B Vitamins

B Vitamins are also known collectively as the 'vitamin B complex'. They are a group of water-soluble vitamins, some of which are better known by other names. The other water-soluble vitamin is vitamin C.

What is a vitamin ?

A vitamin is an organic compound required (in very small amounts) by the body in order to maintain good health.

Vitamins in the News:

Most vitamins (with the exception of vitamin D) cannot be synthesized, i.e. produced, within the body in sufficient amounts for good health and so must be included in dietary (food) intake. Alternatively, many vitamins can also be taken in the form of supplements e.g. as tablets, capsules or solutions - formed by dissolving a soluble tablet in water. Vitamins are an essential part of a balanced diet.

Knowledge of the main vitamins and minerals required by the human body is required by many courses in human biology and related health science subjects. This is important information because insufficient intake of specific vitamin(s) can lead to specific diseases associated with deficiency of that particular vitamin. In many (but not all) cases, excessive intake of specific vitamins can also lead to specific diseases.

B Vitamins may seem more complicated to study than other vitamins because:

  • There are many different B vitamins.
  • Some B vitamins are better known by other names.
  • The names by which some B vitamins are known have changed - so some B vitamins are (or have been) known by several different names, some the which are listed below.

Other names for B Vitamins

B Vitamin
Other Names
Brief Notes

Vitamin B1

  • thiamin
  • thiamine
  • formerly known as aneurine

Dietary deficiency is rare because vitamin B1 is found in many foods. Food processing and esp. high temperatures can destroy vitamin B1.

Vitamin B2

  • riboflavin

Vitamin B2 deficiency is rare and most likely to affect the elderly or alcoholics. Not generally considered toxic in excessive amounts. Vitamin B2 dissolves in cooking liquids, is not destroyed by heat, but is destroyed by ultraviolet light incl. e.g. sunlight.

Vitamin B3

  • niacin
  • nicotinic acid

Beneficial for various health issues. Widely used to support mental and emotional imbalances.

(Vitamin B4)

  • adenine

Acts as a co-enzyme with other substances, incl. e.g. other vitamins, to produce energy, but is not included among the "main" (most widely studied) B vitamins. Detailed information about vitamin B4 often focusses on its biochemical properties and reactions, i.e. its role in metabolism.

Vitamin B5

  • pantothenic acid
  • pantothenate

Available in many foods. Name derived from the Greek "panthos" meaning "everywhere". It's active form is a component of coenzyme A. Severe deficiency is rare but may lead to "burning foot syndrome".

Vitamin B6

  • pyridoxine
  • pyridoxal
  • pyridoxamine

Has many functions and is sometimes taken as a supplement to alleviate symptoms of female issues such as PMS and the menpause. There are several forms of vitamin B6. The 3 forms listed on the left are precursors of the "active form" coenzyme pyridoxal phosphate (PLP), also known as pyridoxal 5'-phosphate.

Vitamin B7

  • biotin
  • coenzyme R
  • vitamin H

Helps with the absorption of other B vitamins, also said to support healthy skin, hair and fingernails. Involved in many metabolic processes e.g. coenzyme in carboxylation reactions. Many sources and is usually also produced within the body by intestinal bacteria.

(Vitamin B8)

  • inositol

Although myo-inositol was widely included in the vitamin B complex, it is not considered an essential nutrient because the human body can produce it (from glucose), usually in sufficient amounts for good health.

Vitamin B9

  • folic acid
  • folate

Probably best known for its importance in pre-conception and pregnancy. Folate deficiency in pregnancy can lead to birth defects so supplementation is common.

Vitamin B12

  • cobalamin
  • cyanocobalamin

Often mentioned re. vegetarian and especially vegan diets because food sources of vitamin B12 come from animals (incl. diary products), hence concern about deficiency in vegans. Deficiency can lead to pernicious anaemia, problems with the nervous system and tongue infections.

For further information about specific B Vitamins click on the links to pages about the individual B Vitamins.

In the News:

No significant benefit from routine use of antibiotics for malnourished children - 8 Feb '16

AMA endorses 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines (USA) - 8 Jan '16

Eating peanut during infancy can prevent development of peanut allergy - 24 Feb '15

Food products free of colourings associated with hyperactivity (UK) - 2 Apr '14

Humanitarian supplies reach remote areas of South Sudan - 28 Mar '14

Goats' milk formula not the answer for infants allergic to cows' milk - 27 Mar '14

Updated FDA rules for infant formula to maintain quality standards - 6 Feb '14

Mediterranean diet linked with lower risk of heart disease - 4 Feb '14

In the Old Testament Jacob dreamed of angels ascending and descending a fiery ladder (Genesis 28).

This is not medical, First Aid or other advice and is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment. Consult an expert in person. Care has been taken when compiling this page but accuracy cannot be guaranteed. This material is copyright.

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