B vitamins ‘Up close’
Finding yourself tired and worn out? Feeling like you’re lacking some of the spark you usually have? A lack of B Vitamins could be to blame! It’s a quick and simple fix that might help you to bring some energy back into your life.
What are the B vitamins and why do we need them?
B vitamins are made up of eight different vitamins, and is often referred to as the vitamin B-complex. They perform essential, closely interrelated roles in cellular functioning and enzyme health.
The vitamins that make up this group are: thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), vitamin B6, folate (B9) and vitamin B12.
How can I increase the levels of B vitamins in my diet?
A healthy and varied diet is the best advice we can give to ensure you’re getting all eight B-vitamins. This can be done easily by ensuring you:
- Alternate between meat, poultry, fish and plant-based protein sources
- Eat your 5-a-day
- Add fruit to your breakfast meal or have it as a dessert
- Try to add as much different colours on your plate by using different vegetables
- Opt for whole grains
- Avoid highly processed foods
- Drink plenty of water
Let's dive deep into the most prominent B vitamins:
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
Vit B6 has various functions in the body, including assisting with the breakdown of protein, carbohydrates and fats so the body can store it as energy. It also plays a role in supporting immune function and brain health.
A deficiency for vit B6 is fairly uncommon, but some symptoms might include scaly skin on the lips, cracks at the corners of the mouth, a swollen tongue and itchy rashes. There might also be a higher risk of certain types of cancer (colorectal cancer) with low levels of vit B6, however as of date, studies haven’t proven that a supplement can prevent cancer.
Folate (Vitamin B9)
Folate is crucial for several steps in the synthesis of the genetic material DNA. When it is in short supply, the nuclei of cells cannot make new DNA and thus cells cannot divide and multiply properly. Folate is the naturally-occurring form, folic acid is the synthetic, man made form of folate.
Pregnant women who don’t get enough folate are at risk of having babies with neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. Folate deficiency can also increase the likelihood of having a premature or low birth weight baby. For this reason, it’s recommended to take a supplement when you’re pregnant or even when you’re trying for a baby.
Other people can experience feeling fatigued, troubled concentrating, headache, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath when their intake of folate is low. Another symptom can also be open sores on the tongue.
Vitamin B12 is important to keep the nervous system healthy and plays a role in the formation of red blood cells and DNA.
The central nervous system is especially vulnerable to vitamin B12 deficiency. Because vitamin B12 is found exclusively in animal source foods, the most vulnerable groups are vegetarians and vegans.
The liver can store a relatively high amount of vit B12, meaning that it may take a few years before we notice any manifestations of an inadequate intake. Effects on the nervous system can start with numbness or tingling in the hands, legs, or feet. When deficiency becomes more severe, difficulty in walking develops, such as staggering and loss of balance, and can result in a disturbed vision.
What is the recommended daily intake of B vitamins?
The recommended intake for vitamin B6 is:
- For men (over 18 years): 1.4 mg/day
- For women (over 18 years): 1.2 mg/day
As a high dose of vit B6 can be harmful and can cause nerve damage, do not take more than 10mg of vitamin B6 a day in supplements unless advised to by a doctor.
The recommended intake for folate is:
- For adults: 200 μg
- For pregnant women: 400 μg
There is a daily upper limit for folate as it can mask the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, which can eventually damage the nervous system if it's not spotted and treated. It’s not recommended to exceed an intake of 1mg/day.
“The liver can store a relatively high amount of vit B12, meaning that it may take a few years before we notice any manifestations of an inadequate intake”
The recommended intake for vitamin B12 is:
- For adults: 1.5 mg
There’s no health risk for excessive amounts of vit B12.
Which foods contain B vitamins?
Most of us get enough B vitamins from their diet. However, some people with restricted diets or certain medical conditions may benefit from a supplement.
Foods rich in vitamin B6:
- Poultry, fish and pork
- Fruits (except for citrus fruits)
- Soy beans
- Fortified cereals
Foods rich in folate:
- Beef, especially liver
- Green leafy vegetables (Spinach, Kale, Broccoli, Cabbage)
- Legumes (chickpeas, peas, kidney beans)
- Fruits, especially oranges
- Fortified cereals
Foods rich in vitamin B12:
- Meat and poultry
- Dairy products
- Fortified cereals