B vitamins are a group of eight essential nutrients that play roles in many organs and bodily systems. Although they can work together in the body, they also carry out their own unique functions.
What are B vitamins?
Some people may benefit from taking B vitamin supplements. B vitamins are important for making sure the body’s cells are functioning properly. They help the body convert food into energy (metabolism), create new blood cells, and maintain healthy skin cells, brain cells, and other body tissues.
There are eight types of B vitamin, each with their own function:
- thiamin (vitamin B-1)
- riboflavin (vitamin B-2)
- niacin (vitamin B-3)
- pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5)
- vitamin B-6
- biotin (vitamin B-7)
- folate (vitamin B-9)
- vitamin B-12
Together, they are called the vitamin B complex.
B vitamins often occur together in the same foods. Many people can get enough B vitamins by eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods. However, those who struggle to meet their daily needs can use supplements.
People may develop B vitamin deficiencies if they do not get enough of the vitamins from their diet or supplements. They may also have a deficiency if their body cannot absorb nutrients properly, or if their body eliminates too much of them due to certain health conditions or medications.
Thiamin (vitamin B-1)
The heart, liver, kidney, and brain all contain high amounts of thiamin. The body needs thiamin for:
- breaking down sugar (carbohydrate) molecules from food
- creating certain neurotransmitters (brain chemicals)
- producing fatty acids
- synthesizing certain hormones
- Foods with thiamin
Riboflavin (vitamin B-2)
Riboflavin is essential for:
- energy production
- helping the body break down fats, drugs, and steroid hormones
- converting tryptophan into niacin (vitamin B-3)
- converting vitamin B-6 into a coenzyme that the body needs
- Foods with riboflavin
Niacin (vitamin B-3)
Some cereals contain added niacin. The body converts niacin into a coenzyme called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD). NAD is a necessary part of more than 400 different enzyme reactions in the body, the highest of all vitamin-derived coenzymes. These enzymes help with:
- changing the energy in carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into a form the body can use
- metabolic processes in the body’s cells
- communication among cells
- expression of DNA in cells
- Foods with niacin
Pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5)
Pantothenic acid is necessary for the body to create new coenzymes, proteins, and fats. Red blood cells carry pantothenic acid throughout the body so it can use the nutrient in a variety of processes for energy and metabolism.
Vitamin B-6, or pyridoxine, plays a role in more than 100 enzyme reactions. The body needs vitamin B-6 for:
- amino acid metabolism
- breaking down carbohydrates and fats
- brain development
- immune function
Biotin (vitamin B-7)
Manufacturers add biotin to many hair, skin, and nail supplements. However, the NIH state that there is not sufficient evidenceTrusted Source to conclude whether taking extra biotin helps with hair, skin, or nails. Some people believe that biotin may help with psoriasis.
The human body needs biotin for:
- breaking down fats, carbohydrates, and protein
- communication among cells in the body
- regulation of DNA
Folate (vitamin B-9)
Avocados and some fortified breads are healthful sources of folate. The natural form of vitamin B-9 is called folate. Folic acid, which is present in fortified foods and some supplements, is a synthetic form of the vitamin.
Folate is also essential for:
- DNA replication
- metabolism of vitamins
- metabolism of amino acids
- proper cell division
- Vitamin B-12
Vitamin B-12 contains the mineral cobalt and is sometimes called a “cobalamin.” The body uses vitamin B-12 for:
- creating new red blood cells
- DNA synthesis
- brain and neurological function
- fat and protein metabolism
Vitamin B supplements
Most multivitamin supplements contain some of each B vitamin, and many provide 100% or more of a person’s daily needs for each vitamin.
People can buy B vitamins as individual supplements if they are deficient in only one type .People can treat and prevent B vitamin deficiencies by increasing their dietary intake of high-vitamin foods or taking vitamin supplements.