asparagus-700153_640Welcome to the second part of our guide to the B vitamin family. Last time we looked at thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and B5, or pantothenic acid. Today we’ll be discussing the four other B vitamins in depth and looking at their role in our health and wellbeing. Are some more important than others? Are some people more prone to deficiencies, and how can these be prevented?
As we mentioned before, B vitamins are water-soluble, so they cannot be stored in the human body. This means we need to eat foods or consume supplements that give us a regular supply of these nutrients in order to benefit from their effects and avoid becoming deficient.

So the first vitamin we’ll look at today is B6, one of the less well-known nutrients. Vitamin B6 is also known as pyroxidine, and it plays an important role in the maintenance of the nervous and immune systems and also in blood metabolism. Studies have shown that deficiencies in this nutrient are rare, as long as you are eating a wide variety of foods as part of a healthy diet. Foods that are rich in vitamin B6 include garlic, tuna, pistachio nuts, bran-based cereals and beef liver.

Another little-known nutrient is biotin, which is also known as B7, B8 and sometimes even vitamin H. This vitamin supports healthy fat, carbohydrate and protein metabolism and is thought to help with nail, skin and hair health. The reason this vitamin is so little known is because scientists believe the good bacteria in our intestines produce all the B7 we need. However, present in higher levels in foods such as egg yolk, peanuts and yeast.

From a vitamin you might not have heard of to one you most certainly have – vitamin B9, better known as folic acid or folate. Vital for the proper development of the human body and DNA synthesis, as well as formation of red blood cells, folate is crucial for pregnant women in order to protect the developing fetus. Folic acid reduces the risk of brain and spinal birth defects between 50 and 70%, including those that form before a woman even knows she’s pregnant. So it’s good to know that many breakfast cereals and often commercially produced breads are fortified with B vitamins and particularly folic acid. This vitamin is also found in chicken liver, black eyed peas, lentils, asparagus and once again, good old yeast extract, amongst others.

Lastly in this vitamin family we have B12, which has a multitude of names including cobalamin but is also known as the ‘energy vitamin’. This is because it is vital for cellular energy, DNA synthesis and red blood cell formation, and also for a healthy nervous system. B12 has one major drawback though, because it is only found in animal products. Fish, meat, eggs and dairy products are all good sources of vitamin B12, along with fortified breakfast cereals. So you can see that those of us who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet are more at risk of developing a B12 deficiency, and in this case it makes sense to take a regular supplement.

So there you have it. A brief introduction to all the B vitamins and why they’re so important. If you want to know more, take a look at the dedicated vitamin pages elsewhere on this site.