Vitamin B: Health Benefits Backed by Science

Part 2 of the Senior Healthcare Advisors Health Information Series on Vitamins

By Dr. Marilyn Fieldf : Senior Healthcare Advisors

***All B vitamins are water soluble, meaning the body does not store them. Water-soluble vitamins are carried through the bloodstream, and whatever is not needed passes out of the body in urine***

Good health is tied to good nutrition, as well as treatment and prevention of many conditions. Taking the right recommended dosage of vitamins every day is a key component of the nutrition equations, and B vitamins are imperative for preventive healthcare. 

Abundant in meats, enriched grains, dairy, and green vegetables, B vitamins are linked to lowering your risk of stroke and promoting a healthy metabolism, as backed by evidence in scientific research.

B vitamins play a crucial role in maintaining healthy hair and skin while playing a big role  in balancing your metabolism. Research on B vitamins revealed a lower incidence of stroke (September 2013 issue of the clinical journal Neurology).

Whole grains are a good source of several B vitamins. Include whole grains in your diet like oats, wheat, barley, rice, maize and rye. They provide you with carbohydrates, which the body uses for energy. The outermost portion of the grain, the bran and the germ contains the majority of the vitamins and minerals.

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)

The Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin B1 for seniors is 1.2 mg daily, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Thiamine (B1) is referred to as the “anti-stress” vitamin because it increases the body’s ability to hold-steady during stressful situations. A review of the literature regarding B1 vitamin revealed its potential to strengthen the immune system.

Thiamine is called the B1 vitamin because it was the first B vitamin to be discovered. 

Thiamine is found in both plants and animals. It plays an important role in your body’s ability to form adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is then used for energy.

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) plays an essential role in metabolizing food into energy.

B1 is found in

  • Beans
  • Yeast
  • Whole-grain cereals
  • Meats
  • Nuts 

Vitamin B1 Deficiency

While a B1 deficiency is rare, people with Crohn disease, alcoholics, anorexics, and those on kidney dialysis may be deficient.

Symptoms of thiamine deficiency are:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Abdominal discomfort

People suffering with a B1 (thiamine) deficiency also have trouble digesting carbohydrates. This causes a fluid called pyruvic acid to build up in the bloodstream, leading to a loss of mental alertness, difficulty breathing, and heart damage. Heart damage caused by a Vitamin B1 deficiency is a disease known as beriberi.

Beriberi affects the nervous system, heart, and digestive system. Beriberi is found in Seniors who are heavy drinkers of alcohol and those who are malnourished.

Symptoms of Beriberi include:

  • Loss of sensation in feet and hands
  • Difficulty walking
  • Paralysis of the lower extremities
  • Possible congestive heart failure

***People who consume large amounts of alcohol should take a Vitamin B complex supplement to be sure they get enough B1.***

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

Recommended daily allowances of B2 are 1.3 mg a day for men and 1.1 mg a day for women.

Vitamin B2 boosts the Immune System

Eating a diet rich in vitamin B2 is important to avoid riboflavin deficiency. B2 comes from natural sources such as meat, dairy, nuts, and green vegetables.  

Riboflavin helps your body break down and use the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, by turning them into energy.

B2 also works to keep your blood cells, your skin, and the lining of your gut healthy. Consuming enough vitamin B2, according to research studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health, may prevent migraine headaches, cataracts, treat acne, boost your immune system, muscle cramps, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) also works as an antioxidant, fighting off free radicals (damaging particles in your body). Free radicals may add to the aging process; they can damage DNA and other cells. Free radicals can contribute to cancer and heart disease.

This very important vitamin 2, Riboflavin, fights against a number of health conditions. They work towards ridding the body of free radicals

Antioxidants, such as riboflavin, can fight free radicals and may reduce or help prevent some of the damage they cause.

Riboflavin is also needed to help the body change vitamin B6 and folate into energy forms it can use. It is also important for growth and red blood cell production.

Vitamin B3 (niacin)

Vitamin B3 (Niacin) recommended daily allowance (RDA):

  • Men ages 14 years and older: 16 mg NE/day
  • Women ages 14 years and older: 14 mg NE/day

B3 (Niacin) is an important nutrient. In fact, each part of your body needs it to function properly. When taken as a supplement vitamin B3 can help to ease arthritis, lower cholesterol, boost brain function, and benefit your health in many other ways. 

There are two main chemical forms of niacin:

  • Nicotinic
  • acid niacinamide (sometimes called nicotinamide)

Both forms are found in the following foods:

  • Red meat: beef, beef liver, pork.
  • Poultry.
  • Fish.
  • Brown rice.
  • Fortified cereals and breads.
  • Nuts, seeds.
  • Legumes.
  • Bananas

The primary purpose of niacin in your body is to synthesize the coenzymes that are related to obtaining energy from the food you eat.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin) deficiency causes the following symptoms:

  • skin rash or discoloration
  • bright red tongue
  • vomiting
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • depression
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • memory loss
  • loss of appetite

Vitamin B3 deficiency is very rare in the United States. People who are malnourished and/or suffer from HIV/AIDS, anorexia nervosa, liver failure, alcohol abuse, or other medical problems, or poverty — are most at risk.

Vitamin B4 (Adenine)

Vitamin B4 (Adenine) is known for the role it plays in speeding up the process by which energy is manufactured in our body.  “Without vitamin B4, cell formation and the healthy development of our body tissues would likely be impaired; along with that, our immune system could possibly be compromised, hindering the ability of our body to fight off viruses and infections”, according to Laurie Goldman, who is a medical doctor, psychiatrist, and functional medicine practitioner for Clearpath Wellness.

It also plays an important role in helping to maintain your body’s sugar levels, stops the degeneration of cell mutation, and wards off free radical activity, hence, possibly slowing down the aging process by helping us to maintain our energy levels. 

Foods full of vitamin B4 should be a part of your everyday diet to lower your chances of getting a Vitamin B4 deficiency. Here are some of the food sources high in Vitamin B4 (Adenine).

 Food Sources:

  • Fresh fruit
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Cloves
  • Thyme
  • Ginger
  • Spearmint
  • Jojoba
  • Hawthorne
  • Blessed thistle
  • Raw unprocessed honey

Vitamin B4 can also help alleviate certain health issues like:

  • Insomnia
  • Anemia
  • Headache
  • High cholesterol
  • Wrinkles
  • Indigestion
  • Gallstones
  • Acne, and others

Vitamin B4 deficiency symptoms:

  • Skin disorders
  • Blood disorders
  • Vertigo
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Depressed mood

Cloves have been used for thousands of years in China and in India, not only as a spice but also as a medicine. Cloves are rich in vitamin B4, which when eaten can decrease nausea and prevent diabetes.

Strawberries are loaded with Vitamin B4 and have important antioxidants that have the power to boost up your health. Amazingly, they help you to maintain a healthy blood pressure, improve your eye vision, maintain a proper brain function, relieve you from arthritis and various cardiovascular diseases. So, to prevent vitamin B4 deficiency, eat strawberries more often.

Caraway seeds, also known as jeera, are a rich source of vitamin B4 and contain excellent sources of minerals such as iron, copper, calcium, potassium, manganese and magnesium.

You know the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away?” Apples have a lot of vitamin B4,vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6 and riboflavin, along with minerals. The fruit can prevent Alzheimer’s disease, stomach problems, constipation, diabetes and liver disorders. No wonder the saying goes!!

Delicious ginger also contains vitamin B4. Did you know, ginger is the most widely used dietary condiment in the world? Ginger also contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that has the ability to prevent stroke, indigestion, nausea, boost immunity function, and prevent bacterial infections.

Without vitamin B4, our immune system and the healthy development of our cells and tissues would most likely be imparied. If our immune system is not at its optimal performance, our body’s ability to fight off infections and viruses would be compromised. Vitamin B4 also helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels, thereby hindering the activity of free radicals, thereby slowing down the aging process.

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)

Recommended Daily Allowance for Vitamin B5: Seniors 5 mg

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid) is crucial to our body’s manufacturing of red blood cells, as well as sex and stress related hormones. Vitamin B5 also plays an important role in keeping a healthy digestive tract, and it aids the body’s use of other vitamins, especially B2 (riboflavin).

New studies say that Vitamin B5 may lower inflammation because of its antioxidant effect.

B5 is often referred to as the Anti-Stress Vitamin! Studies are now in the works to see if Vitamin B5 helps to lower cholesterol.

Food Sources

  • Cauliflower
  • Tomatoes
  • Avocado
  • Lentils
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Kale
  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Corn
  • Legumes
  • Duck
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Soybeans
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Split peas
  • Salmon
  • Wheat germ

A Vitamin B5 deficiency is rare, but if it does occur, symptoms such as depression, vomiting, fatigue, insomnia, stomach pains, burning feet, irritability, and upper respiration can happen.

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is essential for maintaining your nervous system and your immune system functioning properly. You can get enough vitamin B6 if you eat the following foods:

  • Fish
  • Chickpeas
  • Potatoes
  • Bananas
  • Poultry

However some illnesses, such as malabsorption syndromes and kidney disease, can cause vitamin B6 deficiency. B6 deficiency can lower your red blood cell count, which is responsible for carrying oxygen to tissues throughout your body.

Symptoms of Vitamin B6 deficiency include:

  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Weakened immune system
  • Mood swings

Vitamin B6 deficiency is very rare however, taking too much vitamin B6 from supplements can cause:

  • A lack of muscle control or coordination of voluntary movements (ataxia)
  • Painful, disfiguring skin lesions
  • Heartburn and nausea
  • Sensitivity to sunlight (photosensitivity)
  • Numbness
  • Reduced ability to sense pain or extreme temperatures

You can take Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) in the form of a multivitamin. Your body absorbs Vitamin B6 supplements similarly to how it does food sources and then quickly eliminates it when you urinate.

Vitamin B7 (Biotin)

Adequate intake of Vitamin B7 for Seniors is 30 micrograms daily.

You probably know Vitamin B7 by its popular name Biotin. Biotin plays an essential role in assisting the body’s enzymes to break down fats, carbohydrates, and proteins in the food you eat. Studies are promising with biotin being able to reduce nerve damage for those suffering with neuropathy, as well as for those who have diabetes.

Food Sources

A biotin deficiency can lead to skin and nail problems, as well as hair loss. ***Alcoholism can increase the risk of biotin deficiency and many other nutrients as alcohol can block their absorption, and also because alcohol abuse is generally associated with a poor dietary intake.

Symptoms appearing with a biotin deficiency:

  • Thinning hair
  • Scaly skin rashes around eyes, nose, mouth
  • Brittle

Vitamin B8 (Inositol)

“Researchers have studied the benefits of doses up to 18 grams per day with promising results and few side effects”.

Some research studies suggest that taking an Inositol supplement can be beneficial to your health.

What is Inositol – vitamin B8?

Although commonly referred to as inositol, it is not really a vitamin. It is a sugar with many important functions. Therefore, it affects the action of insulin. Furthermore, it impacts chemicals in the brain that transmit information such as dopamine and serotonin. Both of which affect the mood you are in.

Most interesting is the fact that scientists, who study mood disorders, have found that some individuals with anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder have lower amounts of inositol in their brain to begin with, according to Dr. Marilyn Field, Research writer for Senior Healthcare Advisors, 2022.

Some studies about Vitamin B8 (Inositol) revealed that Vitamin B6 may have the potential for an alternative treatment for depression, anxiety, panic attacks and bipolar disorder. And, it seems to have much fewer, if any, side effects than traditional medications.  

Food Sources

  • Beans
  • Fresh fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts
  • Vegetables

Side Effects

Most reports about inositol supplements revealed that inositol is well tolerated by everyone. However, some surveys have shown that those taking more than 12 grams of Vitamin B8 have mild side effects that include nausea, bloating, trouble sleeping, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.

Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) started requiring manufacturers to add Vitamin B9 (Folic acid) to enriched flours, breads, pasta, cornmeal, rice, and other grain products in 1998.

Your physician can run tests to determine if you are lacking in one or more of the B vitamins and may prescribe a Vitamin B complex supplement. Sometimes even when you are taking a B vitamin supplement, a balanced diet is still important to avoid a B vitamin deficiency and reap the health benefits of these important vitamins.

Folate is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9

Folic acid is a synthetic form of vitamin B9 that’s also known as pteroylmonoglutamic acid. Good luck trying to say that!

The recommended daily amount of folate (B9) for Seniors is 400 micrograms (mcg).

Vitamin B9 (Folate/Folic Acid) is highly involved in mood management. Research results show those with depression have lower levels of Vitamin B9 (Folate).

Folate is found in:

  • Beans (and other legumes)
  • Peanuts
  • Vegetables
  • Citrus fruits
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Lemons
  • Bananas
  • Strawberries
  • Lemons
  • Orange

Eating foods that lack folate or folic acid can lead to a folate deficiency.  Also, those who suffer from celiac disease (malabsorption syndromes) are at risk for folate deficiency.

Taking just one of the B vitamins can lead to an imbalance of other important vitamins. If this is you, you may want to take a B-complex vitamin (includes all of the B vitamins).

Vitamin B10 (PABA)

Vitamin B10, also known as Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), is an organic compound found in certain foods and produced by the chemical industry.

Vitamin B10 (or vitamin Bx) is an alternative name for the organic compound PABA, a white crystalline substance.

PABA assists in the production of folate (vitamin B9). However, the amount of folate your body produces is not enough to meet your needs, so you need to get it from food sources. (See Folate page 12). It’s considered part of the vitamin B complex

Food Sources

  • Organ Meat
  • Whole grains
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Mushrooms
  • Spinach

Vitamin 11 (Salicylic Acid)

The daily recommendation for vitamin B11 is 300 micrograms for adults.

Vitamin B11 is essential for growth, for the production of red and white blood cells, and for proper functioning of the body.

Vitamin B11 has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving benefits

B11 Vitamin (Salicylic Acid) is involved with metabolizing fats and proteins. It is also important for the production of red blood cells.

This vitamin has been linked to various other benefits as well:

  • Involved in the creation of DNA and RNA
  • Increases production of breast milk
  • Helps increase the desire to eat for those with a loss of appetite
  • Acts as a painkiller
  • Boosts immunity in children
  • Aids in the fight against cancer
  • While browsing skin lotions, you may notice certain brands advertise that they have salicylic as an ingredient, this is vitamin B11, which helps to exfoliate and remove excess skin.
  • Another way vitamin B11 helps keep your skin healthy is by preventing acne. When used as a lotion, salicylic acid makes its way deep into your pores to clean out any clogged dirt and debris. Furthermore, this vitamin helps improve blood flow which helps clear pimples more quickly.
  • Vitamin B11 in accompany by vitamin B12 take part in the formation of RNA and DNA,
  • It is also necessary for the growth and the formation of tissues of the body.
  • Vitamin B11 is extremely essential and plays a role in the formation of the brain and the spinal cord in the fetus during embryogenesis.
  • DNA and RNA synthesis
  • Cell division
  • Development of the fetus nervous system
  • This vitamin is also an important element of the red blood bodies and blood plasma.
  • Salicylic acid is used in the manufactures of certain creams for treating acne. It acts to correct the faulty desquamation function of the skin causing new growth off skin earlier while sloughing off the dead skin. It is found to penetrate the follicles, therefore, it is good and beneficial in the treatment of acne.
  • Salicylic acid is also beneficial in the treatment of psoriasis, corns, dandruff, calluses, warts, and many more skin diseases

Food Sources

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cucumber
  • Mushrooms
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Zucchini
  • Eggplant
  • Peppers
  • molasses
  • eggs
  • yogurt
  • wheat germ

Salicylic Acid Deficiency

A B11 or Salicylic Acid deficiency can arise from excessive use of alcohol, and can lead to fatigue, intestinal disorders, and anemia. You can supplement or treat the deficiency by eating the food sources listed above, especially green leafy vegetables.  

Salicylic Acid (Vitamin B11) Deficiency Symptoms

  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Lower Immunity
  • Some types of cardiac conditions
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Growth Retardation
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Also seen feathering in chicks
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Impaired growth in children

Vitamin B12

Do you get enough vitamin B12?

Recommended Daily Intake: Adults: 2.4 mcg

In order to stay healthy, you’ll want to make sure you get enough Vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 helps your body make your DNA and your red blood cells, for example.

Various cells in your body need vitamin B12, including glial cells (protects your nerves) and red blood cells. But, the human body does not produce Vitamin B12 on its own, therefore, you’ll have to get it from supplements or animal based sources. And you will need to do that on a regular basis. Your liver stores Vitamin B12 for up to five years. You still can eventually become deficient if your diet does not help maintain sufficient levels.

Vitamin B12 (remember Vitamin B is a water soluble vitamin) plays an important role in nerve function, the formation of red blood cells, and the production of DNA. You will get a lot of the benefits supplied by vitamin B12 if you eat a balanced diet, however, some seniors’, some medications, vegan or vegetarian dieters, and those with GI disorders, are at risk of having a B12 deficiency.

Food Sources

  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Meat
  • Poultry

**Seniors in general lack adequate B12**

**Older adults who have a vitamin B12 deficiency will likely have to take a daily B12 supplement, a multivitamin that contains B12, or a B12 injection**

Signs of vitamin B12 deficiency include:

  • Anemia
  • Confusion
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Difficulty maintaining balance
  • Fatigue
  • Intestinal problems
  • Mood disturbances
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
  • Poor memory
  • Soreness of the mouth or tongue

GETTING THE VITAMIN B12 SHOT

If you are over the age of 65 are particularly at risk of having a Vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 is stored in the liver and plays a major role in cognitive functioning, among other things. Research studies revealed a significant decline in cognitive performance for seniors who are lacking in Vitamin B12. The way to know if you have a B12 deficiency is by talking to your doctor about taking a blood test. Treatment usually means getting a B12 injection, ingesting B12 supplements, or changing your diet to eat more foods rich in vitamin B12.

Subcutaneous B12 shots are very safe, and very easy to self-administer.

Most people in the U.S. get enough of this nutrient. If you’re not sure, you can ask your doctor if you should get a blood test to check your vitamin B12 level.

With age, it can become harder to absorb this vitamin. It can also happen if you have had weight loss surgery or another operation that removed part of your stomach, or if you drink alcohol heavily.

You may also be more likely to develop vitamin B12 deficiency if you have:

  1. Atrophic gastritis, in which your stomach lining has thinned
  • Pernicious anemia, which makes it hard for your body to absorb vitamin B12
  • Conditions that affect your small intestine, such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, bacterial growth, or a parasite
  • Alcohol misuse or heavy drinking can make it harder for your body to absorb nutrients or prevent you from eating enough calories. One sign that you lack enough B12 may be glossitis.
  1. What is glossitis? Glossitis is a swelling or inflammation of the tongue.
  • Immune system disorders, such as Graves’ disease or lupus
  • Been taking certain medications that interfere with the absorption of B12. This includes some heartburn medicines including proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Prilosec OTC), pantoprazole (Protonix), and rabeprazole (Aciphex), H2 Blockers such as cimetidine (Tagamet) and famotidine (Pepcid AC); and certain diabetes medicines such as metformin (Glucophage).

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