Vitamin B is not a single vitamin but a family of eight micronutrients that are essential for the proper functioning of our bodies. Most people get the recommended amount from their diet, but for others, supplements might be necessary.
When all the eight B vitamins are combined into an ingestible form, they are referred to as the Vitamin B complex – a common supplement. It could be prescribed for reasons such as age, pregnancy, disease conditions, genetics or even with other medications.
B12, B9 and B6, which are commonly called the ‘3Bs’, need to be supplemented daily, preferably through diet. However, levels of Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5 and B7 should also be maintained.
Check out this guide to understand the benefits and daily requirements of each micronutrient in the Vitamin B family:
Thiamine, commonly called Vitamin B1, helps to break down food and release its energy; keeps the nervous system healthy; and maintains eye and heart health. The recommended consumption of B1 for men aged 19-64 is 1 milligram daily and for women it is 0.8 milligrams.
As excess Vitamin B1 gets flushed out of your body, you should take the required amount daily by consuming foods such as beans, peas, nuts, seeds, whole grains, rice, bananas, oranges, liver and fortified cereals. However, it is unclear whether excessive intake of Vitamin B1 can cause harm, especially when taken through pills. It is therefore advisable to keep track of your daily consumption, particularly when you are on pills along with B1 rich diet.
Riboflavin, commonly known as Vitamin B2, helps the body convert food to energy, produce red blood cells and keep the eyes, skin and nervous system healthy. For those aged between 19-70 a daily dietary dose of 1.3 milligrams for men and 1.1 milligrams for women is recommended.
However, riboflavin gets destroyed by ultraviolet rays. Therefore, riboflavin-rich foods such as milk, egg, mushrooms, yoghurt, spinach, meat and fortified cereals should be kept away from direct sunlight.
Niacin or nicotinic acid, which is also known as nicotinamide, is commonly referred to as Vitamin B3. It is essential in converting the energy from foods into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the fuel molecule of all living cells. It also helps in the production of high-density cholesterol (HDLs or ‘good’ cholesterol), and in digestion and for maintaining nerve health. Co-enzymes of nicotinamide are required in chemical reactions of over 400 enzymes in the body.
Experts recommend that the intake of Vitamin B3 should not exceed 16 milligrams a day for men and 13 milligrams for women. An overdose can cause skin flushes and liver damage in the long run. However, you can get enough of it through diet by consuming beans, cereals, rice, whole grains, nuts, poultry and seafood.
Like the other Vitamin B micronutrients, pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5) helps in breaking down food and releasing energy from it. However, B5 is linked with hormone production and red blood cell formation while also keeping the nervous system healthy. It should be supplemented daily as it is water soluble – this means that rather than it being stored it gets flushed out of your body.
Though it is not clearly known what happens to the body when Vitamin B5 is taken in excess, experts suggest an overdose can be harmful. A daily intake of 5 milligrams of B5 is recommended if you are aged between 19-70. Foods rich in pantothenic acid include yoghurt, avocados, beans, peas, milk, broccoli, whole grains, fortified cereals, eggs, poultry and seafood.
Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6) helps regulate immune functions, nerve health and the production of fats, carbohydrates, proteins, hemoglobin and nucleic acids in DNA.
Though deficiencies of Vitamin B6 are rare, it is recommended that men consume 1.4 milligrams and women consume 1.2 milligrams of pyridoxine every day through foods such as poultry, fish, nuts, non-citrus fruits, milk and dairy products and fortified cereals.
Biotin (Vitamin B7) has recently come into the spotlight for promoting hair and nail health, but this is not its primary function. B7 helps to convert food into energy by breaking down carbohydrates, fats and proteins from foods.
While our gut can manufacture biotin, consuming it through diet does no harm. If you are taking biotin through supplements, make sure to follow the recommended dosage: up to 30 micrograms of biotin daily for those aged 20 to 70. You can get biotin from eggs, poultry, liver, salmon, avocados, cauliflower, whole grains and certain fruits.
Folate (Vitamin B9) plays a vital role in the manufacture of DNA and promotes healthy cell division, especially that of rapidly dividing cells such as red blood cells. Deficiencies of Vitamin B9 can cause anemia in adults and is linked with birth defects during conception or early pregnancy.
It is recommended that adults consume 200 micrograms of Vitamin B9 daily, but pregnant women should consume a higher dose of 400 micrograms daily. Folate-rich foods include broccoli, sprouts, leafy green vegetables, pulses, and meat.
Cobalamin or Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12) is essential in the formation of DNA, red blood cells and myelin (the protective sheath covering nerves). It also enables us to convert food into energy. A deficiency of Vitamin B12 has been found to cause megaloblastic anemia and peripheral nerve pain.
Health authorities recommend 1.5 micrograms of Vitamin B12 per day for adults aged 19-64 years. This amount can be had from meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. B12 is not naturally found in fruits or vegetables, therefore people following a vegan diet need to take supplements.
While it is generally considered safe to consume Vitamin B complex supplements, there might be exceptions for children, pregnant or lactating women, as well as for those with certain medical conditions. It is always advised that you consult your doctor or nutritionist while planning your daily intake of vitamins and minerals.
The recommended amounts of vitamins have been referenced from the UK’s National Health Services (NHS), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).