Vitamins are essential to ensure that the body functions as it should. We all need to consume food containing B vitamins as part of a healthy diet, as they have a specific impact on your body, from cell and cardiovascular health to brain and nerve function to energy levels, muscle tone and good eyesight.
If you’re interested in personal training or another fitness profession, or simply want to ensure that you are following a healthy lifestyle, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the different properties and benefits of the various B vitamins. They are also of particular importance to anyone who is pregnant or breastfeeding, the older generation, and those following a restricted diet or with underlying health conditions.
What are the different kinds of vitamin B
There are eight kinds of vitamin B, as follows:
- Vitamin B1 – thiamine
- Vitamin B2 – riboflavin
- Vitamin B3 – niacin
- Vitamin B5 – pantothenic acid
- Vitamin B6 – pyridoxine
- Vitamin B7 – biotin
- Vitamin B9 – folic acid
- Vitamin B12 – cobalamin
Public Health England has produced Government Dietary Recommendations for energy and nutrients for males and females aged 1-18 years and 19+ years, which can be accessed here. This includes recommendations for the daily intake of vitamin B complex.
How much vitamin B do you need and where can you get it?
Taking each B vitamin in turn:
B1 – thiamine
Daily guidance: 1mg (milligram) for men and 0.8mg for women.
This vitamin allows the body to break down food and release its energy, as well as supporting the nervous system. It can be found in a range of foods from fruit and peas to eggs, liver, wholegrain and fortified breakfast cereals.
B2 – riboflavin
Daily guidance: 1.3mg for men and 1.1mg for women.
Good for a healthy nervous system, skin and eyes and aids the release of energy from food.
Found in milk, eggs, rice and fortified breakfast cereals. The riboflavin in food can be destroyed by the UV light in sunlight.
B3 – niacin
Daily guidance: 16.5mg for men and 13.2mg for women.
Helps to release energy from food and keep the nervous system and the skin healthy. Both forms of niacin (nicotinic acid and nicotinamide) can be found in fish and meat, as well as eggs, milk and wheat flour.
B5 – pantothenic acid
Daily guidance: not established
Releases energy from food. Found in most meat and vegetables, plus wholegrain rice and bread, and some fortified cereal.
B6 – pyridoxine
Daily guidance: 1.4mg for men and 1.2mg for women.
Forms haemoglobin to carry oxygen; helps the body to store and use energy. Found in fish, poultry and pork, as well as wholegrain bread, rice and cereals, vegetables and potatoes, soya beans, eggs, peanuts and milk.
B7 – biotin
Daily guidance: not established
Made by gut bacteria, it aids the breaking down of fat in the body. Only found in low levels in food and may not be required in the diet.
B9 – folic acid
Daily guidance: 200 micrograms for men and women; 400 micrograms for women trying to get pregnant and in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. (Note: micrograms are smaller than milligrams).
Helps with the formation of red blood cells and healthy growth of a foetus, avoiding folate deficiency anaemia. It’s found in leafy green vegetables, broccoli, peas, sprouts, chickpeas and some fortified breakfast cereals.
B12 – cobalamin
Daily guidance: 1.5 micrograms for men and women.
Releases energy from food, makes red blood cells, promotes nervous system health and works with folic acid. Sources include meat, some fish, dairy and fortified breakfast cereals. Vegans may need a B12 supplement.
What else do I need to know?
Many of the B vitamins cannot be stored in the body so should be consumed daily. Some people may need to take additional doses of particular B vitamins, for example: pregnant women, older people, those following a restricted diet and those with a specific health condition, such as celiac disease, HIV or rheumatoid arthritis.
Signs of deficiency are varied, and can include fatigue, anaemia, nausea, skin rashes, diarrhoea or constipation. Sometimes it may be necessary to take supplements, however, you should investigate the best way to take them (eg with or without food or drink). Also be aware that there can be serious risks of taking supplements that provide too high a dosage of a particular vitamin.
To find out more, visit the NHS page on B Complex vitamins. If you have any specific health concerns, book an appointment with your GP.