It’s easy to find Vitamin C at the health food store.
But the B vitamins is where things get confusing.
Not only are there so many, but some of them have names that aren’t identified with the letter “B”.
So let’s get rid of some of the mystery and discuss what all the B vitamins are, and why you need them.
A vitamin is an organic molecule (or set of molecules) with an essential micronutrient that’s necessary for proper body functioning.
Since essential nutrients cannot be synthesized in an organism, either at all or not in sufficient quantities, it must be obtained through diet.
The term vitamin does not include the three other groups of essential nutrients: minerals, essential fatty acids, and essential amino acids.
When vitamins and their functions were first being researched in the early 20th century, an American scientist named Elmer McCollum isolated what we know as vitamin A from butterfat.
He referred to it as “factor A.”
He named another important nutrient, which had been first discovered from rice polishings by Polish scientist Casimir Funk, “factor B.”
For the most part, scientists continued to name vitamins in alphabetical order after that.
However, scientists also discovered that “factor B” was actually a bunch of smaller compounds that were often found concentrated together in the same foods.
These smaller compounds make up each separate B vitamin: thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), etc.
Together they make up what we now call the vitamin B complex (the same as the original “factor B”).
We also now know that our bodies use each B vitamin for distinct purposes.
Adding to the confusion, not all of the vitamins classified as B vitamins are actually vitamins.
There are now only eight “true” B vitamins, but the list used to be longer.
For instance, vitamin B4, 8, 10, and 11 are no longer considered vitamins.
B vitamins are water soluble vitamins that play an essential role in metabolism.
Because they are water soluble, they don’t build up in the body, so if you get too much, you will only get jittery or nauseous.
While vitamins are available through food, many take supplements to ensure they are getting the optimal amount.
The B Vitamins
Also known as thiamin, vitamin B1 helps convert food into energy, plays a role in muscle contractions, and supports proper nervous system functions. Additionally, it is often called the “anti-stress” vitamin because of its ability to protect the immune system.
B1 is found in:
whole grains, beans, spinach, kale, yeast, nuts, sunflower seeds, pork, and red meat.
Also known as riboflavin, vitamin B2 helps your body break down and use carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in your diet. It is important for body growth and red blood cell production.
B2 is found in:
almonds, wild rice, eggs, Brussel sprouts, spinach, broccoli, salmon, and beef.
Also known as niacin or niacinamide, vitamin B3 helps the digestive system, skin, and nerve function. In addition, it supports cellular energy production and boosts HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol).
B3 is found in:
beef, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts, eggs, beans, and green vegetables.
Also known as pantothenic acid, vitamin B5 is needed for our bodies to break down fats and carbohydrates for energy. In addition, B5 is necessary for our bodies to produce hormones, as well as needed for growth.
B5 is found in:
just about every food group – the name even says so. Pantothenic comes from the Greek word “pantothen,” meaning “from everywhere.”
Rich sources include organ meats, egg yolk, whole grains, avocados, nuts, lentils, broccoli, kale, and dairy products.
Involved in over 100 cellular reactions throughout the body, vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is instrumental in keeping various bodily systems and functions operating at their best.
It helps the body metabolize amino acids from food, build new red blood cells, and helps the body produce serotonin, melatonin, and norepinephrine which are vital for proper sleep.
B6 is found in:
meat, poultry, eggs, fish, bananas, berries, peaches, carrots, spinach, sunflower seeds, and brown rice.
Known as the “beauty” vitamin, vitamin B7, or biotin, is especially known for supporting healthy hair, skin, and nails.
B7 is found in:
strawberries, organ meat, yeast, pork, chicken, fish, cauliflower, egg yolks, and nuts.
Also known as folate, vitamin B9 is most commonly known for its role in fetal health and development, especially for the baby’s nervous system.
It additionally fosters the growth of red blood cells.
B9 can be a problem if you take too much. It will mask the symptoms of a B12 deficiency, which can lead to permanent neurological damage.
B9 is found in:
dark green leafy vegetables, organ meats, beets, dates, avocados, beans, and salmon.
This B vitamin, also known as cobalamin, is a team player.
It works with vitamin B9 to produce red blood cells and help iron do its job – create the oxygen-carrying protein, hemoglobin.
Vitamin B12 also helps regulate and maintain a healthy central nervous system.
B12 is predominantly found in animal sources such as chicken, beef, fish, pork, and clams.
Because vitamin B12 is not naturally occurring in plant foods, vegetarians and vegans may need to take it as a supplement.