Among all the vitamins, those of group B often go almost unnoticed. There is a lot of talk about vitamin A for healthy eyesight or vitamin C to strengthen the immune system, or vitamin D for bones and to strengthen defenses against viruses. And what about the B vitamins? Well, this group of water-soluble vitamins is actually indispensable for our body and our brain. Often these vitamins are also found together in the same foods and share the same role. Let's try to deepen the properties and possible sources of B vitamins, based on the most recent scientific research.
B vitamins, properties
The B vitamins are essential to our body as they allow us to use the foods we ingest to produce energy for the cells. Not only that, they participate in the synthesis of DNA and RNA, protect the liver, the nervous system and mood, counteracting depression (Wu et al, Nutr Rev, 2022). According to recent scientific research, vitamin B levels are also an indicator of bone health. Indeed, in older people, a vitamin B deficiency increases the risk of bone fractures by 70% (McLean et al, J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 2008).
B vitamins and brain
Do not forget the role of the B vitamins on the functioning of the brain. All these vitamins, in fact, cross the barrier that separates blood and brain and reach this organ where they are always kept at high levels. For example, folate, or vitamin B9, is found in the brain up to four times more than it is in plasma, while biotin, or B8, in the brain can reach up to 50 times more than seen in the blood. But what can B vitamins do in the brain? First of all, they contribute to the structure and good functioning of neurons, such as vitamin B1, they counteract the action of free radicals, as in the case of vitamins B2 and B5, they can counteract inflammation but also disturbed sleep, especially in the case of the Parkinson's disease, such as vitamin B3, but also help regulate glucose metabolism, to which the brain is very sensitive, as does vitamin B7 (Kennedy et al, Nutrients, 2016). It is noteworthy that there is an amino acid, called homocysteine, whose values higher than normal indicate a greater risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease. Well, higher homocysteine values are linked to a deficiency of vitamins B12, B6 and B9. Studies have observed that taking a supplement containing these vitamins for one month has significantly reduced homocysteine, showing that it protects the brain and improves cognitive function (Olaso Gonzalez et al, IUBMB Life, 2022 - Cheng et al, Nutr Neurosci, 2016).
B vitamins, where to find them
B vitamins are found in whole grains, brown rice, green leafy vegetables, legumes, milk and dairy products, eggs, brewer's yeast, but also fish, oilseeds, bananas, citrus fruits, pollen and royal jelly. In general, adherence to the Mediterranean Diet is associated with an increase in the intake of vitamins, including those of group B (Kennedy et al, Nutrients, 2016).
B vitamins, when a deficiency is possible
A healthy and varied diet should ensure a regular supply of B vitamins and thus avoid their deficiency. However, the problem of a poorly varied diet is apparently more widespread than one might think, since deficiencies of B vitamins are frequently observed in the population. For example, as regards vitamin B6, it is possible to reach almost 30% of the population who do not get enough, while as regards folate, or vitamin B9, 12% of the population has a deficiency (Kennedy et al, Nutrients, 2016).
Then there is the problem of vitamin B12, which is found in abundance in meat and in dairy products.
Therefore, it may happen that those who follow a very restricted diet, as in the case of the vegan diet, may present a deficiency of this vitamin (Kennedy et al, Nutrients, 2016). It should also be emphasized that the abuse of alcohol, but also some medicines such as antibiotics can limit the absorption of the B vitamins. Finally, boiling makes you lose part of these vitamins which pass into the water of cooking (Hrubsa et al, Nutrients, 2022).
B vitamins, supplements and warnings
In some cases and periods of life, an additional intake of B vitamins through supplements may be required. For example, during pregnancy, with advancing age, in the case of a vegan diet or following the intake of certain drugs, it may be necessary to resort to supplements. Since the B vitamins are water-soluble, any excesses are excreted through the urine thus avoiding damage. However, in any case it is always good to ask your doctor for advice who will evaluate the correct dosage based on your personal situation.