The B vitamins are amongst the most important vitamins. Like the A vitamins, there are eight different B vitamins, each with its own chemistry and function in the body.
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The B vitamins are:
- Thiamine (B1)
- Riboflavin (B2)
- Niacin (B3)
- Pantothenic acid (B5)
- Pyridoxine, pyridoxal, pyridoxamine, or pyridoxine hydrochloride (B6)
- Biotin (B7)
- Folate/folic acid (B9)
- Cobalamin (B12)
The B vitamins perform a wide range of important functions throughout our bodies, such as maintaining the immune system, nervous system and brain, as well as keeping our blood cells and skin healthy. Furthermore:
- vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5 and B7 participate in releasing the energy found in the food (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) you eat;
- vitamin B6 helps the body break down proteins and converts amino acids;
- vitamins B9 and B12 are most involved in helping cells multiply.
All B vitamins are water soluble and, apart from vitamin B12, are generally easily absorbed and excreted. Since they are not extensively stored in tissues we seldom have concerns about accumulating toxic levels. Vitamin B12 is primarily stored in the liver and excreted when the store is adequate.
Whole grains are a source of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5 and B6. However, when making white flour, the milling process strips off the outer coat of the grains, where the vitamins are found. For example, only 13% of B6 remains in white flour. To counter the low levels remaining in the flour, many countries add synthetic vitamins B1, B2 and B3 to produce enriched flour (fortification) but do not add vitamins B5 and B6. In the UK, only vitamins B1 and B3 are added to white flour.
The low levels of vitamins B5 and B6 in white flour products may limit the ability to make energy in the cells.
Many people do not meet the recommended daily allowances for vitamins B6, B9 and B12. In fact, a recent study found that 30% of people over the age of 67 lack adequate folate (B9), 20% do not get sufficient B6, and 25% do not get enough B12.