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That Brilliant Vitamin: Vitamin B

Perhaps you first read riboflavin at the back of a cereal box. Perhaps you first encountered folic acid from your first grade science teacher. Perhaps you first heard balanced diet from your mom. All that and more compose Vitamin B which is a group of eight individual vitamins, often referred to as B vitamins or B-complex vitamins. Vitamin B promotes normal growth and development, treats anemia and some types of nerve damage, helps mental and nervous conditions, improves resistance to infection and disease, increases appetite and energy, and improves memory. Vitamin B is also essential for the breakdown of carbohydrates into glucose, breakdown of fats and proteins, muscles in the stomach and intestinal tract, skin, hair, eyes, mouth, and liver.

As mentioned earlier, Vitamin B is a group of eight individual vitamins. These vitamins are thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin, pyrodixine (B-6), folic acid (B-9), cyanocobalamin (B-12), panthotenic acid, and biotin.

Vitamin B1 or Thiamine is essential for the conversion of carbohydrates into simple sugars called glucose which produces energy. This Vitamin B is also essential for the proper functioning of the heart, muscles, and nervous system. Thiamine deficiency is rare but often occurs to alcoholics because alcohol oftentimes interferes with the absorption of Vitamin B thiamine through the intestines. There are also several health implications associated with being thiamine deficient. One is beriberi, a disease characterized by anemia, paralysis, muscular atrophy, and spasms in the leg muscles. Other disorders associated with being thiamine deficient is Wernicke's encephelopathy which causes lack of coordination, Korsakoff's psychosis which affects short-term memory. Being thiamine deficient can also affect the mouth resulting to increased sensitivity of the teeth, cheeks, and gums as well as cracks in the lips. Vitamin B thiamine can be found in whole-grain cereals, bread, red meat, egg yolks, and green leafy vegetables. High doses of thiamine has been found not to cause adverse health effects and excess of this water-soluble vitamin b can be excreted.

Vitamin B2 Riboflavin is important in the breakdown of carbohydrates, and fats and proteins. It is also significant in the maintenance of the skin and mucuous membrane, the cornea of the eye, and nerve sheaths. Riboflavin deficiency can cause skin disorders and inflammation of the soft tissue lining around the mouth and nose. It can also cause the eye to be hypersensitive to light. Like Thiamine, Riboflavin is found in whole grain products, milk, meat, and eggs. This is also excreted because it is a water-soluble vitamin although a little is stored in the kidney and liver.

Vitamin B3 Niacin, also known as nicotinamide, is important in metabolism as well as in the maintenance of healthy skin, nerves, and gastrointestinal tract. Niacin deficiency can result to a disease called pellegra. The symptoms of pellegra are sometimes called "Three Ds" - diarrhea, dermatitis, and dementia. The mouth is also affected by pellegra which causes the inside of the cheeks and tongue to become red and painful. Vitamin B3 can be found in dairy products, poultry, fish, lean meat, nuts, and eggs. Niacin can also be prescribed in higher doses as drugs to help lower cholesterol but this can cause side effects such as flushing of the skin , itching, headaches, cramps, nausea, and skin eruptions.

Vitamin B6 Pyridoxine which is also known as pyridoxal phosphate is used in the production of red blood cells and in the biochemical reactions involved in the metabolism of amino acids. It is also responsible in the synthesis of of antibodies in the immune system and helps maintain normal brain function. Vitamin B6 deficiency is rare except for alcoholics. It causes skin disorders, abnormal nervous system known as neuropathy, confusion, poor coordination, and insomnia. Inflammation of the lips, tongue and the rest of the mouth are oral symptoms of Vitamin B6 deficiency. Vitamin B6 can be found in organ meats, brown rice, fish, whole grains, fortified breads and cereals, and legumes.

Vitamin B9 Folacin is a Vitamin B-complex which interacts with Vitamin B12 for the synthesis of DNA which is important for all cells in the body. Folacin, a combination of Vitamin B12 and Vitamin C, is essential in the breakdown of proteins and production of red blood cells, tissue growth, and cell function. It also stimulates appetite and formation of digestive acids. Folacin deficiency causes anemia, stunted growth, and irritation of the mouth. Alcoholics, the malnourished, the poor, the elderly, and those who have certain illnesses are usually the ones found to be Vitamin B9 deficients.Vitamin B9 is found in legumes, citrus fruits, whole grain cereals, and green vegetables.

Vitamin B12 Cyanocobalamin like all other Vitamin B-complex is essential in the processing of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Vitamin B12 is also needed for maintenance of our nerve sheaths, activates amino acids during protein formation, and helps in the perpetuation of cells and fomation of new ones. One interesting thing about Vitamin B12 is that it cannot be absorbed by the body unless combined with mucoprotein made in the stomach. Once Vitamin B12 attaches to the mucoprotein, it travels in the small intestine to be absorbed by the body. Vitamin B12 deficiency is recurrently seen in strict vegetarians who do not take vitamin supplements. A deficiency can also cause pernicious anemia which in turn causes weakness, numbness of the extremities, and fever.

Pantothenic acid and biotin are the last two Vitamin B-complexes. Pantothenic acid is used in the breakdown of carbohydrates, lipids, and amino acids while biotin functions as a coenzyme in carboxylation reactions. There is no known disorder associated with pantothenic acid deficiency while deficiency in biotin can cause scaly dermatitis which is a skin disorder. Pantothenic acid is mainly found in meat, legumes, and whole-grain cereals while abundance of biotin is found in beef liver, mushrooms, and egg yolk.


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Charlene J. Nuble 2005. For up to date links and information about vitamins, please go to: or for updated links and information on all health related topics, go to:


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