What Are B Vitamins?

In our current nutritional culture Vitamins are kind of a mystery category and people don’t generally know what they are other than these miracle nutrients we need for some undisclosed reason. The B Vitamins are a good example of this. Previously we talked about Vitamin C and one of its lesser known roles in the body. Today I would like to clear up some of the mystery around our B Vitamins and show you just how great they are.

The B Vitamins are a group of vitamins rather than a single molecule like Vitamin D or C. They were originally thought to be a single molecule but later discovered to be multiple molecules with similar actions from similar foods. When this was discovered there were even more chemicals listed under the Vitamin B flag but many were discovered to not fit the definition of a vitamin and so there are holes in the numbers associated with the current list of B Vitamins. In general, B Vitamins are small molecules that are absolutely essential to the daily grind of a human cell.

Let’s take a second and break down what a cell is and how it works in our bodies. We tend to think of cells are these static little balls that are squished together into organs and bones and someone magically function together. Well, the function of an organ actually comes from the functions within each cell. Different organs have different structures to their cells and this can alter their functions but every cell in our body has a core of basic functions that are essential to their existence. These basic functions are how cells maintain their structure, process the energy they need to function, and repair their DNA. This is where B Vitamins have their biggest impact.

All cellular functions are based in chemical reactions like breaking apart or fusing together molecules. These processes can be either very simple or pretty complicated. The simple ones can occur on their own but the complicated ones require the help of other molecules to make sure the reaction is controlled and goes according to plan. B Vitamins are these molecules, called “Catalysts” which exert a controlling force on these chemical reactions.

Some of the more specific roles that B vitamins take on include energy release (the break down of absorbed nutrients into usable energy) and the creation of red blood cells. Folic acid (vitamin B9) has been firmly linked to the development of the neural tube (the part of the fetus that becomes the spinal cord, the surrounding layers of tissue, and the boney spine) and is highly recommended for anyone who is thinking of becoming pregnant or already is.

Niacin (Vitamin B3) has created some mixed results in the research over the years as a potential therapy for those with high cholesterol levels. This has sparked a lot of debate in the medical community over the use of vitamins vs pharmaceuticals (that’s a conspiracy theory for another time though).

Some research exists connecting B Vitamins, specifically Folaic acid and B12 (“Cobalamin”), supplementation with improvements in memory and mood. This and increased energy are the main reasons I suggest B Vitamins to almost all of my patients.

Our B Vitamins can be found in both animal products and those dark green leafy veggies that I’m always talking about. As in so many things with nutrition variety is the key. It is possible to lead a vegetarian and/or vegan lifestyle while still receive healthy doses of our B vitamins but it does take planning and work. As always, please consult a professional before taking or ceasing a supplemental regimen.

So that is the general story of our Vitamin B’s. It’s just a peak through the door but I hope that it gives you a better appreciation for these essential nutrients. They are everywhere in our lives and effect so much.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

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