Vitamin B, often referred to as the B-complex, is the biggest and most varied family of vitamins. It also comes off sometimes as—dare we say it?—a little dull.
The B-complex has an unheralded-workhorse reputation attached to it, without the research sizzle that surrounds nutrients such as, say, vitamin D.
But just because vitamin B isn’t constantly under the media spotlight doesn’t make it insignificant. In fact, life as we know it would come to a screeching halt without this big family of interrelated compounds that play roles in everything from energy production to brain health.Americans are more likely to be deficient in some B vitamins more than others. For example, a federal survey found that up to 20% may have a borderline B12 deficiency. Click To Tweet
The most notable sign of overall B depletion is fatigue. But low levels of specific Bs can produce all sorts of symptoms, including mood problems.
Good Sources: Almonds, carrots, eggs, oats, onions, peanuts, salmon, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, walnuts
What It Does: Promotes the activity of enzymes, substances that help speed up biochemical reactions; plays a role in maintaining healthy blood sugar balance; often taken to strengthen nails and hair
Good Sources: Beef, chicken, cod, collard greens, eggs, salmon, scallops, shrimp, tuna, turkey
What It Does: Needed for healthy cell membranes; linked to better memory and focus; has been identified as a nutrient many Americans have suboptimal levels of
Good Sources: Beef, cod, cow’s milk, lamb, salmon, sardines, scallops, shrimp, tuna, yogurt
What It Does: Works with folic acid and pyridoxine to reduce levels of a harmful substance called homocysteine; crucial for brain health; age can lower absorption; vegan diets often provide inadequate amounts
Folic Acid (B9)
Good Sources: Asparagus, beans (dried), broccoli, lentils, spinach, turnip greens
What It Does: Long recommended during pregnancy to reduce birth defect risk; supports red blood cell creation and cardiovascular health; smoking and excessive alcohol intake linked to low levels
Good Sources: Beans (dried), blackberries, bran flakes, cherries (dark), kiwis, limes, oranges, prunes, rutabagas, stone-ground wheat
What It Does: Deficiencies have been linked to depression; plays a role in glucose metabolism; may help women with polycystic ovary syndrome
Good Sources: Beef, brown rice, chicken, lamb, peanuts, salmon, sardines, shrimp, tuna, turkey
What It Does: Promotes energy production by converting carbs, fats and proteins into usable forms; can reduce cholesterol when used in practitioner-supervised dosages
Good Sources: Brewer’s yeast, molasses, organ meats, wheat germ; smaller amounts in bran, mushrooms, spinach
What It Does: Aids in red blood cell formation; helps the body utilize amino acids; crucial for healthy skin and hair pigmentation; supports intestinal health
Pantothenic Acid (B5)
Good Sources: Avocados, broccoli, chicken, lentils, mushrooms (crimini and shiitake), peas (dried), sweet potatoes, turkey, yogurt
What It Does: Required to create coenzyme A, which is essential for energy production; plays a vital role in the body’s usage of fats
Good Sources: Bananas, beef, chicken, potatoes, salmon, spinach, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, tuna, turkey
What It Does: Supports brain and liver health; needed for red blood cell production; promotes proper carb metabolism; deficiency has been linked to cognitive difficulties
Riboflavin (B2 )
Good Sources: Almonds, asparagus, beet greens, soybeans, spinach, turkey, yogurt
What It Does: Acts as an antioxidant by fighting cell-damaging molecules called free radicals; required for proper iron metabolism; promotes energy production
Good Sources: Barley, beans and peas (dried), lentils, lima beans, oats, sunflower seeds
What It Does: Supports nervous system health; plays a role in energy generation; levels tend to be low in people with diabetes; can be destroyed by food processing; excessive alcohol intake linked to deficiency
*A vitamin-like compound related to the B-complex.
NOTE: Always consult with your healthcare practitioner for help in designing a supplementation program, especially if you have a pre-existing condition.