Vitamin B- Complex or Not?

Nutritional supplements seem to be becoming more popular these days as people are trying to work toward healthier lifestyles.   Vitamin B helps our bodies process energy from the foods we eat. There are several B vitamins, including: B1 (thiamine); B2 (riboflavin); B3 (niacin); B5 (pantothenic acid); B6 (pyridoxine); B7 (biotin); B9 (folic acid); and B12 (cyanocobalamin, methylcobalamin). Each of these vitamins plays an important role in bodily processes important for proper functioning. Deficiencies of some of these may lead to the development of certain diseases and problems, such as birth defects; memory loss; depression; heart disease; anemia; fatigue; cracked lips; chest pains; sleep problems; and headaches.    Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to the development of anemia. Risk factors or Vitamin B deficiencies include alcoholism; following a vegetarian diet; poor nutrition in general; aging; high stress; anemia; and pregnancy. Below is a breakdown of the various B vitamins and their functions as well as recommended daily amounts and signs/symptoms of deficiency and/or toxicity:


B1 (thiamine)

Function: Responsible for carbohydrate, fat, amino acid, and glucose metabolism; nerve and heart function. Helps with appetite regulation and boosts energy.

Recommended daily intake: 0.2-1.4 mg per day depending on sex, age, and individual factors

Deficiency: peripheral neuropathy, heart failure


B2 (riboflavin)

Function: Plays a role in carbohydrate and fat metabolism; helps maintain the integrity of mucus membranes

Recommended daily intake: 0.3-1.6 mg per day depending on sex, age, and individual factors

Deficiency: potential stomach and eye problems


B3 (niacin)

Function: Responsible for cell and carbohydrate metabolism

Recommended daily intake: 2-35 mg per day depending on sex, age, and individual factors

Deficiency: nervous system and gastrointestinal dysfunction

Toxicity: flushing, hepatotoxicity


B5 (pantothenic acid)

Function: Helps with food metabolism and nervous system regulation

Recommended daily intake: 5 mg/day

Deficiency: Isolated deficiency is very rare


B6 (pyridoxine)

Function: Responsible for fatty acid, lipid, and amino acid metabolism

Recommended daily intake: 0.1-2 mg per day depending on sex, age, and individual factors; do not exceed 100 mg per day

Deficiency: anemia, seizures, neuropathies, dermatitis

Toxicity: peripheral neuropathy


B7 (biotin)

Function: Contributes to healthy hair, skin, and nails

Recommended daily intake: 30 mcg/day

Deficiency: Isolated deficiency is very rare


B9 (folic acid)

Function: Contributes to a healthy nervous system for fetuses; contributes to maturation of red blood cells

Recommended daily intake: 65-500 mcg/day depending on sex, age, and individual factors

600 mcg/day recommended for pregnant women; and 500 mcg/day for breastfeeding women

Do not exceed 1,000 mcg/day

Deficiency: diarrhea, depression; deficiency in pregnant women may lead to fetal neurologic and brain deficits


B12 (cobalamins)

Function: Contributes to nerve function, maturation of red blood cells

Recommended daily intake: 0.4-2.8 mg per day depending on sex, age, and individual factors

Deficiency: anemia; neurologic deficits (confusion)


Since there are eight B vitamins important to bodily functions and overall health, there are B complex formulations available that provide a comprehensive formula for overall health and well being. When choosing a B complex supplement (or any nutritional supplement), it is important to find a good quality supplement and know the potential risks associated with their use.   A consult with your health care professional (including pharmacists) is a good way to get help with this. Certain B vitamins may interact with prescription medications. For example the use of aspirin with niacin may increase the risk of skin flushing; use of alcohol may also increase this risk.

Therefore it is important to discuss with your pharmacist or health care provider the significance of potential drug interactions.


Our bodies to do not produce extra vitamins; therefore it is important to either use supplements or ensure proper intake from foods, particularly if deficiency is a concern.    Good sources of B vitamins include green, leafy vegetables, organ meats, red meats, pork, nuts, legumes, milk, cheese, and many others.   Here is a good recipe that I use regularly for lunches that provides good sources of B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, and B12 and is delicious (taken from


Kale, Barley, and Feta Salad with Honey-Lemon Vinaigrette:

¼ cup uncooked barley (just over 1 cup cooked)

4 cups loosely packed kale

1/3 cup crumbled feta

1 cup chickpeas

1 avocado, cubed (leave out until just before serving)

2-3 tablespoons sunflower seeds

2 tablespoons red onion, finely diced



2 TB olive oil

2 TB white wine vinegar

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

½ tsp lemon zest (I just use the juice)

2 tsp honey


Cook barley according to package instructions; let cool. While the barley is cooking, whisk together the ingredients for the vinaigrette and toss it with the kale. Make sure all of the kale gets some vinaigrette to remove some the bitterness of the kale. Once the barley is cool, toss it with the kale/vinaigrette and remaining ingredients; add the avocado right before serving.


Stephanie Hunziker, PharmD



  1. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Vitamin B  [Internet]. Available at: Accessed February 1, 2016
  2. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary supplements: what you need to know. Available at:   Accessed February 2, 2016.
  3. Merck Manual Professional Version. Overview of Vitamins. [Internet]. Available at: Accessed February 22, 2016.
  4. Health benefits and uses of vitamin B complex on the body. [Internet]. Available at: Accessed February 23, 2016.
  5. 12 Energy-Boosting Recipes Rich in Vitamin B. [Internet]. Available at: Accessed February 24, 2016.

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