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B Vitamin Supplement Capsules arranged on a table

B vitamins are well regarded for their ability to provide energy for the body. Primarily, they play an important role in cellular metabolism. Organs that require high amounts of energy, such as the brain, heart and skin, benefit from healthy levels of vitamin B. However, the body cannot manufacture these nutrients, so they must come from diet and supplementation.

Consuming energy-boosting vitamins is an appealing thought for many, but exploring the science behind B vitamins calls for a pause before labeling them as the miracle cure for lethargy. Many of the leading brands of energy drinks and shots include exorbitant amounts of B vitamins in their products and boast “a powerful blend of B vitamins for energy” and the offer to help you “sail through your day without feeling jittery or tense.” These are impressive claims but some can be misleading to the true role these vitamins play in the body.

Which vitamins are considered B Vitamins?

Once thought of as a single nutrient, the B vitamins are actually eight separate b vitamins which perform unique functions in the body. The eight b vitamins are:

  • B1 (thiamin)
  • B2 (riboflavin)
  • B3 (niacin)
  • B5 (pantothenic acid)
  • B6 (pyridoxine)
  • B7 (biotin)
  • B9 (folate [folic acid])
  • B12 (cobalamin)

B Vitamin Benefits for Brain Health

Aiming for a healthy diet in all ages of life is important to protect overall health. B vitamins are important in many ways to develop a healthy brain. 

Adequate nutrients improve early-stage brain development

An article in the American Academy of Pediatrics states that “although all nutrients are necessary for brain growth, key nutrients that support neurodevelopment include protein; zinc; iron; choline; folate; iodine; vitamins A, D, B6, and B12; and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.” 

Yet, the same article explains in detail that “failure to provide key nutrients during this critical period of brain development may result in lifelong deficits in brain function despite subsequent nutrient repletion.” Put plainly, improper nutrition can create irreversible damage. This highlights the importance of balanced nutrition in the brain’s early stages of growth. 

The authors repeat the importance of looking past “simply recommending a ‘good diet’” and instead “to optimizing nutrient delivery for the developing child.” Optimizing delivery is possible in multiple ways but is best determined by the child’s physician.

Healthy B vitamin levels can protect aging brains

Children are not the only population that benefits from healthy nutrient levels. Recent studies point to the role of B vitamins for protecting brain function over time. Researchers found that “optimal B-vitamin status is associated with better cognitive health in aging. Of note, a recent clinical trial provided evidence that supplementation with folic acid and related B-vitamins over a 2-year-period reduced global and regional brain atrophy, as measured by MRI scan in older adults.”

B6 to decrease morning sickness during pregnancy

Recent studies show the impact of proper nutrition in regulating bodily function. A study, on morning sickness found that increased ginger and vitamin B6 intake can help reduce nausea and other stomach related issues during pregnancy.

The study asked women about symptoms related to morning sickness during their pregnancy. Treatment was provided with either a placebo, vitamin B6 supplement or ginger supplement.

In the end, placebo respondents on reported improvements on a few symptoms.

However, participants who took ginger or vitamin B6 “could reduce the severity of all items” on the symptom questionnaire “significantly.”

Healthy Biotin (B7), levels can protect skin, nail and hair health

A majority of biotin consumption in a healthy diet comes from meat. It works in the body by helping form the building blocks of enzymes to break down food. 

Biotin is most well known for its links to hair, skin and nail health. Signs of biotin deficiency are found in these areas of the body through skin rashes, brittle nails and hair loss. Therefore a majority of biotin supplementation is related to improving the health of these parts of the body.

Certain groups can find themselves at a greater risk of biotin deficiency compared to others such as excessive alcohol drinkers. Biotin absorption is inhibited by chronic alcohol consumption. The second group is pregnant and breastfeeding women. The NIH reports that up to a third of pregnant and breastfeeding women can develop a slight biotin deficiency even when achieving a healthy intake of biotin. 

Overall, there is mixed evidence on the effectiveness of isolated biotin supplementation. Some studies have shown improvements while some have shown smaller changes in strength and health. 

More importantly, these studies were for biotin administered as a single ingredient. Yet, the National Institutes of Health notes that “biotin deficiency is rare” among “individuals eating a normal mixed diet.”

At Cooper Complete we try to follow this guidance by only including biotin in products that are a blend of ingredients. Our Original, and most comprehensive, multivitamin and our dermatologist formulated Dermatologic Health supplement contains biotin along with other important essential nutrients. This allows supplements to mirror the way it is received within a healthy diet. We always recommend a healthy diet first and then supplements as a way to fill in any nutritional gaps.

Folic Acid (B9), for healthy babies and hearts

In 1998, both the U.S. and Canada required adding at least 140 mcg of folic acid to a large variety of grain-based products including cereal, pasta and rice. This was done to help lower rates of neural tube defects or NTBs among newborns

Children are not the only ones who benefit from healthy levels of folic acid. As we age, folic acid works throughout our lifetime to regulate homocysteine levels. As an amino acid in the blood, higher than average amounts of homocysteine are directly related to heart disease. B9 is not directly linked with preventing cardiovascular disease itself but is effective at lowering levels of homocysteine in the body which is one of many important risk factors.

Folic acid vs folate: what’s the difference?

Folic acid and folate are commonly used in place of each other when referencing vitamin B9. An important difference between the two is that folate references all forms of vitamin B9. This differs from folic acid which is one unique form of vitamin B9. So, while folic acid is always folate, folate is not always folic acid.

Another difference is that folate is generally the term used for vitamin B9 found naturally in foods. Folic acid is a synthetic version found in supplements or in fortified cereals, breads, pastas and rice. The reason folic acid is preferred generally is the ability for high absorption in the body. It is more tolerant of heat and light making it a better option for foods and supplements compared to folate.

Cooper Complete multivitamins contain less than the daily recommended amount of folic acid in our Original comprehensive and Basic multivitamins. This choice made to increase the amount of folic acid in food means higher levels in supplements are generally unnecessary.

Vitamin B12 helps create DNA, not energy

Contrary to popular opinion. Increasing B12 intake past normal amounts does not provide an increase in energy levels. In fact, the NIH states specifically that “except in people with a vitamin B12 deficiency, no evidence shows that vitamin B12 supplements increase energy or improve athletic performance.”

Vitamin B12 is directly involved in supporting brain and nervous system function. It also helps create and regulate DNA in the body. The misconception of energy production stems from its role in helping every cell’s metabolism in the body. And while a deficiency of B12 can lead to tiredness or weakness, returning to healthy levels of B12 restores normal energy levels but there is no evidence it will go further. 

Groups at risk of B12 deficiency

As most adults age, stomach acid levels decrease and reduce the amount of some nutrients can be absorbed. B12 is one of these nutrients but typically eating fortified foods or taking a B12 supplement can negate this loss of absorption.

Digestive diseases also limit the amount of B12 the stomach can absorb. Crohn’s and celiac disease are two common issues that may require additional B12 through food or supplements to maintain healthy levels. Also, anyone who has had a weight loss surgery or other gastrointestinal surgery might develop issues absorbing enough B12 from a normal diet. If you feel you might fall into one of these categories it is important to speak with your physician to have your B12 levels checked.

Lastly, vegetarians and vegans have a higher risk for deficiency as B12 food sources are only from animal foods. This finding was also reinforced by a study done comparing diabetic vegetarians and omnivores. Again, higher levels of inflammation were correlated with reduced levels of B12 in vegetarians. For anyone considering a plant-based diet, it is highly recommended to speak with your physician about nutrient levels to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Cooper Complete offers a convenient B12 supplement in a liquid form to help supplement a healthy diet and maintain optimum vitamin B12 levels.

Best food to increase B vitamin levels

So you have made the decision to eat a healthier diet. Where can you start? Improving B vitamin levels can be accomplished with a variety of foods, including:

  • Dark, leafy vegetables including spinach and kale
  • Citrus fruits and bananas
  • Avocados
  • ​Almonds, sunflower seeds 
  • Fish, chicken and red meats
  • Eggs and dairy products 
  • Legumes 
  • Whole grains

All B vitamins are water-soluble. Taking more of these vitamins than your body requires will cause the body to flush the excess through your digestive system. So, if you are spending extra money on B-complexes, energy drinks and other products in an attempt to raise your B vitamin levels your body will not be fooled — it only takes what it needs.

Experts are now finding that even though most water-soluble vitamins are not stored by the body, you cannot assume that it is safe or effective to take extremely high levels. For some of the B vitamins, a Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) has been specified to prevent unhealthy reactions.

Understanding B vitamin levels on food and supplement labels

The FDA requires that supplement labels include the percent of the Daily Value (DV) for each vitamin the product contains. However, the DVs have not been updated since 1968 and, in many cases, do not reflect the latest research for ideal intake levels. Instead, we recommend looking to Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) or Adequate Intake (AI) levels, which are updated more frequently.

Speaking with a physician about your unique dietary needs is the safest way to maintain a healthy diet. At Cooper Complete we always recommend consulting your physician before starting any new supplement or making any dietary change.

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