poor mood. Results found that supplementation with a B-vitamin complex supported mental wellbeing and overall mood compared to a placebo, especially related to stress. The meta-analysis concluded that B vitamin supplementation “may particularly benefit populations who are at-risk due to poor nutrient status or poor mood status.”17

Be immune strong

The B’s are so crucial for overall health, it may come as no surprise that they have a direct effect on a healthy immune system, specifically B6, B12, and folate. B6 is associated with the regulation of immune responses, including the inflammatory response, and supports the production of antibodies. Researchers have found that a B6 deficiency reduces antibody formation, as well as the growth, proliferation, and activity of certain types of white blood cells, which are needed to help the body fight infections and diseases.18 19

B12 is also critical for immune function and many are at risk of deficiency. Patients diagnosed with a vitamin B12 deficiency have been reported to have suppressed natural killer (NK) cell activity and decreased numbers of circulating lymphocytes (T-cells) that kill infected cells and activate cells in the immune system. When treated with methyl-B12 injections, their immune function improved, with researchers summarizing, “We conclude that vitamin B12 acts as an immunomodulator for cellular immunity.”20

Folate deficiency also reduces T-cell levels that play a central role in immune response.21 According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, “Clinical folate deficiency, known as megaloblastic anemia, results in impaired immune responses, primarily affecting cell-mediated immunity; and correcting the vitamin deficiency with folic acid supplementation restores the affected immune functions.”22

Be blood sugar balanced

Illustration of people outdoors pinicingThe B vitamins also play a pivotal role in glucose metabolism and blood sugar balance. Vitamin B6, and the biologically active form pyridoxal 5′-phosphate (PLP or sometimes referred to as P5P), is a cofactor for approximately 150 reactions, including those that regulate glucose metabolism. Some compelling studies have indicated a clear link between low vitamin B6 levels and the development of diabetes, as well as a protective effect of optimal levels of vitamin B6 on complications in both type-1 and type-2 diabetes.23

Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are formed in the body as a result of chronically high blood sugar and are a major contributor to the pathologic manifestations of diabetes, such as cardiovascular disease. Vitamins B1 and B6 were tested in vitro on human hemoglobin and researchers discovered that the two vitamins “potently inhibited AGE formation… suggesting that these two compounds may have novel therapeutic potential in preventing vascular complications of diabetes.”24 25 B6 also counteracts the formation of reactive oxygen species, acting as an antioxidant and quenching free radicals.26 27

Be Detox Savvy

Supporting our bodies’ normal detoxification processes have become critical in our toxic world, and healthy detox is dependent on healthy methylation, which is dependent on the B vitamins. Methylation is a biochemical process that is required for just about every single process that goes on in the body, including detoxification. Via methylation, our livers are able to convert toxins to water-soluble compounds to be excreted from the body, but if methylation becomes dysfunctional, toxins can build up, potentially leading to disease. The B vitamins are also required for the body to make glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that plays a major role in detoxification. A study published in 2017 showed a real-world example of how the B vitamins can protect us from toxins: Researchers investigated the effects of B vitamin supplementation in subjects exposed to air pollution in Toronto, Canada and found that four weeks of supplementation with vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid reduced genetic damage caused by air pollution and protected mitochondrial DNA from the negative effects of pollution.28 29 30 31 32

Along with a balanced diet, a B-complex vitamin is a perfect partner to support cellular energy production, healthy brain and nerve function, a healthy stress response and mood, immune function, and blood sugar balance. In fact, this back-to-basics approach may “B” just the ticket to good health.

Get to Know Your Bioactive B’s

When it comes to maximizing the health benefits of the B vitamins, be sure to look for co-enzymated or "activated" on the label of your B complex, which indicates that it contains the forms of the B vitamins that our bodies can easily use.


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