To B6 or not to B4
By Rebecca Taggart
Vitamin B is not just a vitamin, it’s a whole family of vitamins with numerous variations and all the little subscripts, such as B3 or B12. Scientists originally thought the eight B vitamins were a single B vitamin critical for cell metabolism. As subsequent research showed there were many related compounds, scientists labeled each discovery with a subscript.
You may recognize their names or numbers from nutrition labels: thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folic acid or folate (B9), and cobalamin (B12). There are only eight vitamins in the Vitamin B family, (also known as ‘Vitamin B complex’), but there are actually 22 molecules labeled as B1 through B22. In their excitement at discovering the compounds, scientists labeled many molecules as Vitamin Bs, only to find out that some were not really vitamins.
‘Vitamins’ are organic (carbon-based) compounds, which the human body cannot make, but are nonetheless required in small amounts for life and must be consumed through our diet. It turned out that 8 of the 22 Bs were true vitamins and that the others are either already made by our bodies, or not needed, and thus not true ‘vitamins.’ That is why you will never find B4, B8, and the other “missing” Bs on a food nutrition or vitamin supplement label.
B vitamins are present in a large number of proteins and particularly high in turkey, tuna, liver, and red meat, as well as being present in potatoes, bananas, lentils, chili peppers, tempeh, beans, nutritional yeast, brewer’s yeast, whole grains, and molasses. Only B12 is difficult to obtain from plant foods, and should be taken as a supplement by vegetarians.
The chart below summarizes the eight B vitamins, common food sources for each, and why we need them.
|NAME||COMMON FOOD SOURCES||FUNCTION IN BODY|
|B1||Thiamine||Yeast, yeast extract (Marmite), and pork have highest amounts. Most common sources are whole grains; oatmeal; flax; and sunflower seeds; brown rice; liver (from beef, pork, or chicken); eggs; asparagus; romaine lettuce; mushrooms; spinach; tuna; green peas; tomatoes; eggplant; and Brussels sprouts.||Cellular metabolism (helps convert sugars into usable energy). Continued deficiency leads to beriberi and even death. The first vitamin B to be identified (1901).|
|B2||Riboflavin||Mushrooms; calf liver; spinach; romaine lettuce; asparagus; chard; mustard greens; broccoli; collard greens; venison; turnip greens; eggs; yogurt; and cow’s milk.||Cellular energy metabolism: metabolism of fats, ketone bodies, carbohydrates, and proteins. Imparts the orange color to vitamin supplements and the yellow color to urine.|
|B3||Niacin||Crimini mushrooms; tuna; salmon; chicken breast; asparagus; halibut; and venison.||Essential for cell metabolism. Involved in DNA repair and production of hormones in the adrenal gland. First discovered in 1937.|
|B5||Pantothenic Acid||Meat (all); mushrooms; cauliflower; broccoli; calf liver; turnip greens; sunflower seeds; tomato; strawberries; yogurt; eggs; winter squash; collard greens; chard; and corn.||Required to synthesize coenzyme-A (CoA), which synthesizes fatty acids, as well as to synthesize and metabolize proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.|
|B6||Pyridoxine||Spinach; bell peppers; turnip greens; garlic; tuna; cauliflower; mustard greens; bananas; celery; cabbage; crimini mushrooms; asparagus; broccoli; kale; collard greens; Brussels sprouts; cod; and chard.||Helps balance sodium and potassium in body; production of red blood cells and neurotransmitters. Decreases formation of homocysteine (prevents cardiovascular disease). Lack of pyridoxine may cause anemia, nerve damage, depression, seizures, skin problems, and sores in the mouth.|
|B7||Biotin||Chard; tomatoes; romaine lettuce; carrots; almonds; egg yolks; onions; cabbage; cucumber; cauliflower; milk; raspberries; strawberries; halibut; oats; and walnuts.||Biotin is involved in the metabolism of both sugar and fat in cells. Numerous nerve-related symptoms are linked to biotin deficiency, including seizures, lack of muscle coordination (ataxia), and lack of good muscle tone (hypotonia).|
|B9||Folic acid or Folate||Romaine lettuce; spinach; asparagus; turnip greens; mustard greens; calf’s liver; parsley; collard greens; broccoli; cauliflower; beets; lentils; squash; black beans; pinto beans; garbanzo beans; papaya; and string beans.||Needed for red blood cell production and to prevent build-up of homocysteine in blood. Deficiency seems linked to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Deficiency during pregnancy leads to neural tube defects in babies. Folic acid is one of the most chemically complicated vitamins. Discovered in 1933.|
|B12||Cobalamin||Animals or plants cannot make Vitamin B12. Plants store the vitamin from bacteria in the soil or algae in the sea, and animals concentrate the B12 from eating plants. The best sources of B12 are snapper; calf liver; venison; shrimp; scallops; salmon; beef; poultry; egg yolks; milk and milk products.||Involved in the metabolism of every cell of the human body, especially affecting DNA synthesis and regulation, but also fatty acid synthesis and energy production. It is the largest and most structurally complicated vitamin, and was not isolated until 1948.|