All about B Vitamins

Originally published in the Kingston Whig-Standard Vitamin B combination supplements are some of the most common supplements available on the market, but not everyone needs to be taking one. There are specific instances where it is appropriate to take a multi-B complex; this article will discuss some of the most common ones.

Most people know that before having a baby, it is important to ensure that you have an adequate intake of folate in order to prevent certain kinds of birth defects, but newer information shows that supplementing with a certain form of folate may prevent miscarriage.

Most of us do not eat a diet that is very high in folate (folate or folic acid is high in fortified grains, liver, and dark green vegetables), so taking a supplement is an inexpensive way to ensure that you have enough.

Folate in supplements is usually found in the form of folic acid. The problem with folic acid is that the body has to modify it before using it. In order to modify the folic acid, an enzyme is required. Some people do not produce this enzyme properly, which prevents them from doing an efficient job of converting folic acid into its usable form. People who have these enzyme problems are at greater risk of recurrent miscarriage.

For this reason, I recommend finding a supplement that contains a form of folic acid that begins with “methyl-”: look for “methyltetrahydrofolate” or “MTHF.”

Hormonal birth control depletes some of the B vitamins — B1, B2, B5, B6 and B12. If you take any kind of hormonal birth control, which many women do, consider a multi-B vitamin.

Do you have any risk factors for heart disease? These could include a family history of heart disease, elevated body mass index, high-waist to hip-measurement ratio, high blood pressure, or problems with blood sugar control. If you do, a vitamin B complex might help keep your blood vessels healthy.

High levels of something called homocysteine in your blood are associated with a higher risk of lots of bad things: blood vessel disease, thromboembolism, deep-vein thrombosis, heart attack and stroke.

B vitamins are required to allow the body to convert homocysteine into another molecule called methionine. Supplementing with B vitamins lowers homocysteine levels, but we’re still not sure that that translates into a lesser risk of disease.

Homocysteine can be measured using a blood test. Consider having your level checked.

Many people take B vitamins to help manage stress and increase energy. This makes sense since B vitamins are necessary for the chemical processes that allow our body to use food from energy, however, there is no evidence to say that taking a B vitamin will increase your energy or help you manage stress if you are not actually deficient. Many energy drinks have B vitamins in them, but if those drinks actually give you a boost of energy, it is probably from sugar or caffeine.

One supplement that I prescribe quite frequently is similar in structure to vitamin B3. Inositol is a nutrient that seems to help with blood sugar control, hormonal imbalances in women, and with sleep. It is included in some higher-quality multi-B complexes, but often in doses that are very small. When I am prescribing it, I prescribe it on its own rather than in a complex.

Sometimes people find that taking a multi-vitamin causes nausea or stomach upset. If this happens to you, trying taking the capsule or tablet with food. You can also try dividing the dosage.

If you are unsure about whether or not you should take a vitamin B complex, get in touch with your health-care provider. There is no point spending money on something that is not benefitting you!