Submitted by Carolyn Devin of Serenity of Body and Mind, CT, USA
The second in a series of talks about the importance of vitamins.
Vitamin B was the second vitamin to be recognized (after vitamin A). It was so named because the scientists at the time did not realize that vitamin B was actually many different compounds. All the B vitamins are water-soluble which means there is little risk of toxicity as they are readily excreted from the body in urine. This is why when you take a vitamin B supplement your urine is a very bright yellow. That is from the riboflavin (B-2).
All B vitamins form coenzymes, which mean they help the biological processes that happen in our bodies, such as the process of transforming food into energy. The B vitamins that I am going to write about today are B-1 (Thiamin), B-2 (Riboflavin), B-3 (Niacin) and B-6. Many of the B vitamins are found in whole grain which is why when grains began to be processed and refined there was an increase in vitamin B deficiencies. To combat this problem, vitamins were added back to processed food such as bread, cereal and ground flour. It is called “enriched” flour on labels. Unrefined or whole wheat (or grain) flour is healthier but it will go bad much quicker than the refined flour because the germ of the grain contains oil that will go rancid. It’s best to use whole wheat flour quickly or store it in the freezer for longer storage.
Thiamin (B-1) is found in great quantities, naturally, in sunflower seeds. Just two ounces contain the daily recommended amount. Other good sources are pork products and, of course, enriched foods such as bread and cereals. Thiamin deficiency can cause a disease called Beriberi. This disease can have many different symptoms such as impaired nervous, cardiovascular, muscle and gastrointestinal systems. It can cause weakness, difficulty breathing and heart enlargement among other symptoms. Beriberi can be fatal if not treated. Symptoms of deficiency can begin just fourteen days without thiamin intake. Thankfully, thiamin deficiency is rare now due to the enrichment of so many food products and the new trend of eating whole grain foods. Thiamin is not heat stable and cooking may destroy much of the vitamin.
Riboflavin (B-2) is found mainly in enriched food products such as bread and cereal but some natural sources include; milk, mushrooms, spinach, kale and broccoli. Three ounces of beef liver also contains almost twice the recommended daily amount. As with thiamin, riboflavin deficiency is rare but symptoms include inflammation of the throat, tongue and mouth and cracking around the corners of the mouth. Anemia, fatigue and headaches are also symptoms of low riboflavin intake. Riboflavin is very light sensitive and is easily destroyed by exposure. This is why milk should be stored in light-blocking packaging.
Niacin (B-3) is most prevalent, naturally, in poultry, meat and fish and in enriched bread, cereal and whole grains. Coffee and tea also have small amounts of niacin. Niacin is metabolized from protein, more specifically tryptophan which is the amino acid most well-known for causing that post-holiday turkey-eating sleepiness. People with adequate protein intake are not at risk for deficiency. The disease caused by niacin deficiency is pellagra and was a national epidemic in the early 1900’s before the discovery of the niacin connection. It is estimated that 200,000 people died from pellagra in that time period in the United States. Today, pellagra is mainly found in Africa in famine areas. Niacin is also associated with niacin flush which is a tightening and reddening of the skin and can be quite disturbing to those unfamiliar with it but it is generally harmless. Toxicity is possible with very high supplement doses and can cause stomach upset and even possible liver damage. Consult with your doctor before using niacin supplements. Niacin is very heat stable, therefore very little is lost in the cooking process.
Vitamin B-6 can be found in the muscles of animals so poultry, meat and fish have high quantities. Whole grains again are good sources and carrots, potatoes and bananas are also great non-animal sources. Toxicity of vitamin B-6 is a real concern for those taking excessive supplements such as bodybuilders and woman treating themselves for the symptoms of PMS. Toxicity can potentially result in permanent nerve damage. Deficiency is rare in North America except in cases of very poor diets and alcoholism. Symptoms may include confusion, depression and convulsions. B-6 has been shown effective in the treatment of carpel tunnel syndrome and nausea related to pregnancy but please consult your doctor before trying B-6 supplementation.
Eating whole grains, lean meat and fish are excellent ways of getting your daily amount of these B vitamins. And don’t forget the bananas!
The remaining B vitamins: Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, Folate and B-12. Many of the B vitamins are found in whole grain which is why when grains began to be processed and refined there was an increase in vitamin B deficiencies. To combat this problem, vitamins were added back to processed food such as bread, cereal and ground flour, it is called “enriched” flour on labels. Unrefined or whole wheat (or grain) flour is healthier but it will go bad much faster than the refined flour because the germ of the grain contains oil that will go rancid. It’s best to use whole wheat flour quickly or store it in the freezer for longer storage.
Pantothenic Acid comes from the Greek word pantothen, which means “from every side” because this particular B vitamin is found in many, many foods. Common sources are animal products and vegetables. Unprocessed foods are a better source of this vitamin because it can be easily stripped away or destroyed in processing methods. There is no known case of deficiency of pantothenic acid unless it has been produced in a laboratory. This vitamin is used in the body to assist with the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, proteins and alcohol.
Biotin is found in whole grains, eggs, nuts and legumes. Peanuts are a great source of biotin with just 2 ounces (about 3 tablespoons) containing one and a half times the daily recommended amount. One large egg has about half the daily recommended amount; however, raw egg white contains a protein that will inhibit absorption of biotin. That is another reason to not consume raw eggs. Deficiency is rare with biotin but symptoms do include rashes, hair loss and impaired growth (in children). The most common incidences of deficiency are with individuals who are born with a genetic defect that prevents the body from processing the biotin. Or people who ingest large amounts of raw egg whites.
Folate is commonly heard when talking about women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant because early conception deficiency can be devastating to developing fetuses. The term folic acid is a synthetic form of folate that is found in fortified foods or supplements. Folate is very prevalent in leafy green vegetables such as kale and spinach. Legumes, avocados and oranges are also good sources of folate. This vitamin is easily destroyed in processing or cooking. Salads with avocados are an excellent way to get your daily recommended amount. Folate is used in the body in the synthesis and maintenance of new cells so that is why deficiency in pregnant woman can lead to severe birth defects in babies such as neural tube defects; spina bifida (most common) or anencephaly (most severe-total lack of brain). It is extremely important for a woman considering pregnancy to be taking supplements or eating a wide variety of folate rich foods. Deficiency is difficult to detect because symptoms are on the cellular level but generally people who are more prone to deficiency are alcoholics, people with very poor diets and those taking certain medications.
Vitamin B-12 is heard a lot in the vegan community because the only reliable natural sources of this vitamin are animal products; meat and dairy. Vegans must take supplementation to avoid deficiency. The good news is that B-12 can be stored in the body for 2 to 3 years as it is not excreted in the urine like the other B vitamins. There are other sources of B-12 but they do not contain enough to meet daily requirements or are not in the correct form for the body to use them. These include fermented soy products (tempeh and miso) and certain seaweeds. Absorption of B-12 can be inhibited by diseases such as Chrohn’s or bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine. Some medications may also inhibit absorption such as anti-reflux (Prilosec®) or metformin (used to lower blood sugar with Type 2 diabetes. Common symptoms of deficiency are neurological changes which include; sensory issues in the legs (burning, tingling, prickling and numbness), balance can be affected which will make walking difficult, loss of concentration and disorientation. There can be vision problems as well. These symptoms will precede more serious cellular level issues. Elderly are at risk for deficiency due to mal-absorption and infants born to vegan or vegetarians are also at risk.
Carolyn Devin is a Health and Wellness Coach practicing in Glastonbury, CT, USA. She helps individuals who are looking to lose weight, gain energy or just to feel better by teaching about nutrition and lifestyle changes.
“I don’t advocate “dieting” or quick fixes. I feel that everyone has the right to be happy and healthy, which means that I don’t propose radical changes to your lifestyle or starvation diets. I want to guide you on a path to healthier living.”