Understanding How B Complex Vitamins Impact Your Health
By Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN, NP
What Are B Complex Vitamins?
With the exception of vitamin C, all known water-soluble vitamins are B vitamins. Water soluble means that your body can’t store these vitamins, so you have to replenish these vitamins through diet or supplements.
There are eight vitamins in the B complex family: B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 niacin, B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folate) and B12 (cobalamins). All have distinct functions, and all are important to good health.
Why Are B Vitamins Important?
There is no doubt that you’ve heard that B vitamins are essential for good health, but do you know why? Some are better understood and more often discussed, but all are important to the overall picture of your health. B vitamins impact metabolism by converting nutrients into energy your body can use, they act as antioxidants, are involved in hormone and cholesterol production, cell growth and division, and do so much more. B vitamins have also been shown to impact mood, including anxiety and depression. If you’re low in certain B vitamins, you may feel extreme fatigue, or have cognitive difficulties, including foggy thinking and short term memory loss.
Each B complex vitamin works a little differently, and impacts different aspects of health.
Superfood Yummy-Gummies B-Complex
Avoiding Vitamin B Complex Deficiencies
Vitamin B complex deficiencies are relatively rare. If you know what symptoms to look out for, and you understand the importance of maintaining a diet rich in the full range of B complex vitamins, you will be far less likely to develop deficiencies. There are many whole, unrefined food sources for B vitamins, including lean meats, especially organ meat like beef liver, dairy products, legumes, leafy green vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and brewer’s yeast. Mushrooms, potatoes, brown rice and fish also contain some B vitamins.
Getting all the vitamins we need from food can be tricky. The way things are grown today, along with our cultural leaning towards the convenience of fast foods and processed products, can sabotage our efforts. Strive to change eating habits and choose whole natural foods as often as possible. But changing habits takes time, and you might need a boost, especially if you have signs of B complex vitamin deficiencies. Superfood Yummy-Gummies B-Complex contains all of the B complex vitamins in large enough amounts to combat deficiencies.
Let’s talk about each one, to better understand the range of health issues impacted by B complex vitamins:
Thiamin aids in changing carbohydrates into energy in the body, and also has a hand in muscle contraction and nervous system functioning. Thiamin deficiency can cause a whole range of symptoms, including weakness, fatigue, nerve damage, and sometimes even psychosis. People who abuse alcohol are at particular risk of being unable to absorb thiamin from food. Some good food sources for thiamin include spinach, kale, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, and pork.
Another essential B vitamin is riboflavin. Riboflavin works in conjunction with other B vitamins, and is important for growth and production of red blood cells, as well as helping to release energy from proteins in the body. Riboflavin also acts as an antioxidant. Though deficiency is uncommon due to the abundance of riboflavin available through food, a severe deficiency may cause mouth sores, skin disorders, sore throat and selling of mucus membranes. B2 is often used as a treatment for migraine headaches. Some good dietary sources of riboflavin include beef, organ meats, almonds, brussels sprouts, and mushrooms.
Niacin helps with functioning of your digestive system, skin and nerves and is important in converting food to energy. Links to cardiovascular disease have led to small daily doses of nicotinic acid being used to treat unbalanced cholesterol levels. A niacin deficiency can cause pellagra, which includes digestive issues, inflammation of skin, and mental impairments. But too much B3 is also a problem, and can cause such serious issues as liver damage, increased glucose levels, and peptic ulcers, so it’s important to talk with your health care professional before supplementing with B3. Good food sources include chicken, tuna, eggs, and green vegetables.
B5 (Pantothenic acid) and B7 (biotin)
These two B complex vitamins help the body metabolize your food, which makes them important to the growth process and in making fatty acids. B5 is also connected to the production of hormones and cholesterol. Though extremely rare, a B5 deficiency can cause a tingling in the feet called paresthesia. Good sources of B5 include fish, liver, yogurt and avocado. Biotin also regulates gene expression. If you don’t have enough, you might experience muscle pain, dermatitis, or swelling of the tongue. Good sources of B7 include yeast, eggs, salmon and liver.
Vitamin B6 is one you hear about often. It helps create antibodies, maintain nerve functioning, metabolize amino acids, break down proteins, keep blood sugar within normal ranges, and red blood cell production, and creating neurotransmitters. Though deficiency is uncommon in the US, symptoms can include confusion, depression, irritability, and mouth and tongue sores. It’s important to be careful not to get too much B6, as large doses can cause movement difficulty, numbness and sensory changes. Best food sources of B6 include chickpeas, salmon and potatoes. Many women on birth control pills, the patch or ring, can become deficient in B6 in particular.
Folate is one of the most talked about B vitamins. It’s required for cell growth and amino acid metabolism, blood cell formation (both red and white), and cell division. Folate is particularly important before and during pregnancy, to help prevent birth defects in the baby’s brain or spine. A folate deficiency can cause fatigue, irritability, poor growth and anemia. In severe cases, it can also contribute to low white blood cells and platelets. The MTHFR genetic mutation can affect how your body metabolizes folate, leading to folate deficiency or other health problems. Folate is found in leafy greens, liver, and beans. This is becoming a much talked about topic, and will be discussed in a future article.
B12 is another often talked about B vitamin, particularly as we age. The older we get, the more difficult it is for our bodies to absorb vitamin B12 from food. Digestive disorders can also be a factor in being unable to absorb enough of this vitamin. This vitamin is vital to neurological functioning, as well as playing an important role in metabolizing proteins and forming red blood cells. B12 deficiency can cause anemia and pernicious anemia, balance issues, numbness in arms and legs, and general weakness. B12 is found in animal sources, such as meat, eggs, seafood and dairy products. We see B12 deficiencies in those that are vegetarians, thus making it so important to add this important vitamin.
|Military suicides went down in the last year, but 2020 may end up reversing that trend|
|Military suicides dropped last year, but preliminary numbers show that 2020 could reverse that progress.|
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NIMH Livestream Event: Suicide Prevention Strategies
Wednesday, September 23, 2020, 2:00―2:30 PM ET
Suicide is a major public health concern. More than 48,000 people die by suicide each year in the United States, and it was the 10th leading cause of death overall in 2018. Suicide is complicated and tragic, but it is often preventable.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a time to help raise awareness and share information about this important public health concern. Although the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on suicide is still unknown, the slow but steady increases in the U.S. suicide rate remain a concern.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) will host a livestream event on Wednesday, September 23, 2020, from 2:00 – 2:30 p.m. ET, to discuss the latest in suicide prevention research, including ways to identify risk, and effective prevention strategies. Joshua Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., Director of NIMH, will moderate this discussion with Jane Pearson, Ph.D., Special Advisor to the NIMH Director on Suicide Research, and Stephen O’Connor, Ph.D., chief of the Suicide Prevention Research Program in the NIMH Division of Services and Intervention Research.
Participating is easy.
- Watch the livestream event on NIMH’s Facebook or Twitter feeds. You must have either a Facebook or Twitter account to watch.
- Follow NIMH on Facebook or Twitter for updates on the livestream event and other information about mental health research.
- Refresh NIMH’s Facebook or Twitter feeds at 2 p.m. ET on September 23rd to watch the livestream discussion.
Note: The experts cannot provide specific medical advice or referrals. Please consult with a qualified health care provider for diagnosis, treatment, and answers to your personal questions. If you need help finding a provider, visit www.nimh.nih.gov/findhelp. If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255); En Español 1-888-628-9454.
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Addressing the Crisis of Black Youth Suicide
Each September, people in the U.S. and around the world observe Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a time to help raise awareness and share information about this important public health concern. As director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), I have made suicide prevention one of my top priorities, and although I have written about suicide in the past, I wanted to revisit this topic to bring attention to this critical area of concern.
One often overlooked aspect of the rising rates of suicide in the U.S. is its impact on youth — and in particular, its impact on Black youth. Black people face increased rates of risk factors, including experiences of racism, higher rates of unemployment and financial and food insecurity, disparities in other aspects of health, and limited access to care, all of which result in an increased burden of mental illness in black communities. Despite this heavy burden, Black people and individuals in other racial and ethnic minority groups have historically had relatively low rates of suicide. But this has been changing recently, especially for Black youth. As of 2018, suicide became the second leading cause of death in Black children aged 10-14, and the third leading cause of death in Black adolescents aged 15-19. By combining data from 2001 to 2015, researchers were able to examine suicides among children ages 12 and younger and found that Black children were more likely to die by suicide than their White peers.
This crisis of Black youth suicide is beginning to receive the attention it deserves. Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) and the Congressional Black Caucus deserve credit for raising awareness of the issue and for establishing the Emergence Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health. Their report, Ring the Alarm: The Crisis of Black Youth Suicide in America, was released in December 2019. This report describes key research findings related to suicide among Black youth. Most importantly, it provides research, policy, and practice recommendations to address this issue, such as improving research funding of minority scientists and increasing funding of research focused on Black youth suicide and Black youth mental health.
More research is needed on how suicide risk develops among Black youth, and how it can be best prevented. Significant questions remain in terms of understanding and predicting suicide risk among Black youth — while some risk factors have been well-researched and are clear (e.g., gender, victim of bullying and bullying others, LGBTQ+ discrimination, exposure to trauma, racial discrimination), there are other risk factors that are less clear. For example, some research suggests that Black adolescents who have contemplated or attempted suicide are less likely to have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Another significant risk factor is access to firearms — research points to higher rates of Black youth mortality due to firearms compared to other racial/ethnic groups — which is why we’re supporting infrastructure to improve research on firearm safety for youth.
One factor that may be contributing to increases in the risk of suicide in Black youth may be disparities in access to mental health services. Black youth continue to be less likely to receive mental health treatment for depression when needed, compared to White youth. Rates of engagement in and completion of treatments for depression are lower for Black adolescents (compared to White adolescents), often due to negative perceptions of services and providers and reluctance to acknowledge symptoms. Black youth are also significantly less likely than White youth to receive outpatient treatment even after a suicide attempt.
The good news is that NIMH-funded research has begun to point the way towards better risk identification and effective interventions that can help reverse these trends. Implementing universal screening for suicide risk using the Ask Suicide-Screening Questions toolkit, developed by investigators in the NIMH Intramural Research Program, can identify youth at risk, including Black youth. And, targeted efforts such as school-based mental health clinics can improve engagement in mental health care among Black youth with depression.
Nonetheless, we need considerably more research focused on solutions for Black children and adolescents if we are to truly make a difference for those in need. Accordingly, NIMH continues to expand opportunities for scientists interested in studying these issues, as articulated in our recent Notice of Special Interest (NOSI) in Research on Risk and Prevention of Black Youth Suicide. Other initiatives, including a call to establish Practice-Based Suicide Prevention Research Centers, though broader, are also designed to support work in minority communities and address disparities that affect Black youth. And we continue to look for additional opportunities to support science aimed at addressing this crisis. Black youths’ lives matter, and NIMH research must be aimed at saving lives and alleviating suffering in Black communities in need.
Breland-Noble, A. M., & AAKOMA Project Adult Advisory Board (2012). Community and treatment engagement for depressed African American youth: the AAKOMA FLOA pilot. Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings, 19(1), 41–48. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10880-011-9281-0
Bridge, J. A., Horowitz, L. M., Fontanella, C. A., Sheftall, A. H., Greenhouse, J., Kelleher, K. J., & Campo, J. V. (2018). Age-related racial disparity in suicide rates among US youths from 2001 through 2015. JAMA Pediatrics, 172(7), 697–699. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.0399
Cummings, J. R., Ji, X., Lally, C., & Druss, B. G. (2019). Racial and ethnic differences in minimally adequate depression care among Medicaid-enrolled youth. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 58(1), 128–138. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2018.04.025
DeVylder, J. E., Ryan, T. C., Cwik, M., Wilson, M. E., Jay, S., Nestadt, P. S., Goldstein, M., & Wilcox, H. C. (2019). Assessment of selective and universal screening for suicide risk in a pediatric emergency department. JAMA Network Open, 2(10), e1914070. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.14070
Fowler, K. A., Dahlberg, L. L., Haileyesus, T., Gutierrez, C., & Bacon, S. (2017). Childhood firearm injuries in the United States. Pediatrics, 140(1), e20163486. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-3486
Joe, S., Baser, R. S., Neighbors, H. W., Caldwell, C. H., & Jackson, J. S. (2009). 12-month and lifetime prevalence of suicide attempts among black adolescents in the national survey of American life. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 48(3), 271–282. https://doi.org/10.1097/CHI.0b013e318195bccf
Lindsey, M. A., Chambers, K., Pohle, C., Beall, P., & Lucksted, A. (2013). Understanding the behavioral determinants of mental health service use by urban, under-resourced black youth: Adolescent and caregiver perspectives. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 22(1), 107–121. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-012-9668-z
Musci, R. J., Hart, S. R., Ballard, E. D., Newcomer, A., Van Eck, K., Ialongo, N., & Wilcox, H. (2016). Trajectories of suicidal ideation from sixth through tenth grades in predicting suicide attempts in young adulthood in an urban African American cohort. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 46(3), 255–265. https://doi.org/10.1111/sltb.12191
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