The benefits of B-complex vitamins sound almost too good to be true: improved mood, mental clarity, and energy, improved reaction time, reduced homocysteine levels, and smart nutrient effects including alertness, verbal fluency, improved concentration, mental agility, learning, and thinking.
Yet, if you have a B vitamin deficiency, you could find yourself with any one or all of these symptoms:
- Dry, rough, cracked, scaly skin
- Dull, dry hair
- Headache, dizziness
- Poor appetite
- Constipation and other digestive disorders
- Abnormal growth and development
More reasons to take vitamin B-Complex
- If you want to make sure that you’re getting the full complex of B vitamins in scientifically chosen amounts.
- If you are under stress—either emotionally, physically, or mentally—your body requires more energy. And that means that you need more B vitamins to assist in the metabolic process—or the utilization of food.
- If you’re pregnant, adequate folic acid and B12 are vital for having a healthy baby.
- If you are over 50 years old, you may benefit from a supplemental boost. Up to 30% of adults aged 50 years and older may have atrophic gastritis—an increased growth of intestinal bacteria—and are consequently unable to normally absorb vitamin B12 in food. These individuals are able to absorb the vitamin B12 in dietary supplements however. Vitamin supplements and fortified foods may be the best sources of vitamin B12 for adults older than age 50 years.1
- If you consume a lot of carbs (including alcohol), which require a higher intake of B vitamins for proper metabolism.
- Some medications, including drugs used to treat diabetes and peptic ulcer disease, may decrease absorption of vitamin B12. Chronic use of those medications may result in a need for additional vitamin B12.
- If you want to lower your homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid normally found in blood, but elevated levels have been linked to cardiovascular disease and stroke. In fact, a study from Norway shows that a combination of vitamin B6 and folate reduces homocysteine 32% within five weeks in healthy individuals. This has the potential to significantly lower the risk of heart attack and stroke.2
What to look for in a superior B-Complex
By providing scientifically chosen amounts of the B vitamins, a superior product ensures that you are receiving the correct quantities of each B vitamin to maximize the benefits and eliminate potential risks of taking too much of certain B vitamins. With most B-complex products you are stuck with equal amounts of each B vitamin, without regard for the fact that you want to take larger amounts of certain B vitamins, but smaller amounts of other B vitamins. So it’s important to read the label … in order to know what you are getting!
Can you get t oo much of a good thing?
Riboflavin, or vitamin B2, is an essential vitamin, but almost all “broad spectrum, high potency multiples” contain levels that are far too high!
We are all familiar with riboflavin's bright orange/yellow color, because it's the vitamin that turns our urine yellow after taking vitamin supplements. (Most B vitamins are white and do not turn urine yellow.) Most vitamins protect us from the damaging effects of the sun, but riboflavin has an undesirable property of reacting with light, causing the formation of peroxides, phototoxic compounds and DNA damage.345 In other words, too much B2 can generate free radicals in your eyes and skin when exposed to sun and light.
This problem was first noticed in cell culture studies using excess riboflavin, and has now been demonstrated to be a cause of liver dysfunction in people fed with intravenous vitamins containing riboflavin. The riboflavin actually reacts with the light in the room, forming a variety of toxic compounds.6 Many of these phototoxic compounds are extremely damaging.
The combination of sunlight and abnormally high tissue levels of riboflavin from excess supplementation is a potentially dangerous combination that should be avoided, and this can only be done by using a supplement that doesn't contain excessively large amounts of riboflavin far in excess of our bodies requirement. Until research has shown that higher intakes of riboflavin are safe and beneficial, we don't recommend exceeding the Recommended Daily Allowance of riboflavin by more than a few times. This would be about 5 milligrams for most people.
Scientific studies show that the Bs provide dramatic health benefits
Women who take multivitamins for at least 15 years may cut their risk of colon cancer by 75%. In the long-running Nurses Health Study (Annals of Internal Medicine, Feb. 1999), Edward Giovannucci, a researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and his colleagues collected data on 88,756 women, including 442 who developed colon cancer during 14 years of follow-up. Women who got at least 400 micrograms of folic acid a day, from supplements or foods such as green vegetables and fortified cereals, had 31% fewer colon cancers than those who got less than 200 micrograms. Folate from food didn’t work as well as from supplements. No one knows why, although bioavailability problems may be to blame. Although only women were studied, other research suggests folic acid has similar effects in men.7
In the same study, the researchers found that women who took multivitamins with vitamin B6 reduced their risk of heart disease by 30%.8
Low levels of folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 are risk factors for heart disease, neural tube defects, and colon and breast cancer
- Among postmenopausal women, intakes of folate and vitamin B12 were associated with a lower risk of breast cancer.9 Also, in several epidemiologic investigations, folate intake has appeared to reduce the elevated risk of breast cancer associated with moderate alcohol consumption, and vitamin B6 was also found to possibly reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. 10
- A Swedish-American study suggests that a diet supplemented with folic acid lowers the risk of early miscarriage.11 This is in addition to the 1998 finding that folic acid supplementation reduces the risk of birth defects.
- 3 B vitamins—B6, B12, and folic acid—help prevent heart disease. The newest independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease is excess levels of homocysteine—not cholesterol. Contrary to popular belief, cholesterol does not cause heart disease. It is merely one of the many markers of the disease. In fact, it's quite possible to have a heart attack even if you have "normal" cholesterol levels.
Scientists have discovered that vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid can dramatically lower homocysteine levels and reduce cardiovascular disease.
But according to research, there's a definite possibility you'll have a heart attack if you have high levels of homocysteine. What is it? Homocysteine is an amino acid derivative that's naturally found in your body. Too much of it can generate free radicals that increase injury to arterial walls, accelerate oxidation and the buildup of cholesterol in blood vessels, and set the stage for arterial and venous diseases, including stroke.12
The good news is that scientists have discovered vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid can dramatically lower homocysteine levels.
In 1969, Kilmer S. McCully, M.D., of Harvard Medical School found that heart patients had nearly 80% less vitamin B6 than healthy individuals. As a result of his work, he postulated that B6 might help protect the arteries from the damage that precedes heart disease.13 In addition, a deficiency of vitamin B12 is associated with elevated homocysteine levels and folic acid is essential for the proper metabolism of homocysteine.1415 It is estimated that by supplementing with only 400 mcg of folic acid daily the number of heart attacks suffered by Americans each year would be reduced by 10%. It is also estimated that individuals with low vitamin B6 levels have a five times greater risk of having a heart attack than individuals with higher B6 levels! So, be sure to take your Bs.
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency was observed in patients with anorexia nervosa in a study at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Leister, U.K. The doctors concluded that supplementation may reduce some of the neuropsychiatric symptoms that accompany the disease. 16
Doses of vitamin B6 up to 100 mg a day may relieve premenstrual syndrome (PMS), according to a meta-analysis of published research.
Researchers at North Staffordshire Hospital in Stoke-on-Trent, U.K. statistically analyzed nine studies examining the effect of vitamin B6 supplements on PMS. Another 16 published studies on the subject were deemed of low quality and were not included in the analysis. They concluded that vitamin B6 supplementation appears to relieve PMS symptoms including depression, breast tenderness, and bloating more effectively than placebo.
It’s important to note that doses higher than 200 mg a day may cause nerve damage. Since multivitamins and B complex supplements may contain B6, people taking a B6 supplement should make sure they are not getting too much. 17
- Smokers can reduce their risk of lung cancer by getting sufficient B vitamins, according to a study at Pennsylvania State University. Researchers conducted a case-control study, matching 300 randomly selected male smokers who developed lung cancer with 300 controls. Serum measurements of B vitamins and homocysteine, high levels of which are a known risk factor for some cancers, were taken at the study's inception in 1985. The results were adjusted for smoking and body-mass index; cancer patients smoked more and weighed less. In both cases and controls, half the men had inadequate serum levels of vitamin B6, 90 % were deficient in folate, and one-fourth had elevated homocysteine. The most significant finding was that men with initial serum vitamin B6 levels in the top 40 % of the group had only half the risk of getting lung cancer as the men in the lowest 20 %. Insufficient dietary vitamin B6 intake was weakly associated with lung cancer. 18
The most important thing to remember about the B vitamins is that they should all be taken together. They are so inter-dependent in function that large doses of any of them may cause a deficiency in others. So play it safe. If you are not already taking an excellent multi-vitamin/mineral supplement that contains the B vitamin complex, add a B complex supplement to your health regimen … in order to avoid health problems down the road.
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This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always consult with a physician before embarking on a dietary supplement program.
Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes: Thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, biotin, and choline. National Academy Press. Washington, DC, 1998.
Mansoor MA, Kristensen O, Hervig T, Bates CJ, Pentieva K, Vefring H, Osland A, Berge T, Drablos PA, Hetland O, Rolfsen S. Plasma total homocysteine response to oral doses of folic acid and pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6) in healthy individuals. Oral doses of vitamin B6 reduce concentrations of serum folate Scand J Clin Lab Invest 1999 Apr;59(2):139-46.
Conrad, Dennis R. Riboflavin in Cell Culture. Riboflavin Complexes and Cell Toxicity.
Jernigan HM Jr., Role of hydrogen peroxide in riboflavin-sensitized photodynamic damage to cultured rat lenses, Exp Eye Res 1985 Jul;41(1):121-9.
Kale H, Harikumar P, Kulkarni SB, Nair PM, Netrawali MS, Assessment of the genotoxic potential of riboflavin and lumiflavin. B. Effect of light, Mutat Res 1992 Nov;298(1):17-23.
Chessex P, Lavoie JC, Rouleau T, Brochu P, St-Louis P, Levy E, Alvarez F, Photooxidation of parenteral multivitamins induces hepatic steatosis in a neonatal guinea pig model of intravenous nutrition, Pediatr Res 2002 Dec;52(6):958-63.
Giovannucci E, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA, Hunter DJ, Fuchs C, Rosner BA, Speizer FE, Willett WC. 1998. Multivitamin use, folate and colon cancer in women in the nurses’ health study. Ann Intern Med. 1998 Oct 1;129(7):517-24.
Rimm EB, et al. Folate and Vitamin B6 from diet and supplements in relation to risk of coronary heart disease among women. JAMA 1998, Feb. 4, 279:359-64.
Lajous M, Lazcano-Ponce E, Hernandez-Avila M, Willett W, Romieu I. Folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 intake and the risk of breast cancer among Mexican women . Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2006 Mar;15(3):443-8.
Zhang SM, Willett WC, Selhub J, Hunter DJ, Giovannucci EL, Holmes MD, Colditz GA, Hankinson SE. Plasma folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, homocysteine, and risk of breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2003 Mar 5;95(5):373-8.
Olszewski, A. J.; et al. “Reduction of Plasma Lipid and Homocysteine levels by Pyridoxine, Folate, Cobalamin, Choline, Riboflavin, and Troxerutin in Atherosclerosis.” Atherosclerosis 75 no. 1 (Jan, 1989): 1-6.
McCully, K.S. “Homocysteine Theory of Arteriosclerosis: Development and Current Status.” Atherosclerosis Reviews 11 (1983): 157-246.
Brattstrom, L.; et al. “Higher Total Plasma Homocysteine Due to Cystathionine Beta-Synthase Deficiency.” Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental 37 no. 2 (Feb, 1988): 175-178.
Brattstrom, L.; et al. Effects of Pyridoxine and Folic Acid Treatment,” Atherosclerosis. 1990 Feb;81(1):51-6.
Winston AP, Jamieson CP, Madira W, Gatward NM, Palmer RL. Prevalence of Thiamin Deficiency in Anorexia Nervosa ?Int J Eating Dis 2000 (Dec); 28 (4): 451–445.
Wyatt KM, Dimmock PW, Jones PW, Shaughn O'Brien PM. Efficacy of vitamin B6 in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: systematic review. BMJ. 1999 May 22;318(7195):1375-81.
Hartman TJ, Woodson K, Stolzenberg-Solomon R, Virtamo J, Selhub J, Barrett MJ, Albanes D. Association of the B vitamins pyridoxal 5'-phosphate (B(6)), B(12), and Folate with Lung Cancer Risk in Older Men?American Journal of Epidemiology 2001 (Apr 1); 153 (7): 680–693.