In the constellation of vitamins, D has been the rising star for the past several years.
But, amid the (mostly justified ) D mania, a quieter movement has emerged as researchers and nutritionists become aware of the critical need for B vitamins, especially among those who suffer from headache, fatigue, mood, stress and menstrual disorders.
The truth is, B vitamins are real multi-taskers and are involved in many critical processes. They’re sparkplugs in everything from energy metabolism to detoxification to mood to immunity and gut health. They can even help boost your mood and blow away butt-dragging fatigue.
This is why it’s so important to make sure we aren’t running low.
Seniors and smokers at risk for B vitamin deficiencies
Who is most at risk? Those over age 65, who are less efficient at absorbing vitamin B-12 through ordinary digestion because of a decrease in the acidity of the stomach.
Vegetarians, who often miss out on major sources of B-12 in their daily meals are also at a higher risk. And smokers and drinkers can find themselves deficient in B-6.
But you don’t need to fall into one of these groups to suffer a deficiency. Anyone who is under stress or feasts on junk food can also experience low B levels.
B vitamins are vital to your adrenal gland stress response
The B vitamins are vital to the metabolism of all our cells and, in particular, the cells of the nervous system. Together with vitamin C, they help maintain an efficient adrenal response to stress.
Epidemiological studies have linked low blood levels of folate, vitamins B-6 and B-12 to a higher prevalence of depression.
Other studies suggest that even subclinical levels of B-12 among women and folate among men—levels that might be checked off as normal on an ordinary blood test—may contribute to depression.
A British study linked lower levels of B vitamins with psychological distress. B-vitamin deficit has been linked to anxiety and, especially, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Your nervous system depends on B vitamins
All this makes sense in light of the unbroken link between the neurotransmitters, methylation and the Bs.
But it’s not just folate, B-6 and B-12 that matter. Thiamin (B-1) insufficiency has a marked effect on the central nervous system.
In fact, a thiamin-deficient person may experience fatigue, memory loss, depression, headaches and muscle weakness. More severe deficiencies can result in neurological and cardiovascular problems, as well as anorexia and weight loss.
The B vitamins also play an important role in maintaining a healthy heart.
A number of studies show that folic acid, B-6 and B-12 lower levels of the amino acid homocysteine. Though the mainstream medical community has yet to sign on, research suggests that high homocysteine levels lead to fatty deposits on the endothelium (the thin layer of cells that line the interior of blood vessels), as well as blood clots.
Bs performed nearly as well as statins against cholesterol
Even high cholesterol can be treated with Bs. Studies have consistently shown niacin to be nearly as effective in lowering cholesterol as statins. A study reported that niacin reduced levels by an average of 23 percent compared with 32 percent for Lovastatin—a finding that was particularly notable because niacin also raised “good” cholesterol levels better than the drug, produced fewer side effects and did not deplete coenzyme Q10.
Long ago, B vitamins were considered a single vitamin—just as vitamins C and D are today. But now scientists understand the Bs as a complex of chemically distinct vitamins often found in the same foods and frequently functioning together as a group.
The B vitamins consist of 11 nutrients that have similar roles in acting as coenzymes in production of energy and in the metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
But, those 11 nutrients are divided between the eight classic Bs—B-1, B-2, B-3, B-5, B-6, B-7, B-9 and B-12—and the three nutrients that are considered honorary B vitamins because they meet some, but not all, of the requirements of a classic B: para-amino benzoic acid (PABA), inositol and choline.
While they each play different roles in the body, they work together for an overall benefit.
Keeping a steady supply of B vitamins in the body requires ingesting them daily, because unlike fat-soluble A and D vitamins, water-soluble Bs are not stored by the body. Any Bs not promptly absorbed are washed away.
This is why, takin a B supplement along with eating a diet high in B-rich foods (see the chart below) is so important.
|Foods High in B Vitamins|
|green leafy vegetables|
But, unless you have a specific need for one particular B, you don’t need to take each one separately. Look for a high-quality B-complex that provides at least 50 mg. each of the entire family of nutrients in just one pill.
McNulty H. Homocysteine, B-vitamins and CVD. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2008;67:232-237.
Sanchez-Villegas A. Association between folate, vitamin B(6) and vitamin B(12) intake and depression in the SUN cohort study. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. 2009;22:122-133.
Sibley CT. Abstract 685: Comparative Effect of Statins vs. Niacin on MRI Measured Regression of Carotid Atherosclerosis in a Randomized Clinical Trial: The NIA Plaque Study. Circulation. 2009;120:S376.
Dr. David J. Blyweiss began his medical career as a clinical pharmacist in South Florida prior to earning his medical degree from St. George's University School of Medicine in 1982.
His dual background allowed him to appreciate the relevance of conventional pharmaceutical/surgical based treatments in acute medical conditions, and recognize where these approaches fell short in treating the majority of patients who suffered from the chronic degenerative diseases of "western civilization origin."
Over the last twenty years, with the nutritional medical knowledge base expanding in the fields of nutrigenomics, protemics, and other related "orthomolecular" disciplines directed towards patients' biochemical individuality, Dr. Blyweiss became an early adherent and experienced practitioner of what would become known as "functional medicine." This knowledge allows him to effectively manage and alleviate the symptoms related to the most "difficult-to-treat" conditions by addressing the underlying causes, allowing the body to heal itself.
Dr. Blyweiss was one of the initial researchers doing the early work on chlorhexidine (Phisohex) while earning his first post graduate degree at Temple University School of Pharmacy. During medical school he worked with the WHO (World Health Organization) in vaccinating children in the islands of the Carribbean. He has traveled much of the world, most recently to Belize, Central America, Gabon, Africa, and Zagreb, Croatia working closely with teams of specialists to identify new plant life and natural products for possible human benefit as well as researchers and their stem cell transplantation teams. He has consulted for and created state-of-the-art nutritional supplements for multiple nutritional companies since 1999. He is currently in private practice in South Florida where he resides with his family.
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