Know your vitamins: B complex


Vitamin B12

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We often hear about how important vitamin B is, especially B12 and particularly B complex. We're also told that biotin is great for our hair and nails and how important it is for women to get plenty of folic acid. So what gives?

B complex is made up of eight B vitamins. They are:

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin or nicotinic acid)
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine, pyridoxal, pyridoxamine)
  • Vitamin B7 (biotin)
  • Vitamin B9 (folic acid)
  • Vitamin B12 (various cobalamins; commonly cyanocobalamin or methylcobalamin in vitamin supplements)

These water-soluble vitamins play important roles in cell metabolism. We lump them together because, although they are chemically distinct from one another, they often coexist in the same foods. Ideally, you get your B complex from the food you eat, but if your doctor diagnoses a deficiency, you may have to look into taking a supplement.

Various sources confirm that foods rich in B vitamins include pulses or beans, whole grains, potatoes, bananas, chili peppers, tempeh, nutritional yeast and molasses. Good sources of B12 include finfish and shellfish, poultry, beef, pork and dairy — which puts vegans at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency. Self magazine has a comprehensive list of food that contains high levels of B12.

There's also this neat infographic from Green Med TV that lists the eight B vitamins, what they are good for, daily requirements and some symptoms of deficiency.

Green Med TV


What about the others?

There are no others. Once upon a time, we believed there were other vitamins that formed part of the B complex, including B4, B8 and B17. Science has since proven that these nutrients are not actually vitamins. They not only have no known nutritional value to the human diet but also may be toxic. B17, for example, is present in seeds, sprouts, beans, tubers and grains and toxic in large quantities. Unfortunately, pseudo-scientists have convinced people that B17 is effective in cancer treatment and prevention — despite a lack of scientific evidence.


As with everything concerning your health, please do not self-diagnose a B vitamin deficiency, even if you swear you have some or even most of the symptoms. Go to your doctor and get a blood test so you can receive a proper diagnosis.